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|