2010 January 30 Saturday
Scott Brown's Appeal To Non-Religious Voters

Over at Secular Right Razib has written a post about Scott Brown's Senate election victory in Massachusetts and Brown's ability to appeal to non-religious voters.

What you see here is that there is no correlation on the state by state level between those with “No Religion” and voting for Republicans or Democrats in 1988, but that by 2008 the proportion with “No Religion” can explain 20% of the variation by 1988. Some of this is just due to the rapid expansion of the proportion of the American population which avows “No Religion”. But the secularization process exhibits geographic patterns; Vermont now has a plural majority for those with “No Religoin,” and perhaps tellingly it is a state which has shifted much further to the Left than the national average since 1988 (it voted for Bush in ‘88, but was a deep blue state by ‘08). Secularization in fact has been most pronounced in northern New England, which has seen a shift toward the Left over the past generation.

What relevance does this have for current politics? 21% of political Independents have “No Religion,” as opposed to 16% of Democrats and 6% of Republicans. The role of Independents in Scott Brown’s recent victory, and in New England in general, is notable. There is no doubt that today the Republican party is defined by its white Protestant core, and this will be the basis for any future Republican majority. But I think Scott Brown’s election shows the importance of demographics outside of the core in creating a viable majority party. Though Brown himself is an Evangelical Calvinist, his campaign did not seem culturally colored in a way that the secular Center-Right might find off-putting. I think this is an important insight, and suggests further analogies between Scott Brown and Barack Obama.* Though Obama does not seem to be personally a particularly religiously devout individual, he managed to appeal to substantial numbers of religious voters through his mastery of rhetoric and presentation. Similarly, though Scott Brown’s personal beliefs are conventionally Christian, his tone and presentation was such as that voters otherwise skeptical of the Religious Right coloring of the modern Republican party found him acceptable.

I think continued development of a split between the two political parties along religious lines is unhealthy for the commonwealth. A cleavage based on religious belief will end up preventing non-religious or only mildly religious candidates from running as Republicans and also prevent deeply religious Democrats from attaining office. That would have the effect of preventing many talented potential candidates from seeking office. I think the election of George W. Bush and also of Barack Obama both demonstrate the costs of using selection criteria that give special preference to candidates due to just one facet of their identity (Christian fundie in Bush's case and racially black in Obama's case) means that needed qualities in a good leader are not met by those who end up winning office.

The Republican Party will do better in elections if it manages to moderate the religious rhetoric of some of its candidates and tries to appeal to agnostics and atheists as well. It will especially do better if it its voters do not enforce a religious litmus test on candidates.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2010 January 30 10:14 PM  Politics Identity

Mthson said at January 31, 2010 8:10 AM:

To what degree is the rise of the religious right attributable to differential fertility rates? That group seems likely to have been reproducing at twice the rate of secular conservatives for at least a hundred years.

Mercer said at January 31, 2010 11:12 AM:

"preventing non-religious or only mildly religious candidates from running as Republicans"

I think this is already the case. I also don't think a non-religious candidate running as a democrat could win outside of the north east or west coast. I would prefer that politics were decided on the basis of policy positions not identity but I don't think it is realistic. Politics is the "organization of hatreds" as Henry Adams put it. If coalitions were not along religious lines they would still be along racial, regional, class or some other demographic basis.

"needed qualities in a good leader are not met by those who end up winning office."

I think that appealing to group identity is how people when elections. It is less useful for governing. The problem is some people are good at winning elections and lousy at governing like Bush Jr while others are better at governing but poor at appealing to group identity like Bush Sr.

I am secular but I do not have the loathing to the fundies that some other seculars do. I agree with them on some things like the importance of children being raised by two parents and resenting the left using the courts to try to force gay marriage and the removal of Christmas displays and music. I think the fundies have not gotten much from their embrace of the GOP beyond rhetoric. The court just gave a decision fulling backing the notion of corporations as persons but has done nothing for fetuses. Bush did nothing to ban gay marriage but spent his time promoting tax cuts benefiting the wealthy.

The long term problem for the GOP is that their base is married, white churchgoers and the population is becoming more single, less white and more secular.

Joseph Moroco said at January 31, 2010 6:25 PM:

I am from the Peoples' Republic of Massachusetts. I voted for Brown only because Coakley helped keep an innocent man in jail. If it were not for that, I would not have bothered. I had no illusions about the man.

The minute he got into to office, he thumbed his nose and joined up to be a Washinton insider. It really makes no difference which side wins.

GW said at February 3, 2010 5:05 PM:

The religious political divide in US politics is nothing new. On the one side, you have the (secularized) direct lineal descendent of Puritan Universalist Protestantism: Progressive Liberals. They've taken the God out of their religion, but it's overall moral and political program is otherwise essentially identical to that espoused by mainstream New England Protestant Christians for the last couple of centuries.

On the other hand, you have the modern incarnation of Revelationist Christianity: Evangelical Conservatism.

This split (Universalists vs. Revelationists) has not only be extant and dominant in US politics for at least three generations, it also represents the two primary sects of Christianity in the world today. So, really, US politics is just Christian sectarianism writ large, and has been since at least the 1940s, and probably much further back than that.

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