Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Religion, American Identity, and Race --
I hate anecdotal evidence, the favorite argumentative tool of cherry pickers such as the Bush administration on Iraq. So with the recent brouhaha over Barack Obama's speech, I examined some hard data. While looking at the 2004 General Social Survey, an important annual data set collected by the National Opinion Research Center, I found an interesting question: "HOW IMPORTANT FOR BEING TRULY AMERICAN DOES RESPONDENT CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING...To be a Christian".

I ran some numbers against party identification and saw the following data:

Very Imp. Fairly Imp. Not Very Not Imp. n
Strong Dem. 43.9 12.7 16.0 23.6 212
Democrat 50.7 13.8 18.7 15.3 203
Lean Dem. 38.0 15.7 21.3 19.4 108
Independent 43.1 16.2 19.6 4.9 204
Lean Rep. 48.7 16.5 15.7 15.7 115
Republican 45.5 23.6 15.2 14.0 178
Strong Rep. 63.7 13.7 15.4 6.6 182

This seemed fairly strange, since I expected more separation on a partisan basis, but I've looked at a lot of religion and politics data, so I knew that there was a likely racial component in here, considering that black Protestants are more socially conservative than white Protestants. So, I broke the data down by race.

Very Imp. Fairly Imp. Not Very Not Imp. n
White Strong Dem. 28.8 15.1 18.5 32.9 146
White Democrat 50.7 14.1 17.6 16.2 142
White Lean Dem. 32.9 15.2 22.8 25.3 79
White Independent 43.8 17.0 20.9 15.7 153
White Lean Rep. 48.1 17.9 15.1 15.1 106
White Republican 46.3 23.5 15.4 13.0 162
White Strong Rep. 63.4 14.5 15.1 6.4 172
Black Strong Dem. 81.4 6.8 8.5 1.7 59
Black Democrat 68.2 9.1 13.6 6.8 44
Black Lean Dem. 75.0 0.0 25.0 0.0 16

Black Democrats are already small numbers, so listing black Republicans seems rather pointless.

If you broke it down by religion:

Very Imp. Fairly Imp. Not Very Not Imp. n
Protestant Strong Dem 66.0 11.0 10.0 12.0 100
Protestant Dem 69.7 10.1 17.2 3.0 99
Protestant Lean Dem. 54.5 18.2 15.9 9.1 44
Catholic Strong Dem. 45.2 28.6 11.9 9.5 42
Catholic Democrat 46.7 26.7 13.3 13.3 60
Catholic Lean Dem. 50.0 16.7 20.0 10.0 30

Amusingly 6.7% of Jewish Strong Democrats and 12.2% of Strong Democrats professing no religion said "very important." [Caveat: small sample size, so 1/15 Jews and 5/41 non-religious.]

Perhaps, some people acknowledge a Christian component to being American while disliking what they believe it means to be American. I might explore further.

Obviously, rank-and-file Democratic voters are not hostile to religion. They even appear to embrace the idea of America as a Christian nation, although presumably one more tolerant of different faiths than others might wish. I suppose one could look at this with the idea of "separate but equal" framing in which religious imagery is used primarily when speaking to a black audience. I suppose that one could be alarmist and worry that blacks might leave the party if religious and cultural issues are put to political forefront, or take the opposite approach and assume that blacks can be taken for granted in the Democratic Party because religious and cultural issues don't seem to affect their partisan affiliation.

I choose to interpret this data as showing clear fertile ground for a specifically Christian argument for progressive policies that might be unappealing to non-Christians which can be used concurrently with a more secular Democratic Party platform. Is this work that should be done wholly by religious left activists, or does some of the burden lie with politicians and party officials?
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