Published November 15, 2010
The Faith Angle Forum is a semi-annual conference which brings together a select group of 20 nationally respected journalists with 3-5 distinguished scholars on areas of religion, politics & public life.
“Religious Voters & the 2010 Elections”
South Beach, Florida
Dr. William A. Galston, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
E.J. Dionne, Columnist, The Washington Post
Michael Barone, Senior Political Analyst, The Washington Examiner
Michael Cromartie, Vice-President, Ethics & Public Policy Center
To download the data referenced in this transcript, please click here.
MICHAEL CROMARTIE: I call your attention to the bios of all of these gentlemen, which I’m sure you’ve read and you might read again. But the good news is that E.J. and Bill Galston have just finished and produced some press data on religion and the election, and as Bill checked in yesterday he said, “We just finished writing it up 30 minutes ago.” So this is hot off the press.
We’re delighted that Bill can be here. As you know, he’s a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, a former professor of political philosophy at University of Maryland, University of Texas. He also was a Deputy Assistant for Public Policy in the Clinton administration for domestic policy.
So what I like to say about Bill is he’s both a political philosopher and a practitioner, which is what we need more of in Washington.
Bill, thank you. You’re on.
DR. WILLIAM A. GALSTON: Great. Well, let me get right into it. You have at your seats two documents. One is the executive summary of something called “The Post Election American Values Survey,” and the other is a draft of a paper that E.J. and I have crafted largely off the data in this new survey, but with some additional material as well, and I’d like in my introductory remarks to explain what this project is all about and how we’re related to it, lay some preliminary points on the table, and then turn it over to E.J., who is going to walk you through the document that we produced from beginning to end in far more detail.
So I’m teeing up the ball, and E.J. is going to take his driver out and whack it a long way down the fairway.
E.J. DIONNE: Clearly, Bill never saw me play golf.
DR. GALSTON: These two documents represent the latest fruits of a collaboration between the Brookings project on Religion, Policy and Politics, which E.J. and I are heading up, and the Public Religion Research Institute, which is headed by its founding CEO, Robert P. Jones, and its Research Director, Dan Cox.
The heart of our collaboration to date has been the joint design of two major surveys this year probing the connection between contemporary religion, on the one hand, and recent developments in American politics, on the other.
The first of these surveys was a pre-election survey based on a random sample of a little bit more than 3,000 adults who were interviewed between September 1st and September 14th. Robby Jones and Dan Cox then drafted and released a report at Brookings on October 5th. It was the third biennial American Values Survey entitled “Religion and the Tea Party in the 2010 Election,” and I think it was probably the most in-depth probe into the overlapping but distinct groups listed in the title, and that report is available on both the Brookings and the PRRI sites.
Today’s presentation and documents are based on a post election survey. Its base is 1,494 call-back interviews, that is, re-interviews of people who were a part of the original tranche of 3,000. To give you some idea of how fresh these data are, these interviews were conducted between November 3rd and November 7th. We received this information, if memory serves, on November 10th, and it has been a quick forced march through the data ever since.
They are to be publicly released at Brookings this Wednesday, November 17th, at 2:00 p.m., and they are, as the top document indicates, strictly embargoed until that day and time. But we are giving you an advanced look at the executive summary (the full report from PRRI is not yet available) and also, our analysis of major themes and currents represented in these data.
And let me just make a few preliminary points so that you will be truly grateful for what you are about to receive.
First of all, here is what we are not saying. Number one, we are not challenging the conventional wisdom that the 2010 midterms were dominated by economic concerns. One of the great virtues of this survey is that once you get past that top line, you can see with somewhat more specificity what the dominant concerns within the economic bundle were. But we’re not challenging that overall conventional wisdom.
Number two, we are not arguing that faith or faith-inflicted or faith-based issues, such as abortion, same sex marriage, et cetera, et cetera, played either a larger role or a significantly different role than in recent prior elections.
And, third, we are presenting and have found no evidence that the 2010 elections disrupted now familiar correlations between religious belief and observance, on the one hand, and political attitudes and preferences, on the other.
Our thesis can be stated then very simply, our affirmative thesis, and that is that overlaying and interacting with these familiar patterns, which we call the old politics of faith, a new politics of faith is taking shape.
Now, what do we mean by that? Well, some of you may have seen a very interesting article in today’s New York Times, headlined “Oklahoma Surprise: Islam as an Election Issue.” Well, we think that our findings helped to take some of the surprise out of that headline, and we think that our findings will help to put that set of events in Oklahoma in context.
And at the same time it points to some under-emphasized features of a related surprise this year, namely, the rise of the Tea Party movement.
So very briefly, what are the principal components of the report that you’re about to hear about or at least the principal points?
Number one, religiously based American exceptionalism is alive and well and amazingly pervasive in the American population. Almost six in ten Americans continue to believe that God has granted America a special role in human history, and the distribution of attitudes on this point correspond to some familiar cleavages between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, observant and less observant Americans, but not to ethnicity.
Indeed, African Americans are more likely to affirm American exceptionalism than several other groups in the population. And what this suggests to us is a very simple political point, namely, denying or appearing to deny or even muting America’s exceptionalist claims comes at some political risk to anybody who seeks to downplay that historic set of beliefs.
The second principal point: Americans are deeply and evenly divided over the relationship between Islamic values and American values. Indeed, 45 percent of the population completely or mostly agree that the two are at odds, while 49 percent disagree, and if I had more time, I would run through some of the key divisions underlying that 45-49 top line finding, but in the question and answer period if anybody is interested, we can go into that in much more detail.
Third, many Americans are experiencing a sense of religious distance from President Obama. We had no desire to replicate the familiar question about Obama as a Muslim, a question that we believe to be based on a false premise, and neither the question nor the answers do any credit to either the survey researchers or the respondents. So we decided to pose a different question, you know, probing the extent to which Americans thought that Obama’s religious beliefs were either similar to or different from their own, and we found that only 40 percent of Americans think that Obama’s religious beliefs are similar to their own, only 12 percent that those beliefs are very similar to their own. Fifty-one percent think that the President’s beliefs in religious matters are either somewhat or very different from their own, and the very different category is fully 35 percent of the population.
So if you look at the left and right tails, the intensity, there are 12 percent who identify with the President quite closely in religious matters, and three times as many, 35 percent who feel quite strongly a sense of distance from the President, and there are, here again, some key lines of division: age, ethnicity, party ID, ideology, membership or non-membership in the Tea Party, religion, et cetera.
In the interest of time, I will not go into any of those details, but obviously, we have a long time to discuss them for anyone who’s interested.
So that is the tee and the ball, and now for the long driver, my colleague, E.J. Dionne.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you very much.
I will try not to go into the rough, although I often do, and just so you know about this document, we want everybody who wants to to use this. We’ve got your e-mail addresses. We still want time to make sure we don’t have one of these numbers off. We may discover in the course of this discussion that we have a very badly worded sentence or said something we didn’t think we said, and we might actually revise the paper a little bit in light of that, although what you will get from us in the end is going to be very close to what you have in front of you now.
Mike very kindly had offered not to distribute the paper ahead of time, suggesting that people might be rifling through the paper as we speak. I don’t mind at all if you rifle through the paper as we speak. I told Mike that there are a lot of numbers here. We don’t have a slide or a PowerPoint presentation for you, and I really wanted people’s questions to be based on what they cared about in what they saw about this.
But partly to save you the trouble of having to read while I speak, what I’m going to really do is walk you through what’s in the paper and sort of do highlights in a little bit more detail than Bill did, and then Michael will respond to them and we’ll chat about it all.
There was some talk that really this was a cultural election or somehow religious issues were dominant. Sometimes an election about economics really is an election about economics, and that is clearly the case in this election. What I would underscore here is that the Democrats lost ground across the board. They lost among the secular voters nearly as much as they lost among religious voters.
Perhaps the best place for you to look, there are a couple of charts here. We first use the exit poll to give the general contours of the election, and then we used our own survey that we worked on. So that chart after page 8 is the basic data on shifting from both 2006 and 2008.
And just to point out that the Democrats remained strong among secular voters, John Green’s categories of believing and behaving are still largely intact. There was nothing in the structure of this election that overturned those. You know, among those who said none on the exit poll, Democrats won 68 to 30. Well, that’s good except in 2006 they won by 74 percent and 2008 they won by 72 percent.
I would note that Republican gains were a little larger among Catholics than Protestants, which suggests what many surveys have suggested in the past, that Catholics are one of the premier swing groups in the American electorate. I once wrote that there is no Catholic vote and it’s important, by which I meant that Catholics are in a sense a 40-40-20 group, but 20 percent, it’s hard for Republicans to get less than 40 percent, hard for Democrats to get less than 40 percent, but 20 percent is a big swing, and you saw some of that swinging going on here.
I would underscore that when you look at any exit poll data this year, it’s very important to note the sharp decline in the participation of the young relative to the old in this election. There were the last I looked something like 45 million missing votes in the House race as compared to two years ago in the presidential election, and those missing votes were disproportionately young, to some degree disproportionately African American, and therefore, this electorate, the electorate on which the exit poll is based, is a different electorate than the electorate particularly of ’08, less so from ’06, although it’s a little older than that electorate.
These numbers aren’t in the paper, but one of my favorite findings in an illustrative sense is in 2008, 18 percent of the electorate was under 30; 16 percent was over 65. In this electorate, 12 percent was under 30; 21 percent was over 65. That’s a big shift, a big graying of the electorate. So all of these numbers are conditioned by that shift.
But however you cut it, this survey suggests that the Democratic losses were largely across the board, and that the categories that John Green wrote about, as I said, are largely undisturbed. The younger that evangelicals are, white evangelicals are, the more Republican; church attenders are more Republican and the like.
We also in our other survey said, all right, sometimes if you want to find out did an issue move voters, you just ask them, and so on page 11, I would note that in our PRRI survey only six percent of voters said religion played a larger role than usual in determining their vote. Eight percent said it played a smaller role, and the vast majority said it played the same role as it has in the past.
Again, I think more evidence that it is a mistake to over-read this election, people who want to read it primarily in terms of culture.
There were some differences in the way in which voters classified issues. While economics mattered to everybody, economics mattered more to black Protestants than to white evangelicals, and we do some analysis you might want to look at about issue priorities there.
But if you look at the traditional hot button issues, they clearly played a very limited role. This is not an election about abortion or same sex marriage, even among voters you might expect to care more about those issues. The only small caveat I would add is that we knew going in that most people would say economics when we asked them, jobs or something related to economics.
So we asked people what their second most important issue was if they picked economics just to see, in a sense to give a fair chance for social issues or other issues to enter the mix. When you added one plus two together, you’ve got ten percent of white evangelicals listing abortion as a voting issue and ten percent of white Catholics. That’s a significant minority. That issue hasn’t gone away. But, again, nonetheless, this was not central.
A lot of people have talked about — particularly those involved in religious outreach for Democrats — how the party failed in this election because there was a decline in organized Democratic outreach to religious groups. Now, we agree that it’s obvious that such outreach efforts were more significant in 2008 than 2010, and in some sense, the fact that the core structure or the religious structure of the electorate hasn’t been shaken up suggests that Democrats actually have it — it’s in their interest to renew such religious mobilization programs.
But our sense is that the shift among religious voters was driven by other factors that were not directly related to the existence or nonexistence of outreach efforts.
For now, one other fact I point out here, this from the exit polls. I went back and checked the Democratic share of the House vote in the 2004 election, which is, you know — I sometimes say that Democrats discovered God in the exit polls of 2004 when they realized they had a problem. The Democrats in this —
DR. GALSTON: Look through a glass darkly, you mean.
MR. DIONNE: Yes. The Democratic share of the white evangelical vote fell to 19 percent this year, which was actually lower than the party’s share in 2004 in House races. So there clearly remains a lot of work to do in that area.
There was one fascinating difference in terms of issue positions that came out of the PRRI survey, that white evangelicals were very distinctive — this is at the bottom of page 14 — in their views on foreign policy from the electorate as a whole. White evangelicals are significantly more hawkish.
We asked a two-part forced choice question: in foreign policy, the best way to insure peace is through military strength or good diplomacy is the best way to insure peace. White evangelicals chose military strength over diplomacy, 53 to 44 percent, and 56 percent of Christian conservatives chose military strength.
On the other hand, not only did white mainline Protestants prefer diplomacy, but 58 percent of white Catholics, and 73 percent of black Protestants.
There was some other issue stuff we can talk about in there, but I’ll sort of stop there.
American exceptionalism, you know, many of us were struck by Marco Rubio’s speech the night he won the election here in Florida. It was full of American exceptionalist language. You know, I believe he believes that, but he would have said the same thing if he would have read our survey. I mean, we were very struck, especially by how the idea of American exceptionalism crosses racial lines in a country that at the moment on many issues is divided along racial lines. So the idea that God granted America a special role in human history, 64 percent of Hispanics, 60 percent of African Americans, 56 percent of whites.
There is, however, an ideological difference: 75 percent of conservatives, 54 percent of moderates, but only 38 percent of liberals said this. Not surprisingly, American exceptionalism a view held by 86 percent of Christian conservatives, 83 percent of white evangelicals.
My very favorite, one of my favorite facts is —
PARTICIPANT: Can I ask you one thing on that?
MR. DIONNE: Yeah.
PARTICIPANT: Did you break it down, liberal believers? Would the numbers be different?
MR. DIONNE: You know, we didn’t. Actually we could break it down at least by liberals who claim a religious affiliation. I’ll look at that. That’s good.
DR. GALSTON: We do have a proxy for that though.
MR. DIONNE: Which is?
DR. GALSTON: The non-affiliateds.
MR. DIONNE: Right.
DR. GALSTON: Almost all of whom are liberals.
MR. DIONNE: Yeah, and that’s what I’m about to get to, which is one of my favorite facts in the survey. Among the non-affiliated, even among them, 32 percent said that God ordained a special place for America, which led Bill and me to think when we were doing the survey I’m not sure if God exists, but if he did, he ordained a special place for America or so it would —
PARTICIPANT: This is actually my parents, who are strong atheists, would agree with that sentence.
PARTICIPANT: They would scratch out the word “God” and use the passive case, a special place for America.
MR. DIONNE: Just on another dimension, and again, these findings have, we thought, some surprises. We asked if enough people had a personal relationship with God social problems would take care of themselves. Again, African Americans, 72 percent agreed with this; 56 percent of whites; only 45 percent of Hispanics. Again, there is a moderate split along political and ideological lines.
What’s fascinating is that African Americans take this view even though they have one of the strongest commitments among Americans to a strong role for government in solving social problems, and indeed, there is a correlation among just about everyone except African Americans between agreement on that statement and people’s views on another statement. We asked a question, government is providing too many social services that should be left to religious groups and private charities. People may think God solves social problems, but a narrow majority, 52 to 45 percent rejected that statement, and you have the data there.
What’s most revealing, and I’m going to get back to the Tea Party at the end, Tea Party supporters were significantly more likely than either white evangelicals or self-described Christians to see government as playing too large a role vis-à-vis private charities or religious charities.
I think it’s fair to say that this response was less a commentary about people’s views on private charity than it was a commentary about their views on government, and I think it’s fair to conclude that the ideas that fell under the heading “compassionate conservatism” may still have some resonance among white evangelicals and Christian conservatives, but that those ideas are largely rejected by the Tea Party movement.
And here are, I think, sort of three of the main findings about a new religious politics that I want to underscore. First, I think it’s very clear there is a substantial overlap between the Tea Party and religious conservatism or the religious right. Our earlier survey found that 57 percent of Americans who considered themselves part of the Tea Party movement also considered themselves part of — we gave them both options, to take the religious right or religious conservatism.
I believe it was David Brody who coined the term “teavangelicals,” and there are a lot of teavangelicals. It’s a very nice term.
And, you know, on the whole, Tea Party members are staunch conservatives who have much in common with the rest of the right. But I think there’s an important bit of the Tea Party’s distinctiveness, and providentially, if you will, for us, the historian Gary Gerstle published an essay. I commend it to you in this book, just out from Princeton University Press, on the presidency of George W. Bush, and I’m just going to read a few of Gerstle’s observations because they’re important to our analysis.
He referred to President Bush, the second President Bush, as being engaged in religiously inflected multiculturalism, or as Gerstle also called it, the multiculturalism of the godly, and in his essay, Gerstle argues that Bush and his political strategist Karl Rove developed a brand of Republicanism that they believed offered groups of minority voters reason to rethink their traditional hostility to the GOP. On questions of immigration and diversity, Bush was worlds apart from Pat Buchanan and the social conservative wing of the Republican Party that wanted to restore America to its imagined Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Celtic glory. Bush was comfortable with diversity, bilingualism and cultural pluralism as long as members of America’s ethnic and racial subcultures shared his patriotism, religious faith, and political conservatism.
And it is notable, and this goes to the finding on Islam that we’ll come to later, that during the time in which the United States was at war and Europe was exploding with tension and violence over Islam, Bush played a positive role in keeping inter-ethnic and inter-racial relations in the United States relatively calm.
Again, all these are from Gerstle.
He concludes that Republican politicians are likely some day to return to Bush’s multi-cultural project as a way of building and winning coalitions.
That may be true in the long run, but in the short run, I think that Bush approach has created a quiet backlash on parts of the right in American politics. One of the best expressions of that I have run across was last Saturday in the Financial Times. Chris Caldwell, who many of you know, had a very interesting column where he characterized President Bush’s multi-cultural accomplishments from the point of view of a conservative critic.
And Chris concluded that many of the Tea Party’s gripes about President Obama can be laid at the door of Mr. Bush. He concludes provocatively that if Obama has come to grief through his failure to realize the electorate is poor soil for cultivating social democracy, then Bush failed to realize that Christian democracy was just as alien a plant.
Now, this is a very interesting notion. I don’t agree with all of Chris’ assessments, but I think he has shrewdly sketched out the difference between Tea Party politics and the politics of compassionate conservatism, and I think Gerstle sort of described something important about the Bush presidency: that is, in fact, it generated a reaction on part of the reaction on the right.
And we go through a number of — we offer a table to suggest that on many issues, white evangelicals, Christian conservatives and Tea Party members are broadly on the same side, but that Tea Party members hold these views with even greater strength.
On the question of the values of Islam are at odds with American values, 57 percent of white evangelicals say that, but 66 percent of Tea Party members say that.
Obama has different religious beliefs from yours, 65 percent of white evangelicals, but 76 percent of Tea Party members. Now, again, all these numbers point in the same direction, and we don’t want to exaggerate this finding. There is a lot in common across the political right.
Nonetheless, something is going on here, and my notion of how we might sort that out was to look at the one election where, to be completely neutral about it, one of the most assertive nationalists in American politics, Tom Tancredo — the language is just slightly less neutral in the paper — ran for governor of Colorado as a third party candidate. There is no more outspoken opponent of immigration. There’s no one who has been willing to use the kind of language, or not no one, but very few politicians have been willing to use the kind of language Tancredo did.
So we decided to look at, well, what’s the difference between Tea Party members and white evangelicals and their attitude toward Tancredo. In Table Four, you see the result. I think it’s very striking that Tancredo got 80 percent of support among those who describe themselves as strong Tea Party supporters, but only 66 percent from all conservatives and 54 percent among white evangelicals.
Now, perhaps some of this is that white evangelicals had more loyalty to the Republican Party. Dan Maes, the Republican, got about eight points more among white evangelicals and Tea Party supporters, but also I’d suggest you look at the difference in Hickenlooper’s vote: three percent among Tea Party supporters, 20 percent among white evangelicals.
I think there is something significant here. We believe that what might be called the Tancredo difference has important implications for conservative and religious politics. While many accounts have emphasized the possibility of splits in the Republican Party between its establishment and the Tea Party, there was also the potential for other divisions between religious conservatives with more moderate views on immigration, more compassionate views on poverty, and members of a Tea Party movement still rebelling against certain distinctive aspects of the Bush presidency, which leads to the last two points and I’ll stop soon just so we can go to the discussion.
This question of differences between American values and Islamic values and where Americans came down on this, I do want to put in a word of caution that we put in the paper that there’s a big middle on this question. I think a lot of Americans don’t quite know what to make of this question because what we found is 20 percent of Americans completely agree that Islamic values and American values are at odds, while 22 percent completely disagree.
This creates a big middle ground, the 25 percent who mostly agree, the 27 percent who mostly disagree. I think this suggests that opinion on this question could be subject to change, that many Americans hold nuanced views, and that a majority may not hold these views very strongly.
But when you look at who holds which views strongly, I think that there is a real danger that this issue could become politicized and very divisive. Thirty-three percent of Republicans say they completely agree that Muslim and American values are incompatible. Only 11 percent of Democrats said this. Thirty-one percent of conservatives, 43 percent of Tea Party members completely agree. Only eight percent of liberals and 16 percent of moderates said this.
And we think these findings — and so if you wonder why there was so much attention to the building of the Islamic center near the World Trade Center or the vote in Oklahoma on Sharia law, I think there is something going on beneath the surface, and I believe that the absence of President Bush may play a role in this.
Again, if you go back to the early part of the Bush presidency and pretty much throughout his presidency, President Bush said many of the things that President Obama is now being criticized for in saying Islam is a religion of peace and in trying to prevent the outbreak of anti-Islamic feeling in the country. President Bush said at the time of 9/11 that he didn’t want to have happen to Arabs and Muslims in America what had had happened to Germans and particularly the Japanese in World War II.
That force is now missing as a powerful force on the right, and we also have the fact that President Obama, the first President to have a Muslim parent, this issue is getting politicized in a way that I think should catch our attention, and I would argue we may want to worry about.
We close the paper with a couple of points. There is a lot of data here on what people see about Obama’s religious views, who sees his religious views as similar to theirs, who doesn’t. Again, Bill made the point that there are many more people likely to say his views are very different than theirs than people who say his views are very similar to theirs.
Our colleagues, Robby Jones and Dan Cox, made an interesting point that this question is especially important to the approval of Obama among those who attend religious services at least weekly. There’s a 74 point favorability gap between those who say he has similar religious beliefs and those who say he has different religious beliefs. A much smaller 35 point gap among those who are less religiously active. That’s partly because no matter what they think are his religious views, the less religiously active like Obama a lot better, and you can see that in the numbers.
We ask a question: “Government should do more to protect morality in society.” You would expect that’s a classic liberal-conservative split. Two years ago it was. In 2007, 50 percent of conservatives wanted government to do more to protect morality, but only 36 percent of moderates, 28 percent of liberals.
In the new survey, however, the proportion of conservatives who wanted government to protect morality dropped to 37 percent, and a lot of that was affected by views of President Obama.
The last two quick points. One, both parties have something to worry about on the religious front. Neither should be certain that they are on the right track.
On another question we asked Republican and Democratic. We asked voters, respondents to characterize Republican and Democratic candidates. Again, it was a forced choice question. We asked either do they pay enough attention to religion or were they too close to religious leaders. By 47 percent to 28 percent respondents said Democrats didn’t pay enough attention to religion, and by 54 percent to 27 percent, they said Republican candidates were too close to religious leaders. Both parties have a lot of work to do.
We don’t pretend to offer a detailed solution to President Obama’s dilemma here. What we do know is that he has proven himself adept in the past at addressing religious issues and national divisions, and that he shied away from expressing himself on these matters as President. These findings suggest that it would be in his interest and the country’s for him to find his voice on issues that are of particular importance to the United States, which as you all know has been described for good reason as a nation with the soul of a church.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you, E.J.
Well, if I was a person who tweeted, I would tweet this: I had to come all the way to South Beach to hear E.J. praise George W. Bush, and I finally did. Thank you for that, E.J.
MR. DIONNE: I thought it would surprise everyone. I just want to say —
MR. CROMARTIE: Oh, it did.
MR. DIONNE: Actually I thought about this as I was writing the paper, and I have a long record of praising Bush on this, on a couple of these points.
DR. GALSTON: The only thing I want to add is this old Clintonian has been equally surprised and thrilled by the wave of Clinton nostalgia now sweeping through the ranks of those who tried to impeach and remove him from office not too long ago.
MR. DIONNE: But if they all liked Clinton as much as they say now, he would have gotten 98 percent of the vote, all of these conservatives now praising Clinton.
MR. CROMARTIE: Ladies and gentlemen, I call your attention to Michael Barone’s bio. You need to know on all of these speakers the bios could have been another paragraph long, and so I had to reduce them down. One of the things I wanted to be sure to get into Michael’s bio is that among his many, many accomplishments, he has also traveled to all 50 states, to 435 congressional districts, and to 37 foreign countries. So he’s not only a prolific writer of books and articles, but he’s a world traveler, and he’s been to all the congressional districts in the country.
MR. DIONNE: And you give him your address and he’ll tell you how you vote.
MR. CROMARTIE: And how many counties, Michael?
MICHAEL BARONE: I’ve been to, I think, 1,137 —
— out of 3,141. I did the Website the other day. Yeah, a lot. About a third of the counties have less than 1,000 people. There’s not much there.
DR. GALSTON: The reason Michael came to our first conference in Key West was so he could visit Monroe County, I’m convinced.
MR. BARONE: Yeah, well, you know.
MR. CROMARTIE: You’re on, Michael.
MR. BARONE: Okay. Monroe County, Florida, southernmost county on the mainland.
But anyway, well —
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you for coming.
MR. BARONE: Okay. Well, this is an interesting work that E.J. and Bill put together, and I think it starts us off with an interesting paradox that religion, religious belief, degree of religiosity is still highly correlated with voting, though issues that seem to have religious content in which the views of many, if not all, voters are influenced by their religious beliefs were not at all prominent in this election. I mean, we had, you know, the philosopher Glenn Beck when asked to comment on same sex marriage and what was the problem there said, “I don’t really care about this. There are things that are more important right now,” which is an attitude which is shared, I think, by many voters on all sides of that issue.
How to explain this paradox?
It struck me as I was reading this paper and considering the fact that this conference is being held in Florida that there is something in the political attitudes of people that correlates with their sort of religious belief and their voting behavior, and it’s something I observed, I thought in the Florida controversy over the state’s electoral votes in the 2000 election because it seemed to me that the people on both sides were extremely energized and angry and motivated, and in part because, I thought, the arguments used by each side tended to be in line with their basic moral attitudes.
The Republicans were basically making in their various legal forums arguments that said obey the rules. The rule says this. Don’t change the rule in the middle of the game.
The Democrats were basically making a series of arguments that said the rules are unfair. We’ve got to change the rules, and so forth.
I think that both sides might have made opposite arguments if it had been in their interest to do so. It just happened that, you know, the statewide issues, the issues of Volusia County and Nassau County and Palm Beach and Broward Counties and so forth tended to present issues where it was to the benefit of the Republicans to argue obey the rules, to the benefit of the Democrats to argue change the rules, and there’s, you know, a moral case that can be made on both sides.
And it strikes me that the conservatives this year and the considerable but, as E.J. points out, not total overlap between the Tea Party folks, the evangelicals, what’s common there is this sense of obey the rules, follow the rules as they are held.
If you go back to the Rick Santelli rant on CNBC — I notice you haven’t invited Santelli to any of your conferences that I know of, Michael.
MR. CROMARTIE: He doesn’t reply to my e-mails.
MR. BARONE: Well, if you listen to him, he’ll rant on your e-mail.
But on February 19th, 2009, what Rick Santelli is arguing there about, it’s not so much government spending. He’s saying, I don’t want to have to pay off the mortgage of some guy that’s got an extra bathroom and took out too much of a loan, and so forth. It’s the idea of obeying the rules. He was arguing against these various policies that we’ve had or that have been proposed, you know, to modify people’s mortgages so that they won’t lose their house.
And I see a similar thought, it seems to me, in this survey. We see white evangelicals showing up as particularly concerned about the size and role of government. They are extremely against financial bailouts of all kinds. They’re very much for balancing the budget. It seems to me in each case they’re saying obey the rules. Don’t change the rules in the middle of the game. Let’s obey the rules. If some people have to take a hit, that’s their problem, but we should obey the rules.
So that’s the sort of common thread that I see coming in there which helps to explain why we see a high correlation with religious belief and voting behavior even when the content of issues seems not to have much to do explicitly with religion.
Bill and E.J. made these comments about or pointed out some of the results where voters tend to see Obama as another, as different from them, and in particular, that his religious values are not similar to theirs. Other people have, you know, pointed out that. I’ve heard liberal commentators, in particular, say that, you know, Americans see Obama as “the other” because of his race, because of his unusual background having been raised in a foreign country with a foreigner, not an immigrant, but a visa holder. As far as I know, Barack Obama, Sr. never intended to become an American citizen or put himself in the way of doing so. He was active in politics in Kenya, and so forth, so he’s an other.
It seems to me here that what we are seeing is a sort of reaction against him as what my friend Joel Kotkin calls a “gentry liberal” category. Joel lives in California, and gentry liberals are basically the dominant group voting block there in many ways. It’s the high income people who are liberal on cultural issues, very often, but not always, secular, more so than the average public, and so forth, and you have this interesting — if you go back and see that the state senate district that Obama drew for himself when he was a state senator after the 2000 census, and I guess it was the procedure there that the incumbents get to choose their districts. It’s better to have the incumbent —
PARTICIPANT: That’s a common procedure in America.
MR. BARONE: Yeah, the incumbent chooses the voters, not the voters choosing the incumbent. But in any case, his district was the 13th state senate district. It was about two-thirds black South Side Chicago, almost 100 percent black, and then about one-third lakefront, Hyde Park and Kenwood around the University of Chicago and then going north to include the near North Side where you have some of the very most affluent people — and incidentally Democratic fund raisers — in the Chicago metro area.
And in fact, you know, what we see from the exit polls in this election or the election returns, who are the groups that are most faithful to the Democratic Party? Well, as this survey and the exit poll point out, black voters remain percentage-wise by far the most Democratic identifiable block and no significant difference in percentage from 2008, although it would appear a somewhat smaller turnout.
Gentry liberals basically stayed loyal to this administration. If you look at, you know, Cambridge, Massachusetts in the special election last January voted 95 percent against Scott Brown. They were not charmed by this, and they were probably not voting for the human qualities of Martha Coakley, which were not particularly attractive. They were sticking with the Democrat and they turned out. They turned out in good numbers, and you can see that result, you know, on the West Coast.
Why did the Democrats stay well ahead in the West Coast? Well, look around the San Francisco Bay area. Look at the west side of L.A. Gentry liberals stuck with the Democrats, and in some sense I think may be said to be the core of the Democratic party.
You know, people are always on the lookout for party splits. There is, you know, a potential split between these two core groups which we saw played out in the Washington, D.C., District of Columbia Democratic primary for mayor, where Adrian Fenty, the incumbent mayor was supported by gentry liberals, and the challenger, Vincent Gray, with a million bucks from the teachers union was supported by black voters over the issue of running the schools and school superintendent Michelle Rhee.
We may see other such splits in municipal, more likely municipal than national, politics, but it does seem to me that that’s an interesting development. Historically we’re not used to thinking of gentry liberals as a large or significant voting block because they weren’t historically. They are now.
Finally, why would Obama be seen as different, as not having similar religious views? I think part of the answer to that is something that’s not tested, I think, as far as I know, in this survey explicitly, and that is, is Barack Obama an American exceptionalist?
Bill and E.J. present the results here, which are similar to what we’ve seen on other polls. I think they have more questions on this and some very interesting ones on American exceptionalism. Is this a special and different and good country, and so forth?
And as they point out, 32 percent of people who don’t believe in God believe that God made America special.
PARTICIPANT: If he did anything, he did that.
MR. BARONE: If he did anything. Just substitute the passive voice, that America was made special.
MR. DIONNE: Some of them probably believe in God.
MR. BARONE: Anyway, yeah. Voters don’t have to be logical anyway. They can have whatever beliefs they want.
You know, the —
MR. DIONNE: I’m glad Michael’s comment on the 2010 election is voters don’t have to be logical.
MR. BARONE: Well, they don’t have to be logical. It’s true for all elections, but the American exceptionalism, I think, is a problem for the Democratic Party because it basically unites the American people and splits the Democratic Party. About two-thirds of Americans tend to take American exceptionalist positions on this. The Republicans tend to be, you know, 90-10, 85-10, something like that. Democrats tend to be, you know, more on the order of 47-37, which is like the old story about the Teamsters Union business agent who was in the hospital and got a bouquet of flowers with a card saying, “The Executive Board wishes you a speedy recovery by a vote of nine to six.”
And we have had, you know — Obama has made statements. He was asked about being, you know, an American exceptionalist. Does he believe in American exceptionalism?
Well, the way the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. You know, that’s been generally interpreted by me, among others, as saying, “No, I don’t.”
I suppose you could make the argument that Britain really is an exceptional country in a number of ways, and that Greece, you know, the Greeks are exceptional in a number of ways, so forth and so on. But I’m not sure.
In any case, it seems to me that the President is at least perceived as being on the wrong side of that basic attitude by many voters and that that is one of the reasons that people feel a certain distance from him. I don’t get the sense that substantial percentages of Americans have the kind of visceral hatred that many conservatives had for Bill Clinton and that many liberals had for George W. Bush. Each of those two Presidents it seemed to me to have personal qualities which people on the other side of the cultural divide just absolutely loathed.
I don’t think Barack Obama has personal qualities of that kind. I don’t think that he is loathed or hated in the way that Presidents Clinton and Bush were. But nonetheless I think that there is — perhaps what we’re seeing here is evidence of some coolness, a distance, which I think is a phrase or a word that Bill and E.J. use here, that is not — and a distance that they measure in terms of his perceived religious attitudes, which continues to be of importance even though voters don’t consider, this year at least, issues with specific religious content to be particularly important.
Let me just stop off there.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you, Michael.
Before I get you all in and I’ve got a long list, Bill, E.J., quick comments on that or you don’t have to?
DR. GALSTON: I’ll pass.
MR. DIONNE: Let me just say two quick things. One is Michael made the decision to mention the tenth anniversary of the great travesty in Florida of ten years ago, and in light of the fact that I did make some kind comments on President Bush, I want to point out that, no, I haven’t gotten over it. Democrats didn’t want to change the rules. They wanted a Secretary of State who would interpret the rules fairly and recount ballots, but I won’t go there.
I’ll leave it at that.
MR. BARONE: E.J., I’m willing to engage in an extended and acrimonious conversation with you on this subject. So I suggest you change the subject.
MR. DIONNE: Right. In order not to hijack Mike’s excellent conference, I’ll leave it at that. Michael and I can have fisticuffs at the bar.
The other fact that I just want to point out is that the only rich people conservatives dislike are rich liberals, and there is something to what Michael said, by the way, about American exceptionalism, which I think would be an interesting thing to talk about, but I do want to point out that the gentry overall voted Republican this year. Americans earning more than $100,000 voted 58 to 40 percent for Republican House candidates. I just want that on the record.
But otherwise let’s open it up. I thank Michael for his comments, and I especially liked his comment on the ailing Teamster official. The President, the first President Bush used the same wonderful joke when he was sick when he was U.N. Ambassador, and he said the U.N. had voted 50 or 72 to 65 wishing him a quick recovery with 44 abstentions.
MR. CROMARTIE: Cathy Grossman and then Kirsten and Elaine.
CATHY GROSSMAN, USA Today: I want to go back to the Obama shares my religious values question, and I wonder whether it’s a chicken or egg thing, which came first, the fact that they don’t like Obama and so they allow religious values to be the excuse that they’ve been offered the opportunity to give or vice versa because there’s such a tight correlation, but which is first here?
And secondly, does this allow them, because there’s no question on here, “do I really just hate having a black president” — there are people who just don’t like him who are looking for you to give them language that they can sign up for, and how much of this is separate from race?
MR. DIONNE: Go ahead, Bill. Do you want to start?
DR. GALSTON: Well, first of all, as is the case with all research of this sort correlations are one thing and causal attributions are quite a different thing, and we have some speculations in our report about what the political scientists with their typical barbarous language called “bi-directionality,” that is to say, it strikes us as very likely that you have movement of sentiment going in both directions, but that there is some effort to relieve cognitive dissonance by bringing the two sets, these two sets of views into alignment.
That is to say that if you don’t like his politics, if that’s your prior, then you will be more likely than not to try to bring your view of his religious sentiments into some sort of cognitive harmony with that and vice versa.
People just as a psychological matter are not comfortable with cognitive dissonance, and they tend to try to reduce it.
Look. We were very, very careful, you know, in designing this survey and in writing up the results not to try to reduce a complex set of attitudes about President Obama simply to racial animus, and there is a lot of anecdotal evidence, you know, from field work that’s been done suggesting that that kind of reduction is an analytical mistake.
If you’re asking do I think that there are some people in the population who even in this day and age are driven significantly by that, yeah, some, you know, and we use the word “some” in this report as a proxy for exactly that, for exactly that belief, but we have no way of assessing the share of the population for which that is the principal driver, and we don’t want anyone to walk away from this meeting thinking that we think that it is the predominant phenomenon.
It is clearly a very complex set of issues where religion, upbringing, the fact that the President so clearly represents the triumph of a new kind of meritocracy, you know, that has aroused a certain populous streak in Americans, which is part of our DNA and has been for a very long time.
We could go on and on. All of this is part of the mix, and race is part of it in some cases, but we don’t think that it’s the predominant part.
MR. BARONE: Well, Barack Obama got 53 percent of the vote. That’s more than any other Democratic nominee in history except Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. It’s more than John Kennedy, more than Woodrow Wilson, more than Bill Clinton, more than Grover Cleveland.
You know, America elected a black President with a record percentage of the vote. I think I react very strongly and with great hostility to arguments that people are only voting Republican because of race.
MR. DIONNE: Right, and I don’t think — what I want to say, first of all, on your chicken and egg —
MS. GROSSMAN: I’m not trying to or asserting that as a statement. I was asking.
MR. DIONNE: No, Just on your statement about the chicken and egg issue, we used the chicken and egg phrase because I think it’s very hard, and just on the narrow part of the religious question versus political beliefs. I think in a survey you might get 35 percent of Americans strongly disagreeing with Barack Obama’s taste in ice cream. I mean, in other words, I think there is a hard anti-Obama constituency out there of some size, maybe 30 percent or of some size so that there is no question that answers to the religious question are driven, in part, by racial attitudes.
I think we would have to do, and we would love to do, more survey work to figure out what the interaction is between this and that.
On race, I think two things are true at the same time. I think there’s no question that there is racism there and that for some minority of Americans there is a racial factor there. I have been struck by findings that Tea Party members are more likely than other white Americans to say the government has done too much for black people. It doesn’t mean they’re all racists. It doesn’t mean that racism is the only thing going on there. I think there clearly is some racial feeling there.
But I don’t think you can explain all of the reaction or most of the reaction to Obama from race. I think it has always been there as, you know, a minority of the electorate. They didn’t vote for him last time. They weren’t going to — they’re not going to vote for him again. So it’s there.
But one of the things Bill and I talked about in terms of the report was that this is both a neuralgic issue and it’s very easy to say it wrong because if you say it one way, it sounds like you’re saying all of Barack Obama’s opponents are motivated by racism. Well, of course that’s not true.
If you say it another way, you’re saying there is no racism. This is all about politics. So that’s not true either. There is some element of race in there, but I don’t think it’s what flipped this election or flipped the numbers from what they were two years ago. I think there are a lot of other factors doing that.
MR. BARONE: Well, I think there may even be a slightly — there’s an offsetting positive thing and we don’t know how big the offset is, which is, I think, most Americans feel as I do that it was a good thing for the —
MR. DIONNE: Right.
MR. BARONE: — country to elect a black President, and I think for 2012 many voters will feel a reluctance to seem to be rejecting the first black American President, and that’s a result of our history, a reasonable result of our history.
MR. CROMARTIE: Kirsten and then Reihan.
KIRSTEN POWERS, The Daily Beast: This actually wasn’t my question, but now in light of this conversation I’m wondering if you can answer it. Is there any way to actually really truly poll the race question? Because even your example that you just gave, you know, people saying that they think too much has been done for black people, well, you know, maybe a white working class person feels that the government hasn’t really been there for them and that they have been helping black people.
That doesn’t make them racist per se. I mean, does anyone ever really poll it just point blank and ask people whether it bothers them that he’s black?
MR. DIONNE: It has been polled, and I can’t remember. Somebody should Google that. The question has explicitly been asked. It produced a surprising — one poll I remember seeing in ’08, but I don’t remember what the number was. I was surprised at how high the number was of people willing to just say outright that that’s the case, but I don’t —
MS. POWERS: Yeah, because I always feel that people — I mean, I worked in the Clinton administration. The hatred towards Bill Clinton, I think, surpasses what we see with Obama, frankly, and so it makes me question the race thing a lot, you know, because it’s —
MR. DIONNE: It’s a close race between those two.
MS. POWERS: Yeah, yeah. Okay. My original question was just on the Obama has different religious beliefs from yours.
Well, first of all I want to say this was great. You know, I really appreciate this, and it’s very, very interesting.
On this question I’m a little confused by it because I feel like if you ask a Catholic or a Jewish person, they’re going to say, “Well, yes, his religious beliefs are different than mine,” but what does that really tell you, you know? Whereas I think we might be inclined to look at this and think, “Oh, his religious beliefs are different. They think he’s Muslim,” or they think something else.
What can we really learn from these numbers?
MR. DIONNE: That’s a great question, and by the way, one of the interesting findings is Catholics saw his views as more similar to theirs than mainline Protestants even though Obama belonged to a mainline Protestant church, which suggests that — and which gets to part of the answer, which is you’re absolutely right, and the reason for those who do not go to church, it’s easier for them — or to religious services — it’s easier for them to say, “Yeah, they’re different and it doesn’t really matter.”
And you see that in the smaller favorability gap. However, it’s clearly also a measure of proximity in terms of not what specific tenets does he believe in or what church does he belong to, but are my, if you will, religious sentiments or religious persuasions similar to his?
And, therefore, you could see, you know, white Catholics saying they feel closer to him than white mainline Protestants do.
DR. GALSTON: Well, here, you know, I brought the internals with me. So I can give you a specific answer to your question. Keep in mind that the totals are 40 percent very similar or somewhat and 51, you know, somewhat dissimilar or very dissimilar.
Okay, and the breakdown is like this: among white evangelicals the very or somewhat similar total is only 27 percent, among white mainline Protestants it’s 40 percent, among white Catholics it’s 45 percent, and among black Protestants it’s 75 percent.
And for some reason the sample didn’t include enough Jews to be broken out. Well, you know, I’m going to make it a personal matter to talk about it to our colleagues and see if they could do a little better on that score next time.
PARTICIPANT: You don’t have Muslims either.
DR. GALSTON: That’s true, too. Well, to each his own.
PARTICIPANT: They’re very similar or similar.
DR. GALSTON: Yeah, right, and so clearly, you know, the alignment or lack of alignment of white voters with President Obama’s religious sentiment is not in any direct way a reflection of their doctrinal beliefs. There’s something else going on.
And if you ask us, well, do we know what that something else is, unfortunately, probably speculation will set in long before the analysis that you would want has been completed.
MR. DIONNE: See, one of the reasons that we talked about this at the end of the paper this way is that it has really struck me as it may well have struck a lot of you that I felt that Obama had, during the period before he ran for President, kind of from that Call to Renewal speech forward, talked more explicitly and in many ways more intelligently than most American politicians have about the relationship between religion and public life, and he made a very conscious effort to be, on the one hand, the liberal that he basically is on these matters but, on the other hand, speak with a lot of respect and understanding of more conservative religious people.
I mean that Call to Renewal speech has language in it that’s quite critical of secular liberals. Since he’s become President, he has not engaged in much of that talk, and what these numbers suggested to me is that it would not — it might well be useful for him to reengage these issues in an appropriate way. Obviously there are a lot of things he has to do after this election, but it struck me — I think Bill agrees — that this would be an area where it would be useful for him to reengage.
MR. CROMARTIE: Quickly Bill.
DR. GALSTON: Yeah, quickly. Let me just put a few more numbers on the table, you know, so that everybody has the full picture. First of all, older Americans were particularly unlikely to find any similarity between Obama’s religions views and their own. Only 35 percent of those or rather 32 percent of those 65 and over said so.
There was a strong racial and ethnic component on similarity: 32 percent of whites, 44 percent of Latinos, 74 percent of African Americans.
Strong party ID effect: 69 percent of Democrats saw a similarity, but only 16 percent of Republicans and 35 percent of independents.
A very strong ideological effect: 23 percent of conservatives, 49 percent of moderates, 56 percent of liberals saw similarities.
A strong Tea Party effect: only 11 percent of Tea Partiers, you know, saw Obama’s religious views as similar to their own.
And of course, the religious breakdown that I just gave you. So it is a really divisive question.
MR. DIONNE: But it also goes back to the chicken and egg thing because the groups that don’t like him don’t like his religious views, and so I think that chicken and egg problem is something we will struggle with for a while to try to sort this out.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Reihan over here. Reihan is next and the Elaine.
REIHAN SALAM, National Review: I’m not an expert on African American vernacular religious traditions. My understanding, however, is that Jeremiah Wright is a very kind of creative thinker who created a kind of highly distinctive religious synthesis, one that drew upon traditions well outside what we’d consider the Protestant mainstream whether in the African American tradition or in the kind of broader American tradition, one that also drew upon, for example, ideas from liberation theology, et cetera.
So I wonder if it’s possible that a lot of the people who say that the president — and, of course, the President has distanced himself from Wright, but also closely identified himself with Wright for a very long period of time, acknowledged him very graciously in a book published around the time of the presidential campaign, and of course, that was something that drew considerable attention during the presidential campaign, and I wonder if it’s possible that the 74 percent of African Americans, the 45 percent of Roman Catholics, et cetera, et cetera, who identify with the President as having religious views very similar to their own, they might be over-interpreting, you know, other kinds of sameness, that is, the fact that he identifies as an African American. Ergo, well, that means that he has similar religious views to mine and that some of the folks who, you know, think of him as a Muslim, maybe they’re not captured by this, I think, much more useful question.
It could be that people are just taking into account the fact that he did identify so closely with someone who did embrace what I think we can fairly characterize as an idiosyncratic religious tradition. That’s one question.
Another thing, just as a comment, that I found interesting is that when you look at the numbers of Americans who believe that the President is a Muslim, I was struck by the large number who thought that was okay, and I don’t have very good recollection of these numbers, but I think it was something like high single digits, like nine percent overall when you kind of break out the people who think that he’s a Muslim but also think that that’s kind of groovy.
And as a Muslim I think that that’s kind of an encouraging sign, but anyway, that’s just my intervention.
MR. DIONNE: Two quick responses. One is I would be very curious about the popular memory of the Jeremiah Wright affair and the extent to which even it has created a kind of unconscious sort of, if there is such a thing, information in people’s heads that it created a sense of him and religion, and whether they remember the full trajectory of the Jeremiah Wright story or not, whether that has an effect.
But you point to something else that’s interesting, which is — and we mention it in the paper when we deal with the question of government’s role in solving poverty — you really do see a broad split between a more traditional kind of conservative Christianity and a social Gospel oriented Christianity, and my hunch is that among religious believers, a lot of those who say they identify with Obama’s religion are people who are broadly of — you know, using the term as loosely as possible — more a social justice and social gospel sort of Christians than they are traditionalist conservative Christians.
And in that sense I think it has a kind of rough and ready theological content that doesn’t have to do with denomination or a specific religious tradition. And certainly African American churches have a strong element of that prophetic tradition.
MR. CROMARTIE: Michael Barone has a quick comment.
MR. BARONE: Well, my sense is that the memory of Jeremiah Wright is not very vivid with most voters. The media has not wanted to be preoccupied with that story more than it had to and kind of let it drop and he’s dropped from sight, as far as I know.
You know, it’s interesting that he gets the strongest degree of agreement or common feeling among black Americans, and interestingly, black Americans are also hugely high on the American exceptionalist side, which is a result I have not seen before or at least I haven’t absorbed, and I thought it was quite an interesting one in this survey.
MR. DIONNE: We agree.
MR. CROMARTIE: Oh, You had a follow-up, did you?
MR. SALAM: It’s just one thing. My understanding is that one of the reasons why the President and his family gravitated toward Wright is partly because relative to other African American evangelical churches, this was a church that was particularly welcoming of lesbians and gays and also it was particularly forthright about HIV, et cetera. That is to say it had a different political coloration.
And so I just kind of still wonder. This social gospel idea, that sort of makes sense very broadly, but I wonder if someone who is a kind of high information respondent to this question might nevertheless think, well, you know, that certainly is a distinctive religious tradition that is not necessarily — I just mean that it seems like one of those issues where whenever we think about these surveys, the more information you have the crazier the answer you get. But here it seems that, well, gee, the people who answered this way in a way that I think for some of us would concern us, why do they think he’s different, I mean, are actually the ones who seem to actually have a pretty good command of how his religious education might have been distinctive.
MR. DIONNE: No, that’s fair, and Wright’s church, by the way, was very much not evangelical. I mean, it’s interesting that it is part of the United Church of Christ. In many ways it’s a theologically liberal church linked to sort of James Cone’s liberation theology or black liberation theology.
MR. BARONE: So it’s the black church that can do best among gentry liberals.
MR. DIONNE: I knew you’d say that.
DR. GALSTON: Although not on everything, as we know.
MR. DIONNE: And what we know from Reverend Wright’s most famous utterance is that it’s also at least that particular church denies American exceptionalism at least as forcefully as —
PARTICIPANT: That’s a different kind of American exceptionalism.
MR. DIONNE: Unless America has been singled out for special damnation, in which case it’s exceptionalism with a minus sign.
DR. ELAINE HOWARD ECKLUND, Rice University: I wish we had enough Muslims because it would be interesting to see if Muslims perceive Obama to be their man, right? So even though the numbers are small, maybe you can get them to run it.
Also, wondering about the Latino Catholic vote and if that’s salient at all here. We haven’t discussed that yet. So do Latino Catholics perceive immigration, say, to be a religious issue or some of these issues in the same way that we see black Protestants perceiving economic life in some ways to be a religious issue?
MR. DIONNE: Just in terms of Muslims, Muslims, as is the case of Jews, as is the case of any relatively small subset of Americans, are very hard to poll, but Andy Kohut has actually built up a very good file, and I’m going to ask him to include this question on the next Muslim survey he does because it would be fascinating to see what the answer was.
DR. ECKLUND: No, I do survey research. So I get that. You know, you’ve got 1,400 people and you’ve got about eight Muslims, but the over sample would be fascinating.
MR. DIONNE: I’d like to see what Andy would find on this with Muslims, but on Latinos, let me just say a couple of quick things. I wanted to and haven’t been able to break out the Catholic-Protestant Latino split, which is very important. What you saw in the Bush years is Bush did significantly better among Protestant Latinos. He actually carried Protestant Latinos, lost Catholic Latinos.
It appears there was an overall slight decline in the Democratic share of the Latino vote. It was still, I think, 60-38 in the exit poll, and I think there were state and regional differences here. There have always been, obviously, state and regional differences. The Latino population in Florida being heavily Cuban is more conservative and Republican than most. Texas has been different from California over some period of time.
It’s very clear that the Latino vote was very important to the reelection of Barbara Boxer, the election of Jerry Brown, the victory of Michael Bennett and the victory of Harry Reid. That’s quite clear.
But I want to look some more at data on the Latino vote, and I’m curious if that Catholic-Protestant split has remained the same or if the retirement of President Bush has actually sort of muted that difference that we saw when he was President.
MR. CROMARTIE: You were going to add to that, Michael? You don’t have to.
MR. BARONE: I was basically going to make similar points.
DR. ECKLUND: We get it when we do local. I just directed a big interview-based study, but it’s just local to Texas, but you do get Latino Catholics with very different views on things, motivated by religion, but this is a narrative study where we do interviews. Yours can’t get into that kind of depth in a survey, but interesting to see.
DR. GALSTON: You know, there clearly are some interesting differences.
DR. ECKLUND: Yeah. Thanks.
MR. CROMARTIE: Barbara Bradley Hagerty is next and then Eve. Go ahead and pull the mic close to yourself, and then Nina Easton.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY, NPR: If I could just ask you all to speak to this kind of as historians who have watched trends over the last couple of decades, one thing that I think it was Richard Land said to me when I was looking at the Tea Party and the religious kind of undercurrents to the Tea Party; he said, “You know, the Tea Party’s essentially fine for now, but I wouldn’t go to many rallies over economic issues. What really motivates evangelicals,” he said, “are the social issues.”
And what I’m wondering is whether, you know, because maybe people were, maybe religious conservatives were disappointed with the Bush years, disappointed with McCain as a candidate, whether they felt disaffected and they kind of had the major religious groups, organizations were failing them and so they kind of — the Tea Party stepped into where the Family Research Council or Christian Coalition used to be, and so they found a home. The conservative religious folks found a home with the Tea Party.
And I guess what I’m wondering is — so it’s way too long a preface. So forgive me for that.
DR. GALSTON: No, it’s a good observation.
MS. HAGERTY: But I wonder if this is a temporary home or whether the social issues will so drive them that it will create a bit of a wedge with those who really do believe that economic — you know, kind of the true Tea Partiers who, I believe, are motivated by economics.
DR. GALSTON: That’s a good question. I think it’s fair to say that when you put the two American value surveys together, the one that was in the field in September, reported in October, and this one, but especially the first, we did not find that the social attitudes of Tea Partiers are all that different substantively from the social attitudes of better known religious conservatives.
What we did find was a difference in emphasis or priority, but the view that was current six months ago or a year ago that, you know, Tea Partiers represent some sort of a libertarian countercurrent within the Republican Party, that really for the most part is just not true.
But at the same time, you know, at the same time the distinction between the members of the Tea Party movement and Christian conservatives who don’t see themselves as members of the Tea Party movement suggests that the finding a home explanation can’t be quite right either because if those were Christian conservatives who felt homeless as the result of developments during the Bush administration, you wouldn’t have expected to see them change their order of priority in these two issue baskets, social issues versus economic issues.
MS. HAGERTY: Really? Do you think that’s true?
DR. GALSTON: Yeah, I do think that’s true. In other words, I think that what you have in the Tea Party movement is a bunch of people who got mobilized into politics principally by their sentiments about an alarm about changes in the size and role of government, the level of spending, the debt, that entire complex of familiar issues. They brought their socially conservative attitudes into the political mix with their economic alarm, but had it not been for the economic alarm, I’m reasonably sure that we would not have seen the kind of phenomenon that we’ve seen since very early in the Obama administration.
I think that’s just — you know, intuitively that feels right to me as a narrative, and I think it’s also consistent at least with the data at our disposal.
Now, having said that, we’re certainly not denying that a lot of conservatives, by the way, economic conservatives as well as social conservatives, felt disaffected from standard Republican Party politics as a result of the eight Bush years because many economic conservatives were very, very critical of the Bush administration for Medicare D, for the rapid rise in discretionary spending, et cetera.
MR. DIONNE: I think one of the problems with discussions of the Tea Party is that you can measure its actual size in so many different ways because if you look at polls that asked “did you go to a rally,” or, in other words, somebody actually doing something, you’re down to numbers like three to six percent is the range I’ve seen. That’s still a lot of people, but it’s a relatively small number, and I think in some of its initial organizing, the organizing forces were probably more libertarian.
I think the Ron Paul campaign was an important part in the original impulse for the Tea Party. Dick Armey is a kind of libertarian who has been very critical, in fact, of the religious right.
But as soon as you move beyond whatever that core is, and even some of them are not libertarians, we get a number that’s in the middle of some of the measures because we ask kind of a — do you have our questionnaire in front of us? We asked one that requires more than just vague support. It sort of implies members. We get about 11 to 12 percent.
In our 11 to 12 percent, this is a predominantly, not uniformly, but a predominantly socially conservative group. But then when you have favorability, you often get a lot more conservatives who are just happy these guys are out there on their broad side of politics, and it’s not clear what they mean by favorability other than, heck, I’m happy to have an ally out there.
I think there is something to your theory that there was sort of an organizational I don’t want to say — decline, I guess, is a better word, not collapse — but an organizational decline in the religious conservative, religious right side, and that there was a vacuum to be filled. I think there’s something to that. You don’t get that from survey data, but I think there’s truth to that.
MR. CROMARTIE: Michael?
MR. BARONE: I think we’ve had — I agree pretty much with everything Bill said and much of what E.J. was saying. I think we’ve had a sort of truce in the culture war. It’s a phrase that Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana, was criticized by some Republicans for advocating such a thing, but I think that some of the culture war issues that, you know, have more or less been settled.
Abortion is not going to be criminalized. It is going to be disfavored in different ways in our society. Same sex marriage is coming to large parts of the country. It’s an age break that suggests that it will be acceptable in the majority of the country some time in the next generation or so.
Those attitudes have been changing sharply, and people seem to be going along with it.
I liken the Tea Party movement or what is really — you know, we’ve seen an in-rush into political activity of hundreds of thousands, probably millions of people — I mean, six percent of Americans is 18 million people, or of adults it’s, you know, 13 million — over the last two years. I certainly did not predict this. I can’t think offhand of anybody who did.
I liken it to the peace or anti-war movement of the late ’60s, early ’70s, which initially was directed not just at one political party. It was initially bipartisan but quickly became channeled largely within one of our two political parties; brought a lot of people into politics; was about a major issue. I mean, war and peace, size and scope of government are major, serious public policy issues. They cannot be dismissed as, you know, peripheral or, you know, weirdo preoccupations.
And you know, in the case of the peace movement we had the same pattern of challenging moderate incumbents in a primary and then sometimes losing that state or distrct to the other party in the general election. We saw that 40 years ago. We’re seeing some of that now.
On balance you get a lot of good citizens involved in politics, and you find some new candidates who come up with really good, you know, political instincts. I mean, a lot of the press wanted to cover this Christine O’Donnell in Delaware who was never going to win. They didn’t seem interested in covering Ron Johnson in Wisconsin who was going to win and who was really a good candidate, who was a very smart political mind, a guy who a year ago was a plastics manufacturer in Oshkosh that none of us ever heard of. You know, I think that’s a legitimate story.
You know, when you get lots of new people in, you also get a certain amount of wackos and weirdoes and witches.
MR. DIONNE: I was going to say if Ron Johnson had made an “I am not a werewolf” ad, he would have gotten a lot of attention,
MR. BARONE: Well, but, you know, I mean, the fact is that in her case she was a nut case candidate that wasn’t going to win, and this guy is going to be a U.S. Senator from a key state. Which is more important to the life of the republic, you know?
MR. CROMARTIE: Yes.
PARTICIPANT: I don’t disagree with that. And which gets higher ratings?
MR. CROMARTIE: And which gets higher ratings. Don’t go there.
Eve, you’re up next, over here, and I’ll tell you who’s after Eve. Nina and Ross.
EVE CONANT, Newsweek: I’m very interested in the part of the study on American exceptionalism, and am curious in this, I think, 58 percent figure, do you have thoughts or guesses on how much the economic crisis plays a role in that and how much or whether a person views Iraq and Afghanistan as failures or successes plays a role in that?
So part of the broader question being, over time is this — what is the trend? Is this a significantly new figure? Is it lower than usual? Is it higher than usual?
I would love to hear in context what this 58 percent figure sort of means.
DR. GALSTON: If anybody has the context to supply, now is the time to come forward with it. We don’t have trend data on this formulation of the question.
I will say that the number does not strike me, based on my decades of looking at this question as being particularly high. You know, I share with Michael the sense that what’s most surprising about it is its pervasiveness through the population, and some groups that you might expect, some ethnic groups that you might expect to have reservations about American exceptionalism endorse it even more strongly than, you know, old stock whites do.
I mean, I’d be happy to go through the information that we do have and provide you with all the internals that we have on this, and that might give you some insight, but there are probably polling organizations that have asked a version of this question.
MR. DIONNE: Has anybody asked it before? Does anybody know?
You see what I wanted to do is suggest you e-mail us because we had to do this fast enough that we didn’t go back and look at all of the trends that we would have if we had had another week. Can you send me an e-mail? I’m going to send it on to Robby and see if we have quickly available trends because it’s a great question.
And as Bill said, I think this seems to be more consistent, but it would be fascinating if American exceptionalism has declined, given all the things that are happening, or this belief in American exceptionalism. So let us know.
PARTICIPANT: E.J., can I?
MR. CROMARTIE: Quickly on this point, quick.
PARTICIPANT: I did look at the polling when I did a book in 2003. It has been as high as 80 percent. Fifty-eight percent strikes me as a little low. The one thing that I was looking at it has always been higher among immigrants though who haven’t presumably gone through the Harvard faculty. No, seriously —
DR. GALSTON: You’re following this gentry liberal line.
PARTICIPANT: I know. But always been higher among immigrants. That’s the one thing I do know, and I don’t know if it was asked the exact same way.
DR. GALSTON: Well, see, that’s the point I was going to make. We chose an exceptionally clear and aggressive formulation. Here is the agree/disagree statement. “God has granted America a special role in human history.” Not a lot of wiggle room there, and I suspect there are squishier ways of asking that question that will produce a higher result.
PARTICIPANT: Yeah, I would think so.
MR. CROMARTIE: Nina Easton, you’re next.
NINA EASTON, Fortune: I want to challenge E.J.’s sentiment that we need President Bush around to save conservatives from their racist, anti-Muslim sentiment that’s seated in —
MR. DIONNE: I don’t think that’s precisely my formulation, but go on.
MS. EASTON: But let me just pose this, and I said this after there was all that hand wringing a couple of months ago about, you know, Americans’ anti-Muslim sentiment going up in general. Okay? That we’re becoming more racist.
Let me cite to you just three things: Fort Hood massacre, Christmas Day — explosive Christmas Day underwear, and a fuming van in Times Square, all done in the name of Allah. Is it possible that rather than being racist people are reacting to threats they see out there, a reality?
MR. DIONNE: Let me tell you why I believe Bush played a major role in, if you will, holding down anti-Muslim sentiment in the country or putting a lid on it or containing it. And this was from work that I did with the Pew Forum back after 9/11, and this is all online somewhere.
And what was really interesting is that there was a favorability measure about Muslims in the country that we asked in the survey after 9/11, and what was really striking is the Muslims had an especially high favorability rating among conservatives after 9/11, and we speculated but I think with reason at the time that President Bush’s many public statements, including going down to the Islamic Center right after 9/11, had a real impact on conservative views on this issue.
But when President Bush didn’t talk about this nearly as much as time went on and over the years that the conservative negative feelings sort of ticked up, if you look at the trend line, and so I really do believe that Bush’s aggressive intervention particularly immediately after 9/11 had an impact on how conservatives see Muslims.
Now, on your other point, if you want to say that a lot of Americans look at these events and develop certain attitudes towards Muslims and they are not entirely surprising, that’s true, but it’s a question of whether you believe — this is, again, a fairly broad question we asked: are Islamic values at odds with American values?
And, again, only 20 percent, I think it was, completely agreed. So there is nuance within the level of agreement, and it’s a question of whether you make the distinction that Bush and Obama have both made between the terrorist as a radical and non-representative sect of Islam or whether you think this is Islam, period.
And I agree with Bush and Obama, and I think a lot of conservatives were more inclined to believe this when President Bush was saying it. I think there’s evidence for that.
MR. CROMARTIE: I’ll go to Michael and then Bill.
MR. BARONE: Yeah, I think, Nina, your point is well taken, and Juan Williams made a similar point the other day that resulted in a change in employment for him.
MS. EASTON: Can I just add when I am saying that I mean, you know, and I should have couched it this time, while we all know that most Muslims are peace loving, et cetera, et cetera, the point was that this is in the mind of, you know, these threats to the country, high in the minds of the population?
MR. BARONE: I think Americans are capable of understanding that, you know, there are important threads in Islam that lead to this kind of violence. It doesn’t represent everybody; that you may be suspicious of somebody on the basis of their characteristics, but that that doesn’t necessarily indicate that they’re likely to go along with that.
I think President Bush, Rudy Giuliani and others reminded us of that after 9/11, but that the level of violence by ordinary Americans against people that they identify as Muslims, to my knowledge, is very, very low. You know, there are certain parts of opinion that see the American people as a great beast who will go out and start shooting up everybody in sight if you tell them that this massacrer at Fort Hood said, “Allahu akbar,” and you’ve got to protect them from this knowledge because the great beast will go and, you know, all of these bigots will kill everybody.
And I just think that’s an underestimation of the American people, and I think E.J.’s point that, you know the response to this survey that the completely agree was rather small, and that there was substantial numbers that partially agreed shows that people are aware that there is particular danger from people acting in the name of Islam on the basis of strains that do exist in that religious tradition, but that it’s not all Muslims by a long shot.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Quickly, Bill.
DR. GALSTON: Yes, sir. You know, I don’t want to make any causal statements about President Bush’s efficacy or anybody else’s efficacy or lack of efficacy. I think that President Bush based — you know, I’ve spent a lot of time studying the internment of the Japanese, the Korematsu case and things of that sort, and both the President and the judicial system and the polity behaved much, much better this time than they did the last time, thank God.
Having said that, the American people have not reacted to the events of the past decade in an undifferentiated way. I make no moral judgments or even empirical judgments about what I’m about to report, but you know, it’s my responsibility to report it.
On this question, there are strong party differences and ideological differences, and so —
MR. DIONNE: And religious.
DR. GALSTON: And religious as well, which I’ve already reported. So let me just get this out and then I’ll shut up. You know, here are the percentages of different party groups who see Islamic values at odds with American values and way of life: 67 percent of Republicans, 30 percent of Democrats, 43 percent of independents. That’s what we found. Make of it what you will.
Sixty-two percent of conservatives, 40 percent of moderates, 26 percent of liberals. Again, make of it what you will. Those are our numbers.
MR. BARONE: What are your responses to the question? How would you respond to the question? Completely agree, partly agree, partly disagree, completely disagree?
DR. GALSTON: How would I personally?
MR. BARONE: Yeah.
DR. GALSTON: Well, if I may be autobiographical for just a minute, you know, I am married to someone who in her first career was a professor of Islamic political philosophy, and so, you know, she and I have had many discussions of this question, and the question is, you know, which Islam are you talking about.
If you’re asking me about the Sufis, you know, I’d say that they’re just as congenial to democracy as most of the people in this room. If you’re asking me about the Wahabis, you know, I would say something completely different. If you’re asking me does the form of Islam represented in Indonesia count for more or less statistically, you know, than the kind of Islam represented in the Arabian Peninsula, that’s above my pay grade.
MR. BARONE: About four times as many people in Indonesia.
DR. GALSTON: Well, that’s the point I’m making.
MR. BARONE: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
DR. GALSTON: And so, you know, the problem, one of the problems is that the category Islam, which covers a very appreciable portion of the human race, living scattered across the face of the globe in every continent, I think, makes it very difficult for me to answer that question.
If you’re asking — if you’re asking me about —
PARTICIPANT: It’s your question though.
DR. GALSTON: Excuse me?
PARTICIPANT: It sounds like you somewhat agree, right?
DR. GALSTON: Well —
MR. DIONNE: Or somewhat disagree.
DR. GALSTON: Or somewhat disagree. Right, in other words —
PARTICIPANT: It’s definitely a “somewhat.”
DR. GALSTON: It’s a somewhat something, but, quite frankly, speaking as a Jew, if you ask me is Islam in Indonesia more or less compatible with democratic self-government than ultra orthodoxy in Jerusalem, that for me is a no brainer.
MR. CROMARTIE: Ross, you’re up next. Ross and then Lauren Green.
ROSS DOUTHAT, The New York Times: Well, maybe I’ll make one very quick comment going back to a different fraught issue, the issue of race and racism. I think listening to you guys and more generally in these debates, I think it’s worth distinguishing, and I think people don’t do it enough, between racism and what you might call racial anxiety.
As an example of racial anxiety, for instance, I think Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are both figures who trade on racial anxiety in the black community. That is they trade on the idea among their constituents that, you know, black people are getting screwed and only I, Jesse Jackson, can prevent black people from getting screwed.
And I think to the extent that there has been a racial reaction to the Obama presidency among white people, I think what you see is much more of the, you know, white people are becoming a minority in this country and, you know, we’re about to be discriminated against, which is a racial reaction, but it’s nothing like what we would characterize as racism in any kind of classical Barack Obama is inferior because he’s a black man sense of the word.
I think if you listened to, you know, when Rush Limbaugh indulges in a monologue about, you know, Barack Obama’s America is where the white kid gets beat up by black kids on the bus, that’s not 1950s South racism. That’s the anxiety of, you know, maybe white people are in for it in the future.
So that would be my comment. My question, I guess, is mainly for E.J. and Bill. You touched on this a bit talking about how successfully, much more successfully in a way Barack Obama sort of played the religion card in a sense during his presidential campaign than previous Democratic candidates for President, from Michael Dukakis down to John Kerry have been able to do, and there did seem to be a conscious strategy of outreach from the Obama campaign manifest in, you know, the whole Rick Warren courtship and everything else.
And I wonder if you think there’s anything that Obama could have done differently since he became President to sort of sustain that kind of outreach or whether you think this shift is just, as with many things, a manifestation of deeper trends, economic, social and otherwise.
And in particular, I think that this may be a very small subset of the people being polled, but you know, the fact that Barack Obama’s religious faith has seemed to diminish markedly as sort of something that he expresses once he won the White House. I think there is sort of an interpretation of Obama’s religious outreach given his governing style that suggests that maybe it was a little bit, you know, it was a little more calculated than sincere.
I guess I wonder what you think of that possibility.
MR. DIONNE: That question was on the table about completely disagree or not. I would completely disagree thinking about American Muslims in Loudoun County, in the southern suburbs of Detroit, and the reason I would do that is because I believe that a lot of the stuff being said about American Muslims now is very similar to what was said about American Catholics about 100 years ago, you know, that they were anti-democratic, and you know, you could cite all kinds of things in papal statements that sure sounded anti-democratic, and that they were aligned with a foreign power.
So when I hear anti-Muslim prejudice in the United States I think of that history of religious prejudice. So that’s why I —
MR. DOUTHAT: I’m not going —
MR. DIONNE: Anti-Catholic prejudice.
MR. DOUTHAT: But even —
MR. DIONNE: But, no, no, there was more —
MR. DOUTHAT: But don’t you think that there were some reasonable questions that were asked of the 19th Century Catholic Church?
MR. DIONNE: Oh, I agree. No, there were reasonable questions that were asked of the Church and that, in fact, American Catholics had, I believe, a positive impact. Nonetheless, there was still bigotry there. I do not —
MR. DOUTHAT: No, I agree, but I’m just saying —
MR. DIONNE: I do not believe Catholics in the United States at that moment had values incompatible with American values. My response to that question and questions of its kind are conditioned.
I also don’t like anti-Mormon prejudice and have written about that. I was talking to a politician who shall for his sake remain nameless because he went off the record with me. So I’m not worried about me. I’m worried about him, who said basically — you know, he was talking about what Obama could do differently, and this is a strong Obama supporter. He said, “He could go to church again,” is what this politician said.
And I do think that the — you know, who am I to tell the President of the United States you should go to church more, but if you’re asking at the level of sort of practice symbolism what a President might be expected to do, and you could argue back this is completely unfair. No one asked Ronald Reagan to go to church, and so it does show a kind of double standard against Barack Obama, which I believe exists on this question. Nonetheless, he’s a politician. He has to deal with double standards, too.
You know, the question about the sincerity or insincerity, number one, I think for all of us it’s very hard ever to read what is in someone’s heart, but I’ve got to say when I heard him give the — you know, I wasn’t there, but when I read the Call to Renewal speech, this struck me as a sincere speech, and it struck me as sincere partly because I particularly was taken by the section of it where he talked about doubt and said all religious people — I had never heard a politician specifically talk about doubt. Bush actually did recently, but as far as I could tell, Barack Obama was the first person who said, “I’m a believer and I have had doubts,” and did it in that way.
And I just — you know, there are a lot of problems that have been before the country that don’t relate directly to religion. So you could argue maybe there weren’t many opportunities, but I just think he had developed what at least I continue to think was a very sophisticated, unifying, largely unifying discourse on this subject, and I don’t think he should run away from it. I think he should have found ways periodically to reengage these questions.
His faith based office put out a whole bunch of interesting proposals and ideas. They didn’t really do much with any of that stuff, and I —
MR. DOUTHAT: There was supposed to be some sort of abortion thing, right, that they were working on?
MR. DIONNE: Yeah, to work on reducing the number of abortions, and I just think these are issues that they have chosen not to deal with much, and I think it’s a mistake.
I think that’s a direct answer to your question.
DR. GALSTON: Let me just pick up on the other piece of your question, the distinction between racism and racial anxiety. I mean, I think you’re on to something there. We tried to probe that to some extent by including the following question in our survey, asking people for completely, mostly, agree or mostly or completely disagree. “Today discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.”
And I could give you all sorts of breakdowns, but here’s just the racial and ethnic breakdown. You had 48 percent of whites agreeing completely or mostly with that sentiment and 50 percent rejecting, and I suspect strongly that if you do some cross-cuts with ideology, age, you know, and things of that sort you will find some fairly predictable patterns.
Interestingly, and I would not have predicted this, 30 percent of African Americans also agreed with that proposition, and you know, I would have guessed maybe ten percent just off the top of my head. Thirty percent, so you know, there’s something out there, but we don’t really have the wherewithal in this survey to figure out what it is.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Lauren, you’re up.
LAUREN GREEN, Fox News: Actually I wanted to just ask you about that particular issue because I think that’s a really very interesting point you make about that. Because one of the things that most of us, I think, know is that race is a better indicator for how somebody is going to vote than their actual religious beliefs. I mean, race affiliation is the highest.
DR. GALSTON: Yes.
MS. GREEN: And we most identify being black or white, and that’s how you can mostly identify somebody. And I don’t know if it’s something that we realize that we are identified most by race, how we identify each other as well.
So what I wanted to know, too, is that, you know, how much do our politics actually inform our religious beliefs in our religious beliefs as opposed to religious beliefs informing our politics. Because this is something that I don’t think any poll really gets at, you know. We do polls about if you go to church once a week or, you know, two or three times a month, then you’re more likely to vote this way. If you, you know, go to church rarely, then you vote this way. If you are — you know, that sort of thing.
But really, I mean, is there any kind of poll that you can do that says how much is your politics really informing your religion or your religion informing your politics?
MR. DIONNE: I love that question. Just on race, race is certainly a clearer indicator of party voting among African Americans and white Southerners than in the rest of the country. African Americans, in general, and Obama, of course, got 97 percent of the African American vote, but the typical vote has been around 88, 89, 90, 91.
But among whites it’s not a good indicator outside the South. I mean, whites split. In the 2008 election, Northeastern whites voted slightly for Obama; I think Midwest slightly the other way, Westerners slightly the other way. Sixty-one percent of Obama’s votes came from white people. So, you know, I think it is partial, an important indicator, but not a total indicator, just to put that there.
The question was about — your question —
MS. GREEN: Yeah, whether it’s possible. I don’t know if it’s an animal that any poll has ever been able to take. I really want to probe inside somebody’s belief system.
MR. DIONNE: Oh, I see. I’m sorry. Yeah, I think Alan Wolfe actually has written very well about this. I think it’s a real question for people in all religious traditions to ask themselves, and all political views, by the way — this transcends ideology — the extent to which the political questions matter more even to religious people than their religious convictions.
Wolfe makes the point that you don’t really see people arguing about transubstantiation or Trinity or a whole series of things that are actually religious questions. They argue about politicized questions, you know, including abortion and gay marriage, which you can argue are moral questions, but that we tend to ransack our traditions on behalf of our political parties. That’s an old C.S. Lewis line that goes way back, that you know, we tend to examine the teachings of Christ or the teachings of the Gospel not to find out what we might think, but to find support for our own political party.
And I think there’s a lot of that going on, and I think all kinds of people of many faiths and views are, if it’s something to be guilty about, that is something they’re guilty of.
DR. GALSTON: There’s also the question of political behavior, in particular, voting, and there we do have some evidence from our survey on what people say when they’re asked what really drove your decision when you got into the privacy of the polling booth. And in every single religious denomination or breakdown — and also for the unaffiliateds — the overwhelming response to that question when we gave people a choice was common sense and personal experience.
MR. DIONNE: Read the question just so people know what the choice is.
DR. GALSTON: Okay. I’m sorry. “Which one of the following had the biggest influence on your vote?”
Now, you know, I’ve been chastised many times, you know, by people who don’t like the conclusions I come up with for giving too much weight to what Americans or what people say about themselves and their own motivations. You know, can’t we get beneath that and second guess it and really look at the —
MR. DIONNE: “Approfondire.”
DR. GALSTON: Right, yeah. But here are the choices they were given: common sense and personal experience, the views of friends and family, what you’ve seen or read in the media, your religious beliefs or something else.
And here are the aggregate findings: common sense and personal experience, 73 percent; friends and family, four percent; the media, 12 percent; your religious beliefs, nine percent.
Now, that doesn’t quite answer your question, but it is suggestive. But you’re right. There’s a black box there that we have to figure out a better way of getting into.
MR. BARONE: Of course, it’s missing the other motivation, which is the party of the candidate.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Reihan, and then John Allen.
MR. SALAM: I was looking at an older Pew survey, and I imagine that it has been overtaken since, but this was looking at 2005, July, around the time the 7/7 bombings happened, interestingly, going to August of 2007 and looking at the change in answers to the question about whether or not Islam encourages violence.
And if you look at conservative Republicans, they went from 49 right around the time of the 7/7 bombings happened to 68, plus 19, between July 2005 to August 2007, and among white evangelicals it went from 49 to 56, very, very sharp spike.
And of course, we all have our different stories about what happened, but one of the stories that’s been advanced is this idea and, I think, a reasonable one, that because the President was the head of a kind of right of center coalition in this country, he projected sort of a language of restraint, et cetera, regarding how to think about Muslims, and I think the premise is that, you know, with him no longer being there that’s changed, but I’d say that what you really saw happen was that there is basically an elite consensus, and when that elite consensus is present, then it could have some restraining, dampening effect, but it’s not going to be all that powerful in terms of what grassroots opinion is.
And then you have to have a political entrepreneur who’s going to break down that consensus because someone sees an opportunity there.
And between 2005 and 2007, one of the things that happened perhaps you guys will remember is the Dubai Ports World controversy and a variety of other controversies that suggested that it was now open season to start talking about some of these concerns. It was also a period of time during which President Bush’s political profile was at a very low ebb and at a time when, you know, my own home state Senator, Senator Charles Schumer, was very enthusiastically advancing the idea that a multi-national conglomerate based in Dubai that had operated ports throughout East Asia, Western Europe, et cetera, was somehow going to be smuggling terrorists into our ports by operating ports throughout the northeastern United States, a pretty extraordinary idea.
And then I think that from that point on, you know, once that political entrepreneurship starts, it starts to move in a certain direction, and so I think that given that you saw a plus 19, plus seven, and these numbers across the board even when you look at the groups on the left of center, it’s pretty extraordinary stuff.
And so I wonder how much of this is narrative driven. Similarly, the New York Times had a wonderful story about some of my fellow Muslim New Yorkers in the week of the Cordoba controversy, and what it found, and this, of course, was a very informal survey, not a very rigorous one, but what it found is that there were a lot of the Muslims in New York who were saying, well, absolutely we have every right to build the cultural center. Of course, maybe we should move it a little further away. I mean, you know, surely that’s a reasonable thing to do.
Now, I happen to disagree with that. I happen to think that it was perfectly appropriate to build it where the Cordoba folks wanted to build it, but regardless, it’s interesting in terms of what was their perception, and one of the really striking numbers you see about perceptions of Muslims, it really relates very closely to whether or not you know a Muslim.
Now, when you look at these political coalitions and the composition of these coalitions, when you’re looking at one that has a lot of white evangelicals from rural areas, from kind of micro-politan communities, et cetera, chances are they’re not going to know a ton of foreign born people. Chances are they’re not going to know a ton of people who identify primarily as Muslims.
So I think that it’s kind of important to keep this stuff in mind, you know, political entrepreneurship, who do you know rather than, you know, just kind of the fact that this kind of ideology is telling us all that much that’s useful.
MR. DIONNE: Okay. Bill? Go ahead first because what you told me when we were doing this.
MR. CROMARTIE: Let me just say you don’t have to answer everything. I mean, we can keep going.
DR. GALSTON: Well, I was just going to drop a very quick footnote, and that is that sociological connection thesis is the driver of Robert Putnam’s and David Campbell’s most recent book, American Grace. I mean, that is the long pole in their analytical tent, and I have, you know, I have some doubts about its analytical adequacy, but in the interest of time I will suppress them for now, but if you want to take a look at my review of the book in the most recent issue of Commonweal, you’ll get a better idea of what I think.
MR. DIONNE: It’s an excellent review. Two quick things. One, I think you’re absolutely right as a general proposition. By all measures of prejudice, knowing someone well breaks it down. I mean, with gays, the number is especially striking. If you have a friend or close relative who’s gay, your attitudes are very different than if you don’t.
So I think there’s something to that, but what you just cited was part of what I was talking about. I’ll give up the chance to defend my old friend, Chuck Schumer, but just say that I think — and I’m not blaming Bush for this — but I think if you look at the centrality of the defense of Muslims to Bush’s rhetoric, it was much stronger in the earlier period than it was in the later period, and there were a lot of reasons for that.
But I do think that Bush’s voice early on was extremely important in holding those numbers down, and I think the fact that they went up, and this could be tested empirically to see, and he never stopped being sympathetic to Muslims, but I think it was a less central part of his discourse than it was immediately after 9/11 when he was really worried about an outbreak of anti-Muslim feeling in the country.
MR. BARONE: Well, he was worried about violence. Well, one reason that he stopped saying it, I suppose, is that there wasn’t that much violence, which is good, and maybe he played a positive role in that.
MR. CROMARTIE: John Allen, you’re up.
JOHN L. ALLEN, JR., National Catholic Reporter: E.J. and Bill, I’m interested in the compare and contrast with white evangelicals and white Catholics. Your data would seem to suggest, and then, of course, this is consistent with other findings, that in a lot of matters they’re fairly similar. Where they’re different you can usually explain that by the fact that there’s probably a larger, kind of liberal footprint among white Catholics than there might — in other words, white Catholics tend to be a little bit more spread out ideologically than white evangelicals.
But the one part of your data where there was a really dramatic contrast, and I’m interested if you have some way to explain this, is on this issue of American exceptionalism. What you find is that 83 percent of white evangelicals endorsed the notion of American exceptionalism, but only 49 percent of Catholics. I mean, that’s almost a factor of half, and in fact, Catholics have the lowest percentage of adherence to that statement of any religious subgroup that you identify, lower than mainline Protestants, lower than black Protestants, and so on.
I can’t imagine that can be explained exclusively by political ideology. So what else do you think is in the mix there?
MR. DIONNE: I’m going to leave it to the non-Catholic to start because I’m very curious what he’s going to say.
DR. GALSTON: My sense is that the idea — well, let’s go back all the way to the beginning of American history where, you know, a dominant trope among the dissenting Protestants who came to the new world was the idea of themselves as the new Israelites and America as the new Israel. I mean, if you look at the literature of the 17th and 18th Centuries that identification of America and Israel as a chosen people, a chosen nation was enormously powerful, and I think that’s a very important part of our cultural DNA as a Protestant origin country.
This is a pure speculation. You know a Catholic asked a Catholic and a non-Catholic a question and the non-Catholic is answering the question, and you know, I don’t have a lot of skin in this game, but I have to believe that the idea of Catholicism as the universal church tugs against the idea of the providential election of any single nation as well it might.
I mean, that strikes me as quite a logical connection for a universal church to make, particularly if you’re a universal church which is growing so much more vigorously outside the United States, outside the industrial West than it is, you know, than it is in Africa or even parts of Asia.
You know, I would certainly not be affirming American exceptionalism unless I had a very strong doctrinal or dogmatic reason to do so, but Catholics as far as I can see don’t, but you know, that’s just a view from outside. You can re-educate me.
MR. DIONNE: I think the universalism part is important. I also would note that Catholics and white mainline Protestants are actually quite close on this question, 49 percent Catholic, 53 percent white mainline, which suggests that the language in the question may be not only deeply Protestant, but almost inherently evangelical because black Protestants are higher than both Catholics and marginally white mainliners, and obviously white evangelicals are way up on that question.
So I would be curious if there isn’t both a Protestant and an evangelical component to the language that is different from the language Catholics speak and to a significant degree different from the white mainliners because Catholics also were more pro diplomacy on that question than were white evangelicals.
So there seems to be some — maybe those 1986 bishops’ letters had an impact, you know.
MR. BARONE: To those very interesting answers, let me just add a footnote. The Census asked people to describe what groups they’re descended from, ancestry groups and so forth. If you take a look at the counties where the largest number of people say American, it’s the Scotch-Irish migration from southwest Pennsylvania going down the Appalachians into Texas. They don’t say they’re Scots or Irish. They say they’re Americans. A big overlap here with evangelical Protestants, I think, you know, or a high correlation, and they’ve just left — the old country is left behind.
MR. CROMARTIE: Carl Cannon.
CARL CANNON, PoliticsDaily.com: I wanted to make sure I understood you. Fifty-one percent of people said that they didn’t think that President Obama’s religious views are equivalent to their own; is that —
MR. DIONNE: Would you like to hear the exact question?
DR. GALSTON: Okay. Here is the exact wording of the question. “From what you know, do you think that Barack Obama has religious beliefs that are very similar, somewhat similar, somewhat different or very different than your own religious beliefs?”
MR. CANNON: All right. Here, let me just turn it around because originally I was thinking that’s a pretty low number. About half said yes. But if you think that the people who responded to that question were actually giving it some thought, I mean, here’s the following groups of people who actually know that his views do not mirror their own, and I’m just going to tick off a few: Opus Dei Catholics, charismatics, Jews, Mormons, Hindus, Buddhists, New Agists, Wiccans, Seventh Day Adventists, agnostics and atheists.
Those people know that his views are not theirs because he has said so. And then when you take the rest of it, I mean, my question, a big wind-up, isn’t this a pretty high number actually who express solicitude for Obama?
And then the second thing, E.J. alluded to it. Some of this, if you will, is his fault, if yes is a positive answer. He doesn’t go to church. He answered that abortion question that we’ve talked about in this seminar many times at Rick Warren’s church. He said it was above his pay grade. So evangelical Christians who paid attention to the answer said, “Well, okay. His views aren’t my views.”
And the Muslim thing, I always thought that — Bryon York has written about this. He said remember during the campaign that McCain had that warm-up speaker who said, “We’re going to defeat Barack Hussein Obama”? McCain fired him by the end of the day, denounced his own guy.
The same thing happened to Bob Kerry who used it in a slightly different context while working for Hillary Clinton, said his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and Kerry was saying, you know, this might give us some credence in the Arab world.
The Obama people protested. They said that’s not what Kerry was doing. He was actually using code words, and Kerry had to apologize.
But when Obama is President, when he goes to Egypt, his White House Press Office put out statements supporting what they demanded Kerry apologize for. His name is Hussein. He’s got a Muslim — he had a Muslim father.
So if Americans answer that question negatively, it seems to me that they’re being very literal and maybe telling the truth and maybe accurate, but that’s my question. What do you think?
MR. BARONE: Some agnostics probably think he’s an agnostic, too.
DR. GALSTON: Okay. I as recently as last week published a long, not entirely happy piece about the first two years of the Obama presidency, you know, which you can see on the Brookings Website if you’re interested.
And in the course of doing the research for that piece, I stumbled across an interview that Obama had given to the New York Times a week after he clinched the presidential nomination in 2008, and he described himself as a Rorschach test. That was the phrase that he used, you know, that whether by design or through inadvertence, you know, he had created a kind of a blank screen campaign onto which people could project different sorts of wishes, different forms of identification, different hopes.
And so people who might have thought that he was a Muslim and, as you pointed out before or somebody did, that wasn’t such a bad thing, could imagine that about him; people who thought that he was a traditional Protestant could imagine that about him; people who thought with some justification that he was someone who had sucked at the Catholic social justice tradition could believe that; people who are very much inclined towards the Niebuhrian form of Protestantism had excellent reason to believe that he inclined in their direction. He was a man for all seasons.
And, you know, the problem with being a Rorschach test as a candidate is that it leaves a lot of things to fill in as President, you know, and this is just a more academic way of putting the point that E.J.’s unnamed politician, you know, said in a much earthier way, and that is he has done very little as President to fill in the blanks, much less than I would have anticipated either behaviorally or rhetorically, and I think that that has created doubts and uncertainties such that people are more likely — you know, if somebody has been President for two years and they can’t get a fix on him religiously, they are more likely to say, “Well, gosh, you know, probably not like mine, you know, because I, you know, I have no reason to conceal or, you know, blur my religious identity, and so if he does, maybe they’re not like mine.”
But that’s pure conjecture.
MR. DIONNE: Two points. One is it’s important not to misread the 51 percent who say his views aren’t theirs as automatically hostile to Obama. Some people are simply making the rational judgment you are, and that’s shown by the fact that especially among those who were not regular religious attenders, he still got 52 percent positive among those who said his religious views were different.
So I think it’s worth underscoring that you can’t just read this purely as if you like him, you know, you say his religious views are like yours, and if you don’t like him you say the other thing.
The second thing is I don’t think, just on the smaller point, I don’t think it’s irrational or unfair if the Obama folks were trying to make a distinction between the fact that, you know, he did have a Muslim past could help us with the Muslim world and that some people who said Barack Hussein Obama were actually trying to curry prejudice or, you know, take advantage of prejudice.
In my own experience it matters entirely the way the people pronounced the word “Hussein” when they say this, and I would recommend, say, listen to a Tom Tancredo speech.
And so — Bob, I mean, he was campaigning for Hillary. If he had been campaigning for Obama, I’ll bet they wouldn’t have said that. It would have had a different feel.
But then the last point I’ve already said what I was going to say. I think it’s an area where he has fallen more silent than he has to, and it has hurt him.
DR. GALSTON: I would just add one last point, and that is that it may or may not be a coincidence that the people who are least likely to believe that his religious sentiments are like their own are the ones, the groups who are the most opposed to him in general. So it’s not — you know, the presumption is that it’s not a mark of favor, but it’s not a proof.
MR. CROMARTIE: We have five minutes, and we have two more questions. Elizabeth and David Gibson.
ELIZABETH DIAS, Time: I’m curious about the last bullet point in the summary. “In the months leading up to the election, Americans who attended religious services were regularly more likely to hear about abortion from their clergy.”
DR. GALSTON: Yes.
MS. DIAS: You know, I’m not surprised that Catholics were hearing about abortion, but I am surprised as you expound upon that on page 13. “Only seven percent of white Catholics said their clergy spoke about the role and size of government and only 13 percent said they heard preaching about health care.”
And I’m curious if you have more of a breakdown of that statistic and demographic for issues like employment, economy, immigration, and also for the other demographics, especially considering the chart that is, I believe, two pages before, that other than the economy what is the next most important issue for the vote, and the numbers are, you know, between 30 and 45 percent for the same issues, immigration, health care, role and size of government.
So I’m wondering if you have some more data on that, and also if that difference between those figures might respond to Lauren’s question about politics informing religious beliefs.
MR. DIONNE: Unfortunately, we couldn’t do a longer list on that question. I wish we had. I wish we could have — we should have thought perhaps of forcing immigration in there because I bet there might be a higher number for Catholics on immigration.
But I was actually blown away by how low the numbers were on everything but abortion. In one sense I wasn’t shocked because in my own experience, I heard on health care such preaching as I heard in Catholic Churches was almost all about abortion, and in fact, I expressed some discontent with that to a priest friend myself.
And it really does show that the Catholic social justice tradition and the whole tradition of Catholic social thought seems to be talked about a whole lot less in churches than the life agenda, and I think that has important political effects.
But we were both struck by it and surprised by how low those numbers were.
MR. BARONE: Just a related experience.
MR. DIONNE: I wish George were here because he probably would say they’re preaching on exactly the right things.
MR. BARONE: A related experience. A trip to Edinburgh some years ago, 1999, I was walking along to the High Street on a Sunday morning, and I went into the Church of St. Giles, which is the lead church of the Church of Scotland, the established church, and the theme for, the preacher there was Donald Dewar, later the head of the Scottish parliament, and the theme for all Church of Scotland churches that Sunday was the 50th anniversary of the National Health Service.
MR. CROMARTIE: Do you want to elaborate?
MR. BARONE: It’s just that this was, you know, the welfare state is the Church of Scotland these days.
MR. CROMARTIE: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Got it.
Okay. We have one more question. David Gibson.
DAVID GIBSON, PoliticsDaily.com: Yes. Like Eve, I was struck by the national American exceptionalism percentages and whether that proves to be unique or not or new, I think will be an interesting kind of follow-up. But I was wondering how that played out in three specific points that we’ve brought up here.
One is on Obama’s religious and the public’s religious sympathies with Obama and whether that’s really — I mean, it seems to me that he spoke more and more eloquently about his sectarian Christian faith than even George Bush quite often. I mean, he mentioned Jesus so explicitly and so frequently even as President, not just during the campaign; maybe that he didn’t speak as an American exceptionalist and part of that civil religion more eloquently, and that’s what people perhaps are reacting to. That’s just one observation I was throwing out and one thing I’d like you to react to.
The other thing, I think it was in your survey. Aren’t the Tea Partiers who embraced that American exceptionalism also less religiously devout than those of the religious right Christians? I think they got to church a little bit less than others, or was I conflating another poll or something? I’m not sure.
MR. DIONNE: We didn’t talk about that in our paper. I think we —
MR. GIBSON: Maybe it was Robby’s.
MR. DIONNE: Robby’s summary or —
MR. GIBSON: Yes.
MR. DIONNE: That sounds right.
MR. GIBSON: I think I got a sense that those, yeah, the Tea Partiers have a higher view of American exceptionalism and that kind of American civil religion, but at the same time they go to church a little bit less than their confreres in the religious right.
MR. DIONNE: No, it’s a great point, and I think I’m almost positive you’re right about what you just said. We can look that up, but the Tea Partiers are much more assertive nationalists than they are — even more than they are religious conservatives, and I think that there’s so much data that points to them.
Assertive nationalist is an imperfect phrase that I’ve been trying to think of what is the best phrase for that, but for lack of a better phrase, that’s what I’ll call it, and you’re seeing that on attitudes toward immigration, on, you know, attitudes towards what it means to be an American, and it’s sort of an anti-government or sort of nationalism that seems to come together.
And there are a lot of evangelicals who may have some sympathies in that direction, but it doesn’t come together quite as strongly or in the same way among evangelical conservatives, I think, than it does among Tea Partiers, and the church attendance takers are part of that picture.
MR. GIBSON: It just seemed like there was such a strong civil religious element to everything from Beck’s rally on the Mall to, you know, the sacredness of the Constitution talk, all of that kind of thing that plays into perhaps some of this. I don’t know.
DR. GALSTON: All right. Well, as a last impression, which is also for this question a first impression, I’m inclined to agree with you. And, you know, E.J. has some disagreement with the formulation I’m about to offer, but Walter Russell Mead in one of his books has this wonderful four-part breakdown of the American population, and one of the categories is Jacksonians who are kind of, you know, irritable nationalists. They’re very much drawn from the ethnic group that Michael talked about a few minutes ago, and my guess is that a finer grained analysis of the Tea Party at the grassroots level will find a disproportionate percentage of people who look a lot like that and think a lot like that.
I can’t prove that, but that would give some force to your civil religion over dogmatic or doctrinal religion distinction.
MR. GIBSON: I just want one last observation. You know, I’ve always been taught that all politics is local, and it seems that all politics in this election was actually national and has been so at least for a couple of election rounds. Do you agree with that, and do you think that kind of religious rhetoric and the universalization of, you know, religious talk kind of plays into that nationalizing of our campaign issues and our political life?
MR. BARONE: When Tip O’Neill said all politics is local I think he was really talking about rounding up votes on Capitol Hill and what you needed to do to get to each one rather than talking about winning elections.
You know, I think elections in America very often have been national, and this certainly was one. I mean, it’s just totally undeniable, and you know, it is this fascinating thing that we have — you know, we had a period 1995 to 2005 with very stable and steady voting patterns. The 49 percent nation I called it, and voting behavior was very, very highly correlated with religion, and it was the demographic variable that was most highly correlated.
Since then we’ve been in what I call period of open field politics, where we have big Democratic gains in 2006, in some respects a record Democratic year in 2008 where Democrats get a higher percentage of the vote for the House of Representatives in the 36 non-Southern states than ever before in history, and then we have a record breaking year for Republicans in 2010, where Republicans have their highest percentage in the popular vote for the House since 1946, and in fact, if you look at 1946, the South, which was then the most Democratic part of the country, cast only 11 percent of the popular vote. If they had voted proportionate to population, as they roughly do today, 1946 would not have been as Republican a year as 2010. So we’d have to go back to the 1920s and maybe before to find as Republican a year.
So you know, we’ve been oscillating wildly in opposite directions now, and I think no one can be sure that the movement, you know, is all over and we’re all going to end up where we were in 2010, but it has been very national.
And what I think is fascinating about this survey is that it shows that there remains a considerable correlation between religious belief and practice and political choices and political views.
You know, I tried to suggest some reasons why that, you know, why those lines of thought may tend to run parallel with many people, and I think E.J. and Bill have given us worthy studies for which we should be grateful.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you so much.
Can I just say one? Just a list of numbers. Tide elections at midterms tend to be national: ’46, ’58, ’66, ’74, ’94, ’06 were all kind of tide national midterms. I think you’d agree on all of those, I think, ’46, ’58, ’66, ’74, ’94, ’06.
So I think when you have a tide like this, it tends to be national, but I shouldn’t have said that because I just wanted to end on Michael’s gracious closing comment. So thank you, Michael.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.