Quick multiple choice question.
Which of these faith groups is the most politically active?
- White Mainline Protestants
- White Evangelicals
- Black Protestants
- Roman Catholics
If you answered B, you would be … wrong. At least, according to some new analysis from Mark Chaves at Duke Divinity school.
The chart below is making the rounds around the blogosphere, probably because it contradicts the conventional wisdom that when it comes to politics white, mostly conservative, Evangelicals leave all other faith groups in the dust.
While we’ve talked before about some of the reasons the media tend to be much more interested in the political activities of Evangelicals than, say, Mainline Protestants, this chart might shed some more light on the issue.
Painting with the broadest of brushes, Mainline Protestants tend to focus their activities on discussions and meetings, while Evangelicals tend to focus on more direct political organizing.
The kinds of direct activities that Mainline Protestants do participate in are likely to be either small-scale and quiet (lobbying) or so entwined in a greater effort that religious participation goes unnoticed (for example, coverage of an anti-war march will rarely mention the faith community’s presence).
As Professor Chaves says, “differences among religious groups in how they do politics seem more important than differences in how much politics they do.”
For Mainliners and others to close the media gap with Evangelicals, it might be a simple as continuing to employ new tactics in their already robust efforts.
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Following up on last week’s post about the religious right and the Tea Party, some interesting new developments further complicate the relationship between the two camps.
Fox News – which has actively promoted the Tea Party movement – published an article today about the nascent group, saying in part:
while organizers have held the tour as a way to stay front-and-center as a political force, the rallies have also attracted the kinds of mistruths, exaggerations and conspiracy theories that make Tea Party leaders cringe. Though the movement is still trying to shore up its credentials as a grassroots power that’s here to stay, the so-called “fringe” and its accompanying antics continue to give critics fodder.
The story quotes participants on the “fringe” of the Tea Party Movement
claiming that President Obama is a Stalinist, a fascist, a “secret Muslim,” and/or a non-citizen, as well as perpetuating debunked myths that health care reform will establish “death panels.”
In another troubling report, a recently released poll from the University of Washington reveals a prevalence of racism among people who identify with the Tea Party:
On whether blacks were intelligent, 45 percent of the tea-party supporters agreed, compared with 59 percent of the tea-party opponents. And on the issue of whether blacks were trustworthy, 41 percent of the tea-party supporters agreed, compared with 57 percent of the tea-party opponents.
The survey, which included about 1,000 respondents in six battleground states (like Michigan and Nevada) and California, found similar margins on questions regarding Latinos.
In a recent Christian Post essay, Harry Jackson said “[d]espite the machinations of a handful of fringe participants, I am sure that racism is not the source of the movement’s energy,” and recommended that Tea Party leaders get a “PR makeover.” It’ll be interesting to say what Jackson and other Tea Party apologists have to say about this new poll data, and continuing reports of racist outbursts and conspiracy theories within the movement. (It should be noted that Jackson condemned protesters for actions such as spitting on Rep. Cleaver at a rally on Capitol Hill on the eve of the House health care reform vote.)
The Tea Party is going through a rushed adolescence right now, seeking to channel its youthful outrage into mature political power before the November elections. And the religious right – which is politically weaker than it’s been in decades – is trying to figure out how to rebuild its influence in this changing political environment. The way in which conservative Christian political leaders address the delusional, incendiary beliefs and deep-seated prejudices of their potential allies will speak volumes about their principles.
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–Although the religious opposition to gay marriage in Maine garnered most of the attention, it’s important to recognize that faith leaders worked hard to protect the state legislature’s marriage equality law. Given recent national polling showing majority support for relationship recognition (civil unions and/or gay marriage) among all religious demographics — including white evangelicals, Catholics and black protestants — as well as majority support for gay marriage among young people, this issue is hardly settled.
–Dan Gilgoff and Mark Silk have interesting takes on what the NY-23 race means for conservative religious groups who backed the hard-right third-party candidate against a moderate Republican who didn’t share their positions on social issues. Short take: it wasn’t a great night for the religious right.
–In my home state of Virginia, Bob McDonnell had the interesting challenge of downplaying his well-documented religious right background, which he addressed in part by ignoring hot-button issues. Judging by his performance among self-identified moderates and independents, it worked.
–It’ll be interesting to see whether the Virginia strategy or the upstate New York plan predominate in 2010. The religious right’s role in a changing GOP hangs in the balance.
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All politics is local: one of the great truisms in American public life. In the new issue of Religion in the News, Mark Silk shows that when it comes to faith and presidential campaigns, it’s all regional.
Since 2001, Mark’s been part of a project examining the role of faith in eight separate regions of the U.S. The series has displayed ways in which regional attitudes toward faith affect presidential races. This time around, he concludes that “every regional religious culture with the exception of New England has helped shape the outlooks of the four politicians running for national office.”
Mark classifies McCain’s interaction with faith as typical of the “the competing impulses that beset” the Southwest (unfocused when it comes to faith: loyal when it comes to his church yet unable to embrace the “moral values agenda). Obama, he labels a “hybrid character,” whose faith story reflects his diverse upbringing and ultimately a Midwestern sense of community and pluralism.
Mark also identifies the VP candidates as products of their regions. Joe Biden comes from the mid-Atlantic, “a place where individuals understand themselves as belonging to one or another swatch of an ethno-religious tapestry made more worthwhile by the presence of others” while Sarah Palin’s “public career reflects the kind of tension” that comes from practicing Southern-fried evangelicalism in a largely unchurched, frontier state.
The big question, as Mark sees it, is
How the presidential race turns out will, as in the past, open the door to regional religious influences. Will it be a libertarian/evangelical ethos out of the West, or a species of Midwestern communitarianism? And how, after eight years of George Bush’s Southern Crossroads, will the country react?
Having lived in all of these areas, I’m especially curious.
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Agenda-setting theory, in a nutshell, is this — the media can’t control what you say, but it can control what you talk about. Debates are agenda-setting writ large. For 90 minutes, a very few people decide what topics the candidates will talk about in front of millions of viewers. There is great power in that. So, given the electorate’s justifiable concern with economic issues and the media’s understandable if not laudable preoccupation with the race’s day-to-day blow-by-blow, I find it heartening that two consecutive debates have had questions about genocide in Darfur. Framing the discussion around US military intervention surely gives short shrift to the nuanced approach Darfur demands, but forcing the candidates to talk about this issue that isn’t at the top of The National Agenda seems to me like a self-evident good. If nothing else, it builds a bridge from the activist community to the public at large and helps us keep Darfur from slipping off of the national radar.
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