Religious left behind

At the Rally for Sanity I mentioned in my previous post, I happened to run into the People of Faith for Sanity breakfast at a local bar. It was fun chatting with the group, which was organized by Faith in Public Life.

In the last couple of weeks, I had been researching a story about faith outreach among Democrats and it was shocking. There was almost nothing happening. After the highs of 2006 and 2008, when the Democrats seemed to, well, get religion. The Washington Post‘s Michelle Boorstein was on this story in May.

But as some of the exit polls were showing, Democrats did very poorly among many key religious groups. Like Catholics. And Protestants. They lost the ground they’d made in recent years. Many of the Blue Dog Democrats — many of whom were really good at speaking about their faith in public — lost on Tuesday. So while we may never know exactly what the cause of some of these losses were, it’s definitely a story. (And please note: It’s a different story than the one about how Christian conservatives came out in droves for Republicans.)

Daniel Burke at Religion News Service covers all the ground well in his feature “Have Democrats lost faith in faith-based outreach?” After summing up the loss — and how it compared to 2006 and 2008 — we get some analysis:

But in 2010, progressive leaders say, Democrats largely retreated to the same-old wonky language to explain their policies, and same-old political strategies to drum up voters–with predictable results.

“One of the ironies is that we had huge success with (faith outreach),” said Eric Sapp, a partner at Eleison Group, a consulting firm that worked on religious outreach for dozens of Democratic campaigns in 2006 and 2008–but none this year.

“It’s part of why we are in power. It’s been rough to see us go back to that pre-2004 strategy that had kept us in the minority.”

The article is full of hard data, showing how Catholics swung even harder toward the GOP than Protestants did. It also includes the perspective of those who think the religious outreach problems can not explain what went wrong. Here’s one interesting stat from the story:

In previous elections, the Democratic National Committee hired staffers for Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, and evangelical outreach. This year, those jobs are not filled, said the Rev. Regena Thomas, the DNC’s director of faith and constituent outreach.

She says that religious outreach was subsumed to outreach to Hispanics and gays. Mike McCurry, President William Clinton’s press secretary, weighs in:

But McCurry said religion “is not something you tack on to the end of your game plan. It’s fundamentally at the heart of how you connect with voters, who clearly drifted from the Democratic Party last night.”

The national party spent little money on religious outreach and that sent the message down the line, some observers say.

I can’t quote the whole thing, but I think it covers a lot of different angles, including funding problems, the unsuccessful work that was done by some religious groups on the left and a bit of a firing squad where folks go ahead and assign blame.

I liked this analysis, too:

Part of that loss, some Democrats say, can be blamed on the success in 2006 and 2008: many of the people who ran Democratic faith-outreach programs now work in the Obama administration, draining an already shallow pool.

Just a nice mixture of facts, perspective and analysis, I think. It’s the kind of story that spoils you, though, in that it does such a more thorough job with the issue than you’re likely to find in most outlets.

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  • Julia Duin

    Religion & Ethics Newsweekly did a piece on this exact topic *before* the election. Check it out here:

  • Jon in the Nati

    HuffPo has this:

    Ten Commandments to Revive Progressives

    Written by a rabbi, quite a bit of it has to do with how the Dems relate to religion and religious folk. From #3:

    As long as the progressive world seems to be aligned with those who think that anyone who believes in God must be either stupid or at a lower stage of psychological development, we will get nowhere with an American public sincerely committed to a spiritual worldview.

    Hard to argue with that.

  • Dave

    It’s tempting at this point, two days after a change election, to find reductionist explanations — that the old regime could have retained power had it done this or that differently. I suggest that time will yield more substantial analyses.

  • Martha

    Call me cynical, but maybe part of the failure of their outreach to Catholics can be laid at the doorstep of relying on the input by Catholics such as Nancy Pelosi, who advanced her own view of the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas in opposition to how the bishops would interpret it in regard to abortion.

    So you then get things like public rebukes for the Speaker of the House and the revelation that her diocesan asked her to refrain from receiving Communion in her home diocese.

    That’s probably not so impressive for outreach attempts :-)

  • Ann

    The election results are extremely varied. Some of the results seem contradictory. The results are similar to historic trends for most recent mid-term elections – voting against incumbents.

    A large majority of the Democrats that lost were pro-life. Many of the Blue Dog Democrats that lost voted against the stimulus plan and/or the bank bailout that angered many voters, which is another example of what seems to be a contradiction.

    According to the exit polls, religion had little to do with the results.

    “Sixty-two percent of voters name the economy as their most important issue this year. Health care ranks a distant second, at 19 percent. Illegal immigration and Afghanistan follow at 8 and 7 percent.”

    “Close to half want to repeal Obama’s health care legislation, but a third want to expand it and the rest want to leave it alone.”

    I would like to see a poll about how misinformation or the large corporate funding affected the election results.

  • Jerry

    Of course, we’re getting the usual post election hip shooting to explain the results. But I find Ann’s post important because she mentioned contradictory results.

    I think there’s something more than the usual political back-and-forth going on given the profound contradictions embedded in the results. Outreach, turnout, confusion about what the health-care law really says (partly due lies from those with axes to grind), concern about the economy, religious issues, a feeling that America is in decline and who knows what else are pieces of the puzzle.

  • Ann

    I just found a poll that I think is the primary cause for the huge Democrat losses – voter misinformation. I posted the information @

    The poll is consistent with 62% of voters naming the economy as their most important issue. It also verifies my premise of voters voting against their own best interest and Obama has gotten a bad rap.

    The most shocking results was 43% of Democrats think Obama raised taxes.

  • Kevin J Jones

    Very surprising. From all appearances, the “Faith Caucus” at the 2008 DNC had its act together.

    I am curious about the role of Hispanic religious outreach in Colorado, where a “Latino firewall” is being credited with preserving the Democratic Senate candidate against a Republican whose Hispanic outreach was apparently zilch. (20% of the Hispanic vote).

    Did Colorado Democrats learn from the “Faith Caucus” what the national party forgot? Possibly not, considering the rest of the Republicans did pretty well in the state.

  • thomas hendricks

    If one realizes a religious community is against abortion, and decides to ignore that and make support of abortion one of your important issues, it is not unreasonable that they will not be attracted to your cause..

  • Julia

    voters voting against their own best interest

    People identify their own best interest in a lot of different ways. They also have differing views on what is most likely to serve their best interest.

  • Franklin Jennings

    Gotta love folks like Ann who know what’s best for me…