Understanding the God Gap
The census report is out and from what I've heard a number of "blue states" will lose
Congressional representation, while a number of "red states" will gain representatives. This, according to the pundits bodes ill for Barack Obama's reelection chances. I really can't comment on the latter, the next election is two years away, so who knows how this all will work out. But I'd like to think about some of the assumptions, like the idea that the God Gap we currently see in our political landscape will have long lasting governing implications.
I'm reading American Grace by Robert Putnam and David Campbell, and have been reporting from my experiences reading this tremendously important book. I've reached the section of the book that looks at the relationship of religion to American Politics. One of the interesting points that the authors make is that prior to 1980 there really wasn't much of a God Gap between the two parties. Things changed around 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan and the decision of the two political parties to place in their platforms planks both pro and con abortion. The authors write:
Remember, though, that a political issue can only divide the electorate when voters are presented with a choice on that particular issue. In the case of abortion, the Democratic and Republican parties did not diverge sharply on the issue until the 1980s. In 1976, the Republican platform was more or less neutral on abortion. By 1980 it unequivocally endorsed a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, language that has been preserved ever since. Meanwhile, as described by political scientist Christina Wolbrecht, 1980 was "the first time the Democratic party firmly established itself as pro-choice and expressed its opposition to the curtailment of federal funding for abortions." Beginning in the 1980s, voters had a choice on abortion. The battle lines had been drawn. (American Grace, p. 391).
From then on the GOP became the party of "moral traditionalism," and at least for religiously observant whites, it became the "God party." The authors of this book note that Blacks, who are the most religiously observant group within American society, are the exception to this rule -- with few blacks voting GOP! Although many Blacks share the GOP view on abortion and gay marriage, their list of social issues is much broader and thus they do not find themselves able to make common cause on these issues.
So, what does that portend for the future? Does it mean that you can't be religious and a Democrat? I hope that's not true, but those who take a more secular view are more likely to be Democrat than Republican.
And then the question is -- what is the electoral impact of this Gap? Here is where the future is uncertain -- with a growing number of voters declaring themselves Independents -- religion apparently plays little role in their views. So, with this growing swing group making itself felt, maybe religion will fade into the background in the near future? Only time will tell, but I think this is a conversation worth having for both the sake of the church and the state!