Post-Election Breakdown: Religious Voters, the Economy and Moral Values

November 3, 2010, 5:22 pm | Posted by

America woke up to a new political reality this morning. Voters anxious about the economy delivered the House to Republicans, though Democrats held onto control of the Senate. In many ways, this wasn’t a big surprise. The president’s party historically loses seats in the midterms, and the results reflected deep anxiety over the current unemployment rate and deepening economic despair, as well as an emboldened Tea Party movement on the right. A Los Angeles Times’ editorial today provides a measured analysis that should help buck up progressives and others on the left wallowing in an endless round of what ifs:

In 1956, Eisenhower crushed Adlai Stevenson in their rematch; two years after that, Democrats picked up 48 seats in the House and 13 in the Senate. Those patterns have repeated more recently: Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, only to have Democrats lose 53 House and seven Senate seats in 1994; George W. Bush was reelected in 2004 and lost control of Congress two years later. Given that history, Tuesday’s results are hardly astonishing; indeed, they are more part of a trend than an aberration. Nevertheless, they do reveal powerful forces at work in our politics today. Specifically, they reflect the descent from 2008′s hopeful zeitgeist to 2010′s anger and bewilderment, emotions that found purchase in many of the bitter, partisan races decided Tuesday.

Faith in Public Life crunched some exit poll numbers last night and asked experts on the intersection of faith and politics to provide some commentary. First, the numbers.

Eighty-seven percent of voters said they were worried about the economy, and 62% said the economy is the most important issue facing the country. Exit polling, however, debunks the narrative being perpetuated by some partisans that the election was a mandate to implement a Republican agenda. It’s hard to make that case when forty-three percent of voters polled had a favorable view of the Democratic party, compared to 42% who had a favorable view of the Republican party. In many ways, the results last night can be read as a desperate cry from a weary electorate hungry for more bipartisan cooperation to lift the nation out of our economic crisis. Voters in 2010 were noticeably older and more politically conservative than the 2008 electorate. In 2008, 18% of voters were under 30; this year 11% were under 30. In 2008, 53% of voters were 45 or older; this year 67% were 45 or older. A significant flip was evident among Catholic voters. In this election, 54% percent of Catholics supported Republican House candidates, compared to 42 percent in 2008 and 44 percent in 2006. In 2008, 54% of Catholic voters voted for President Obama. The Senate race in Pennsylvania was an outlier, as Catholics nearly evenly split on support for Democratic candidate Joe Sestak and Republican candidate (and winner) Pat Toomey (51% breaking for Toomey and 49% for Sestak).

Faith leaders and analysts put these numbers in perspective, offering insights into what happened with religious voters yesterday, from the role of the Tea Party to the importance of framing the economy as a moral values issue.

Steve Schneck, Director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington: “Our nation’s diverse faith traditions, especially Catholic social teaching, emphasize the common good and the essential role government has in building a just economy that works for all. This tradition and powerful message is not heard enough today and is urgently needed at a time of economic anxiety, growing ideological polarization and voter anger.”

Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute: “One thing is clear from this election – the Tea Party movement was a mixed blessing for the Republican Party. This group, which represents about 1-in-10 Americans in the general population, has captured some of the enthusiasm, and part of the membership of, one of the key groups typically rallying the Republican base, the Christian Right. …On the other hand, the Tea Party hurt GOP chances in the Senate by backing several candidates who faced an uphill climb appealing to mainstream voters in state-wide elections.”

Rev. Jennifer Butler, Executive Director of Faith in Public Life: “The faith community knows firsthand how hard families have been hit by our economic crisis, and we know that this election reflected voters’ frustration with a still-stagnant economy. The fact that an overwhelming percentage of voters ranked the economy as their top concern speaks not only to individual anxieties, but also to our concerns about our nation and its values. Economic injustices are moral injustices.”

I will leave it to the professional pundits and party leaders to break down the political spin, but it’s clear that elected officials and candidates hoping to win over anxious voters in the next few years need to talk less about GDP, interest rates or unemployment rates and more about values, the dignity of work, and the common good. There is a deep well of moral wisdom from our nation’s diverse faith traditions waiting to be tapped.

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Susan B. Anthony List facing sanctions for abortion misinformation

October 14, 2010, 3:03 pm | Posted by

FPL has extensively documented the lengthy misinformation campaign over the course of the health care debate, starting last year when opponents of reform argued that the bill included federal funding of abortion. These attacks have continued unabated in the run-up to the November election – as predicted months ago.

But now one of these groups, The Susan B. Anthony List – which is spending over $1.5 million on a campaign alleging that pro-life Representatives who supported health care reform voted for federal funding of abortion – may have broken the law in their deceptive campaign. The Cincinnati Enquirer reports today:

A three-member panel of the Ohio Elections Commission ruled in favor of U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus today in his complaint against the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List.

The panel’s “probable cause” finding means there will be another hearing to determine if the group broke Ohio law that bars making false statements in campaigns. Driehaus is up for re-election on Nov. 2. In the meantime, attorneys for both sides can begin taking sworn depositions.

Driehaus, a Democrat from West Price Hill, is fighting the group’s plans to erect four billboards saying he favored taxpayer-funded abortions because he voted for the national health care bill.

Driehaus’ Cincinnati attorney, Paul DeMarco, intends to depose SBA members to find out what they consider federal funding of abortions.

“They’re actually conceding the argument that there is no new federal funding,” Driehaus said.

The 1970 Hyde Amendment allowed federally-funded abortions in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

A date has not been set for another Elections Commission hearing where evidence will be argued. The commission can then recommend a public reprimand or prosecution, which can result in fines or jail time.

“This is a big deal,” Driehaus said today. “The media made a big deal about this, (Steve) Chabot calling me a liar and now the Ohio Elections Commission came out on my side.”

Driehaus has said the group is attacking any pro-life Democrat who supported the federal health care bill “because they’re partisan.”

The group’s spokesman was not immediately available for comment today.

Ohio law allows the elections commission to issue a public reprimand, or refer the case to the Franklin County prosecutor. A criminal conviction for making false campaign statements is punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on this story as it develops.

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An issue of fairness

June 17, 2010, 5:58 pm | Posted by

The House of Representatives is currently debating the DISCLOSE Act, which among other things requires advocacy organizations to include disclosure their largest donors in any campaign advertisements. Yesterday a group of nonprofit and community organizations sent Speaker Pelosi a letter expressing their strong disapproval of a provision exempting the National Rifle Association from the bill’s campaign finance transparency requirements. Among the signatories were two faith groups – the United Church of Christ and Women of Reform Judaism.

The letter stated in part:

We strongly believe that the Citizens United decision poses a threat to the integrity of the electoral process and we support legislation that provides for effective disclosure, while at the same time protecting free and independent speech and promoting active participation in elections by individuals and organizations.

However, we must respectfully express our profound opposition to the effort to create an exemption from the disclosure requirements for large, powerful organizations, which, given the amendment’s language, in reality only applies to one entity, the National Rifle Association.

It is inappropriate and inequitable to create a two-tiered system of campaign finance laws and First Amendment protections, one for the most powerful and influential and another for everyone else. There is no legitimate justification for privileging the speech of one entity over another, or of reducing the burdens of compliance for the biggest organization yet retaining them for the smallest.

We urge you in the strongest possible terms to work with the sponsors to remove the offending language and restore the integrity of the bill so we can continue to participate in efforts to craft legislation that achieves the goal we all share to undo the damage of Citizens United and restore the integrity of our democratic system. In its current form, however, we have no choice but to oppose the passage of the DISCLOSE Act.

As the bill works its way through Congress, lawmakers may amend or jettison its unequal treatment of the National Rifle Association and organizations such as religious groups and denominations. It’ll be an interesting and important detail to keep an eye on. As the letter states, it’s an issue of fairness.

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FRC’s latest distortions reveal partisan agenda

April 20, 2010, 3:21 pm | Posted by

As the Family Research Council’s Action PAC ramps up its attacks against Democratic Members of Congress with an ad campaign rife with misinformation about abortion and health care reform, another false claim on their part further demonstrates their partisan agenda. Two of the Democratic Members of Congress they are aiming to unseat this year didn’t even vote for the health reform legislation FRC claims as the impetus for their campaign targeting.

FRC issued a press release yesterday announcing their “20 in 10″ campaign targeting “the districts of 20 Democratic incumbents who voted for President Obama’s abortion-funding health care bill.” However, two of the Members FRC is targeting- Reps. Glenn Nye and Walter Minnick — voted against health care reform. They both happen to be in very tight races for re-election, though. The Cook Political Report rates both contests as tossups.

The language on the FRC Action PAC website describing the “20 in 10″ campaign contradicts the language in the FRC Action PAC press release, merely indicating that the targeted Democrats face “pro-life, pro-family” challengers and are vulnerable:

…FRCACTION PAC has spent many months researching races we see as vulnerable and that will have pro-life, pro-family candidates to fill the void. As a result of the “health care” bill, we have expanded and revised our original “target list” from the “dirty dozen” to the “20 in ’10″ list. The expansion reflects those so called “pro-life” Democrats who seemed destined to heroism when they joined forces with Bart Stupak on a House bill that would have precluded any use federal dollars for abortion, but who caved under White House and Democrat [sic] leadership.

Given all of the misinformation and inconsistency swirling around FRC’s website and press releases, it’s hard to get to the bottom of the reasoning behind their political targeting. But their glaringly false statement about Congressmen Nye and Minnick, alongside their inaccurate claims about health care reform and abortion funding, suggests that the “20 in 10″ campaign uses the issue of abortion funding in healthcare as a false pretext to carry water for the Republican party. They should immediately correct their misleading statements about health care reform, as well as the false claim that Rep. Nye and Rep. Minnick voted for this legislation.

If FRC disagrees with these 20 Members of Congress on principled reasons, they’re free to support whatever challengers they see fit. But deploying distortions and lies in the service of their campaign is not the way to go about it.

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Faith Groups and Political Activities

April 14, 2010, 3:15 pm | Posted by

Quick multiple choice question.

Which of these faith groups is the most politically active?

  1. White Mainline Protestants
  2. White Evangelicals
  3. Black Protestants
  4. 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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