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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Beck, Religion, and Obama

Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” Rally this past weekend focused a lot on religion and God. As Beck said: "This day is the day that we can start the heart of America again. And it has nothing to do with politics, it has everything to do with God."

True, but politics was never far beneath the surface at the rally. The presence of the highly political former vice presidential candidate and possible presidential candidate Sarah Palin certainly suggested at the least political overtones to the rally. Plus, of course, Beck himself is a highly political and ideological talk show host for whom politics is his mother’s milk.

At any rate, there is little question that in America today politics and religion are a highly interwoven phenomena. Religious Americans, in particular religious white Americans, are disproportionately likely to identify as Republicans, while the Democratic party is more likely to be the resting place for those who are less religious.


The relationship is not monolithic -- nothing is in American politics. There are highly religious whites who are fervent Democrats and atheists who are Republicans. But the general tendencies in the data are very clear -- religious, white Americans are overrepresented in the Republican party and underrepresented in the Democratic party.

My recent analysis shows that about half of Republicans and exactly half of conservative Republicans are what I classify as highly religious whites -- people for whom religion is important in their daily lives and who attend church weekly or almost every week. By comparison, 19% of Democrats are highly religious whites. To be sure, Republicans have more white identifiers overall -- almost 9 out of 10 Republicans are white, compared to just over 6 out of 10 Democrats. But the majority of white Republicans are highly religious, while the clear minority of white Democrats are highly religious.

We can look at it another way, by analyzing the percentage of white church attenders who identify with each of the three major political groups -- using Jan. 2-Aug. 15, 2010 data.

The percentage identifying as Republican is a straight linear function of church attendance, with the former decreasing as church attendance decreases. Forty-four percent of white Americans who attend church weekly are Republicans, 32% independent, and 21% Democrat. Dropping to those who attend almost every week, the percent Republican is 39%. Monthly attenders? 33%. Those who attend seldom? 28%. And finally, just 18% of white Americans who never attend church are Republicans. This last group is disproportionately independent (45%), with 35% Democrat -- underscoring the finding that Americans who are dropouts in one area of life tend to be dropouts in others. In other words, those who are not at all involved in religion apparently tend to be not at all involved in politics.

I keep referencing white Americans in these analyses because black Americans present a fascinating paradox in politics. They are the most religious of any major race or ethnic group. Yet blacks are also the most likely to be Democratic -- totally going against the overall tendencies in the data for religiousness to be related to identifying as Republican. A lot of cross pressures for today’s black American.

Meanwhile, Obama was not much mentioned, if at all, at Glenn Beck’s rally, but has returned to the news with his nationally televised address to the nation on Iraq and the economy on Tuesday night. Coincident with his speech, but by no means necessarily causally related, Obama’s job approval rating has been on the rise. Obama averaged 43% last week (Aug. 23-29) the same as the week before and the lowest weekly average so far in his administration. Since then, we have been monitoring a rise in his three-day job approval average, which has now climbed to 47%, the highest such three-day average since early August.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...
September 2, 2010 at 9:01 PM  

I rather consider ideologues and pragmatic whites instead of highly and less religious whites. To be an ideologue is easy, you just follow well established principles.
A pragmatist has to invent himself all the time.
I bet you will find a lot more pragmatic whites
in the Democratic party and more ideologues in the Republican party.

Dr. Tom said...
September 3, 2010 at 8:36 AM  

oops....Obama's approval rating just went down a point today, reversing his historic rise!

More fibrillation. Anyone have an AED handy?

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