From the Editor
Democrats Find Their Inner None
that Democrats are the Party of Irreligion became a media meme in the middle
of the last decade, thanks to what in these pages has been called the
religion gap, but which gained celebrity as the God Gap. By 2000, voters who
told exit pollsters that they attended worship services at least once a week
were voting Republican at the rate of 60 percent to 40 percent.
a differential far larger than the better known gender gap, whereby women
preferred Democrats to Republicans. And after the 2004 election, in which a
plurality of the electorate said the most important issue was “moral
values,” the Democrats vowed to do something about it.
leadership of former Vermont governor Howard Dean, the Democratic National
Committee made a concerted effort to let folks throughout the country know
that his Party too felt their faith, and the DNC backed candidates in red
parts of the country who did not hesitate to run faith-based campaigns.
Lo and behold, the strategy worked. In 2006,
with the help of an increasingly unpopular Bush administration, Dean’s
50-state effort succeeded in flipping both houses of Congress into
Democratic hands. Suddenly, it seemed, the Democrats had got religion.
2008 election cycle, both Democratic frontrunners, Hillary Clinton and
Barack Obama, made a considerable show of engaging in “faith outreach.” The
evidence is that Clinton took the task more seriously, but from the early
primary battles through Election Day, the importance of religion to
Democrats was on display.
from whatever was happening in the ground game, there were candidates’
visits to houses of worship and confessions of faith and forums for talking
about religious issues. And when the votes were counted and the exit polls
properly tabulated, the God Gap was seen to have shrunk fairly dramatically,
from 20 points to 12.
difference four years have made.
contrast to the well-advertised efforts of Ralph Reed et al. to mobilize
evangelicals for Mitt Romney and of Catholic bishops to exercise their
flocks against the Administration, the faith outreach of the Obama campaign
was invisible to the naked eye. Religious testimonies and forums were out
the window. (In this, Obama had the tacit collaboration of Romney, who
steadfastly avoided any and all discussion of his Mormon faith throughout
was not simply that the president eschewed the kind of reassuring vibe that
Democrats broadcast to conservative religious folks in 2006 and 2008. He
made it clear that he was not interested in deferring to their
January, Obama decided to provide religious institutions with only minimal
exceptions to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employer-provided
insurance cover contraceptive services free of charge.
May, he announced his support for same-sex marriage—support that he had been
notably reluctant to tender even after putting an end to
Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell in the armed forces the year before.
October, he ran ads in battleground states attacking Romney for his
opposition to Roe v. Wade and his pledge to defund Planned
not have added up to the war on religion that the Catholic bishops charged
Obama with, but it signaled that the politics of religion in America could
also be played by appealing directly to the secular side of the electorate.
as the gender gap is as much about men voting Republican as about women
voting Democratic, so is the God Gap as much about the less religious voting
Democratic as it is about the more religious voting Republican. In
particular, the Nones (those who when asked, “What is your religion, if
any?” answer, “None”) are a growing segment of the American population, now
20 percent compared to just seven percent two decades ago.
end, Obama’s overt appeal to less religious voters did not bear very
impressive fruit. His margin among the Nones shrank eight points, to 70-26
from 75-23 in 2008. At the same time, the God Gap bounced back up to 20
points. Yet the “Godless Gap”—the preference for Obama on the part of the 57
percent of voters who said they attend worship less than weekly—was still
nearly 25 points.
election, the Public Religion Research Institute released a graphic
comparing the respective religious coalitions of Barack Obama and Mitt
Romney to the religious demography of age groups in the U.S. Romney’s
coalition most closely matched the over-65 cohort, but was even whiter and
less religiously diverse. By contrast, Obama’s coalition fit snugly between
the 18-to-29-year-old Millennials and the 30-49-year-old Gen-Xers.
who constituted 35 percent of the Millennial vote, were a quarter of Obama’s
coalition but just seven percent of Romney’s. The Millennials are the
future. Looking forward, the national Democratic love affair with
faith-friendly campaigns may turn out to have been no more than a two-cycle