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The Weblog at The View from the Core - Thu. 06/10/04 06:21:07 PM

"The Politics of Partisan Neutrality"

Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio write at First Things, May 2004:

.... A quarter of a century of political science research and public opinion surveys point up that the prominence of secularists in the Democratic Party these days is not unique to the Howard Dean insurgency nor new in the 2004 election cycle. Dean’s religion problem was emblematic of the wider “God Gulf” that has separated the core of the Republican and Democratic parties over the past several decades. Secularists are not outsiders fighting to gain a foothold in the Democratic Party; they are the regnant wing of the Democratic Party, and have been so for over three decades. Jeane Kirkpatrick’s 1976 study of The New Presidential Elite and Geoffrey Layman’s 2001 analysis of national party convention delegates, activists, and platforms for the years 1972 to 1996 in The Great Divide, trace the religion gap to the “new politics” of the 1972 Democratic convention. According to the 1972-1992 Convention Delegate Surveys, secularists (that is, atheists, agnostics, religious “nones,” the unchurched, and assorted self-identified irreligionists — most of whom were McGovern supporters) constituted the largest “religious” bloc among Democratic delegates. Their substantial presence at this convention, combined with their zeal and cohesion, overwhelmed the culturally traditionalist (southern Evangelical and white ethnic Catholic) wings of the party, which in the past could be counted on to temper secularist policy initiatives. It was at the contentious Miami convention of 1972 that secularists first became an important political force within a major party.
The ascendancy of secularists in the Democratic Party had long-term consequences for the relative attractiveness of each party for members of different religious groups. The Democratic Party became more appealing to secularists and less hospitable to traditionalists. Party stalwarts, many of whom were Catholic (for instance, Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago and congressmen such as New York Representatives John Rooney and James Delaney) eventually found themselves isolated and their influence waning. Representatives and senators from the party’s more conservative southern wing found the cultural liberalism of the national party ever more distasteful and more difficult to explain to their constituents. Many withdrew from active participation in national Democratic Party gatherings, and some bolted to the Republican Party. Without the moderating influence of cultural traditionalists, the party became visibly more secularist, as reflected in its national platform planks and the roll-call voting behavior of its congressmen and senators. (The difference between these two Democratic parties is personified by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who has traveled far down the secularist road from his father’s cultural conservatism.)
The triumph of secularism in the Democratic Party had the opposite effect on the GOP. By the first Clinton election, divisions among party elites spilled into the electorate and were so apparent in exit poll and public opinion data that one team of well-known academic researchers identified 1992 alternatively as the “Year of the Evangelical” and the “Year of the Secular.” The vote distribution of white respondents who indicated that they backed a major party candidate in the 1992 ANES data support this assertion. Clinton carried three-fourths of the secularist vote, while George H. W. Bush won two-thirds of the traditionalists. This polarized voting pattern continued through the 2002 congressional elections.

Since the 1992 election the religion gap has been more significant than all other divisions in the electorate, with the sole exception of the racial divide. Though much has been made of the gender gap in political commentary over the past decade, the difference in the voting preferences of men and women is far narrower than the one that separates the political orientations of the religious from the nonreligious. White women, for example, were eight percent less likely than white men to support Bush in the 2000 election, but white secularists were 42 percent less likely to back Bush over Gore than were traditionalists.
The degree to which one is religious or secular reflects a larger mindset that includes a moral outlook, a political ideology, a distinct set of attitudes toward cultural and church-state issues, and a political identity. Answers to a battery of questions included in ANES and Pew surveys indicate that the secularist moral perspective (humanistic relativism), ideological outlook (liberalism), political identity (Democrat), and stance toward the contentious values issues of secularists are just as neatly packaged and identifiable as those of traditionalists. According to ANES and Pew survey data, for example, more than seven out of ten secularists felt that the influence of religion in politics is divisive; over three-quarters opposed laws restricting abortion; two-thirds backed gay marriage; three-fifths agreed that “we should adjust our views of right and wrong to changing moral standards”; over half were against school vouchers; and a third felt antagonistic toward Catholics, while two-thirds expressed antipathy toward Evangelicals. By at least equal margins, religious traditionalists took opposite views on these matters....
Secularists and traditionalists each expect their political representatives to take their side on such issues, particularly when casting roll-call votes in the House and Senate. And indeed, congressional Democrats can be counted on as reliable supporters of the secularist cultural agenda. The core opposition to school vouchers, faith-based charities, the Defense of Marriage Act, and the banning of partial-birth abortion is overwhelmingly on the Democratic side of the aisle. On each of these issues, congressional Democrats who self-identify as “Catholics” voted no differently from other Democrats: they affirmed secularist values over traditionally religious ones. (Catholic Republicans in the House and the Senate, in contrast, lopsidedly supported traditionalist values in opposition to secularist ones.) ....
John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, exemplifies very well the secularist direction of the Democratic Party. We created a ten-point secularism (or antitraditionalism) scale from National Journal’s Almanac of American Politics, which compiles congressional roll-call votes over the past decade. These votes concerned education savings accounts and IRAs that could be used for religious schools, restrictions on abortion (such as parental notification and the partial-birth ban), and various bills affecting homosexual issues. A senator’s vote was coded “secularist” if the position taken on the bill was in accord with a majority of secularist sentiment (and in opposition to a majority of religiously traditionalist opinion) on this type of issue in the ANES and Pew surveys. A ten on this scale indicates that the senator had a perfect secularist score; a zero indicates a perfect antisecularist or traditionalist score. The average Democratic Senate score was 8.9; the average for the Republicans was 0.95. Senator Kerry scored a perfect 10. With the retirements of John Breaux from Louisiana (who had a score of 1.0) and Georgia’s Zell Miller (who scored 0 during his tenure), senate Democrats will in all likelihood come to reflect even more the secularism of Kerry and even less the values of cultural traditionalism....

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(Thanks, Jim.)

Lane Core Jr. CIW P — Thu. 06/10/04 06:21:07 PM
Categorized as Political.


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