Democrats and the “values” crowd

colorspewsYour GetReligionistas do not pay much attention to the denominational press, but I still read or scan most of the coverage that comes out of those newsrooms. Every now and then you see quotes and information that you simply don’t see anywhere else. And sometimes, information from column (a) connects with information from column (b).

Take, for example, the story that came from the Baptist left the other day in the wake of the “Potomac Primary” up here in greater D.C. Associated Baptist Press reporter Robert Marus focused part of his story — drawing cheers in GetReligionLand — on the role that religion is playing in the hotter than hot Democratic race for the White House between Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton. Thus, we learn:

(Obama) won among all Maryland faith groups other than Roman Catholics and Jews. But while Clinton had won Catholics by large margins in earlier contests, she only edged her rival 48-45 percent among the state’s significant Catholic population.

Obama, meanwhile, beat Clinton decisively (61-31 percent) among Democrats who attend religious services weekly or more often. Among those who said they worship more often than weekly, his advantage was even greater: 67 percent to Clinton’s 20 percent.

Clinton still edged Obama among the most faithful Catholics, but she led by less than 10 percentage points.

So that is an interesting mixed signal. Obama seemed to be winning the “pew gap” among Democrats, with the people who attend worship the most. Yet Hillary was still taking the “most faithful Catholics.” You have to ask: How is that term being defined? What issues get tied to that word “faithful”?

Meanwhile, over on the right side of the Baptist aisle, Tom Strode of Baptist Press offered a feature focusing on public-square specialist Richard Land’s views on one of the hot news stories of the current political cycle — attempts by Democrats to increase the faith content of their campaigns in order to reach out to people in pews.

You will not be surprised where Land goes with this topic — pronto.

Talk isn’t enough on the big issue, he says.

… Land said Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are much more comfortable talking about their faith than were Al Gore and John Kerry, the Democrats’ 2000 and 2004 nominees. For now, however, the divide remains on abortion — Democrats support abortion rights in their platform, while Republicans have a pro-life plank in theirs.

“[A]s long as there is a bright-line distinction between the two parties when it comes to the issue of when an unborn citizen’s life can be ended and under what circumstances it can be ended, there’s not going to be a lot of shifting in the so-called values voters,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“Values voters” include not only evangelical Christians but traditional mainline Protestants and traditional Roman Catholics as well, Land said.

This leads to the quote that caught my attention and, frankly, I am surprised that this hasn’t shown up in mainstream coverage (at least, I have not seen it). You see, the quote involves a senator from Arizona and Dr. James Dobson and the later’s pledge to sit out the election if John McCain is the GOP nominee.

“Look, I love Dr. Dobson,” Land said. “I have great respect for Dr. Dobson. But it’s been my observation that it’s very difficult to lead conservatives where conservatives don’t want to be led. It’s like trying to herd tomcats who haven’t been neutered. They’re going to decide for themselves.”

There “would have been a significant depression of conservative evangelical voting” if Rudy Giuliani, who supports abortion and homosexual rights, had been the GOP nominee, Land said. “But John McCain has been reliably pro-life his entire congressional career — though not a spotless record, certainly a very reliable record.

“And where he’s weakest among evangelicals is on his economic views,” Land said. “If you were going to prioritize among evangelicals, their social views are first; their foreign policy views are second; and their economic views are third. They vote against their pocketbook all the time and have demonstrated that they do so.”

And there you have it — the divide between cultural conservatives and Libertarian conservatives in a nice, crunchy soundbite.

Which brings us back to the Democrats. If there is a pew gap between Obama and the Clintons (and the few numbers we have suggest that there is), then what is the content of that gap? Is it linked to any particular issues? Just asking.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Michael

    My guess: Older white women go to church more often, and they are Clinton’s prime demographic. The nice, older white ladies who go to Mass every day, work in the soup kitchens, cook the meals. They are pro-life, but don’t participate in marches or blog access to clinics. They don’t see Vatican II as the worst thing to happen to the Catholic church because they are loyal to the church and feel an improved role for female laity was a breath of fresh air. Prime Clinton voters.

  • Jerry

    The Wisconsin exit poll http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21226015/ also shows that Clinton gets most support from Catholics who attend church weekly. I also wonder what is driving that distinction.

    “values” appears to be one of those words that is approaching meaninglessness. The right seeks to claim that only if you believe in what they believe in are you a true “values” voter. The left is saying, hey, wait a minute, we have values too and even religiously-rooted values, just different ones. There’s of course an group of people saying you can’t possibly be a values voter unless you embrace true values, that is, mine.

    trying to herd tomcats who haven’t been neutered. They’re going to decide for themselves.

    This is amusing at a few levels. First it supposed to be true that the left falls in love and the right falls in line. So what happened to the line? Another way of saying this was that Republicans were united and Democrats fought amongst themselves. My, how times appear to have changed. I’m sure Republicans don’t enjoy thinking of their “leaders” as a bunch of testosterone filled tomcats fighting for dominance while the Democrats enjoy that image for obvious reasons.

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NonDualBibleVerses/ Eric Chaffee

    Tmatt said “the Baptist left.” I wonder: where did he go? (Surely there couldn’t be more than one liberal Baptist! Right?

    ~eric.

  • Asinus Gravis

    The term “faithful” in the quote from the ABP reporter seems to mean nothing more than “frequent church attender.” At least no evidence is offered to support a claim that those voters buy into the full doctrinal teachings of the Pope.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    ERIC:

    Clinton, Gore, Carter, Bill Moyers — that’s four right there.
    ;-)

    Actually there are whole networks of Baptists who are on the left on social issues; on the left or anti-right.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    A few comments spiked because they had nothing to do with journalism, but simply bashed personalities.

    Stay on topic, folks.

  • steve wintermute

    Land said. ….”But it’s been my observation that it’s very difficult to lead conservatives where conservatives don’t want to be led.”

    It would have been good if the reporter had followed up on this and asked Land where, in Land’s opinion, conservatives don’t want to be led?

  • Jill C.

    “If you were going to prioritize among evangelicals, their social views are first; their foreign policy views are second; and their economic views are third. They vote against their pocketbook all the time and have demonstrated that they do so.”

    I believe this to be a fairly accurate summary by Dr. Land. Even if the economy were in ruins, my husband jobless, and we lived in an old, run down renthouse, I would still care very much what the candidates said and did with those social and moral issues.

  • Joseph M. Smith

    It’s curious to me that Dr. Land does not think that personal morality and piety factor in to what evangelicals do with their votes. I am not astute enough to set priorities, but the people I associate with care profoundly about a candidate’s individual integrity and — insofar as we can detect it — his/her genuineness in religious practice.

    In other words, Jimmy Carter … oh, yeah, he’s not running. Forgot.

    The other Baptist semi-liberal (hey, the words Baptist and liberal can seldom be used in the same sentence).

  • http://www.abpnews.com Robert Marus

    Terry, thanks for the shout-out, although I would mildly quibble with your characterization of ABP as “the Baptist left.” I would consider us — as do an awful lot of other Baptists as well as secular journalists — more accurately described as “the Baptist center,” or at the very least “the only Baptist news service independent of a particular denomination.”

    As for my characterization of “faithful Catholics,” the stat I was citing was for Catholics who attended church once a week or more frequently. I wasn’t trying to imply that that made them “faithful” in terms of doctrines or church social teachings; it was simply another way of saying “frequent worshiper.”

    Also, your post made me reread my story and realize that I left out a crucial word at the end regarding McCain’s support among secular Republicans (which are a fascinating group in their own right, sorta like us left-wing Baptists ;-) .

    Pax Christi,
    Rob

  • Julia

    As for my characterization of “faithful Catholics,” the stat I was citing was for Catholics who attended church once a week or more frequently. I wasn’t trying to imply that that made them “faithful” in terms of doctrines or church social teachings; it was simply another way of saying “frequent worshiper.”

    For future reference: “faithful” has a different meaning to Catholics than how you used the term. It’s not so much loyalty to a particular Pope, but to the core teachings of the Church. Only part of that teaching is weekly attendance at Mass.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    ROBERT MARUS:

    Hey, you know that I grew up “moderate” Baptist. I speak the language.

    I am always careful to refer to the Baptist left and the Baptist right, or to speak of you guys as being on the left side of the Baptist aisle. I try to define you in the context of that spectrum, of that conflict.

    As a rule, I oppose use of the “moderate” label — for the reasons expressed by Bill Keller and the NYTs self study.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    There actually is a chasm of difference between Obama and Clinton on one pro-life issue which should be of concern to all Christians who consider values extremely important- though the MSM has done a masterful job of covering it up.
    In the Illinois legislature attempts were made to protect already born infants from infanticide because evidence showed already born babies had sometimes been killed by abortionists. Obama was one of the leaders in the sordid business of making infanticide legal for abortion doctors.
    Meanwhile, the same issue came up in the U.S. Senate and a law protecting already born children unanimously passed (including support from the most radical pro-abortionists in the Senate and I presume that includes Hillary Clinton). The bill was passed in the House and signed into law by President Bush.
    Unfortunately, Catholic pro-abortion politicians have done a masterful job in some parts of the U.S. in convincing average Catholics they cannot use their Faith’s pro-life moral values to help decide who the best candidates are in an election. And the MSM in those parts has virtually called Catholics who follow the lead of their pro-life values in choosing candidates to vote for bad Americans.