dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

Religion, Moral Values and the Democratic Party

Michael Scaperlanda over at Mirror of Justice has posted a link to a fascinating presentation that William Galston gave on Religion, Moral Values, and the Democratic Party. The event was sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the transcript includes questions from the floor.

There is far too much good material here to excerpt everything. But here is a taste that will orient you to Galston's essential line of argument:

By contrast, there was a significant swing among traditionalist Catholics - 17 points toward Bush - and there was also a large increase in their turnout - 12 percent. In my judgment - and I'm going to come back to this in the penultimate section of my remarks - the real story of the 2004 election was much more about Catholics than it was about Protestants. And I think the real story of American politics in the next 10 years will be written as much around the behavior of Catholics, persuadable Catholics, as it is around the mobilization of traditionalist evangelical Protestants.

I am in general agreement with many of the points Galston makes. But I do have one question. Much of Galston's analysis is focused on the voting behavior of white Catholics. I'm wondering what will change as white Catholics become a minority of American Catholics, which is slated to happen sometime over the next half century. As the ethnic composition of the Catholic population changes, will our perception of the typical "Catholic voter" change too?

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

Thanks to J. Peter Nixon for alerting us to this very interesting information.There was one part of Galston's presentation I found both fascinationg and unsettling. As a dedicated conservative I was not too surprized at the "frequent flyer" Catholic results. But the results for Liberals I found deeply disturbing, and frankly I'm not sure why. Here is the relevant quote from Galston:"If you look at the relationship between church attendance - frequency of church attendance, and not party identification but ideological identification - you will see an unbroken linear relationship. The more regularly you attend church, the more likely you are to regard yourself as a conservative; likewise for liberals: the less you attend church regularly, the more likely you are to consider yourself a liberal."What are the implications? Are liberal Catholics aware of this? Why would a dedication to the social gospel (I assume that this would be an accurate bellwether for a liberal Catholic) correlate with infrequent attendance at Mass?This is somewhat mind-boggling.

Even after you check out the statistics in Galstons packet, some things remain unclear. The polls assembled in it come from various sources and seem to use different categories to describe the respondents. Sometimes those who are neither traditionalist nor centrist are described as liberal, sometimes modernist Are there differences between these categories? What do they describe? Also it isnt clear whether these categories are self-descriptions, or are they have been ascribed to respondents by the poll-takers on the basis of other data. As to Bobs question, though as Galston says in the transcript, the statistics seem to suggest that liberals attend church services less regularly than conservatives, there is no clear breakdown as to religious preference in his data on this point. Page 3 of Galstons packet offers the data on religious observance and political ideology, but in a context that doesnt mention anything about the specific religious identity of those described. And the data on page 7 measure liberals against economic and social conservatives. But it would be interesting to know whether there actually is information out there on this point, and if so, what its implications might be. And the whole question of how individuals identify themselves as liberal or centrist or traditional Catholics would be interesting to explore further. Can anyone suggest a good source on this?Like Bob, I was struck by one statistic that surprised me. On page 17 of the packet Galston distributed was a grid with the results of a poll on Attitudes Toward Marriage by Religious Identity. One item on which people were asked whether they agreed or disagreed was: Married people are generally happier than unmarried people. (The percentage given is the percentage that agreed):Evangelical Christian, 60%; Mainline Protestant, 53 %; Traditional Catholic, 51 %; Liberal Catholic, 39%; No Pref, Atheist, Agnostic, 35%. Any theories out there as to why the "Traditional" and "Liberal" Catholics might have such different views?

Unlike Susan, I missed the data on marriage and happiness, but there it is again: Some sort of a fault line seems to have been revealed that I never dreamed existed. Somewhere or other, C.S. Lewis remarked about how, as history progresses, philosophical demarcations are exposed and the demarcations become more sharply focused still as it continues to progress.In another sense, it is somewhat like the marxist dielectic - thesis spawning antithesis, and the two then producing yet another thesis, and so on.But then perhaps I am making too much of this (I really need to switch to decaf).I feel a pang for liberal Catholics in all this, but a pang of what? As a (very) conservative Catholic I vigorously oppose much of what liberal Catholics propogate, but they are my brothers and sisters in Christ and I feel a kind of sadness, or nostalgia, or something: When (and how) did we all, liberals and conservatives, come to this? One wants to weep. So here is my proposal: I want to extend my love and regards to you liberal Catholics and pray that we all may, in our debates, try to treat one another with grace and civility. I know that in the heat of debate we may stumble (I know I no doubt will), and God knows I have perpetrated more than my share of verbal abuse. I am joining VAA (Verbal Abuse Anonymous) and making my pledge :))

Regarding differing opinions on whether marriage contributes to happiness - could it be that people feel they no longer qualify as "traditional" Catholics when they divorce? Unable to remarry within the church, they might find love and happiness outside of the traditional marriage bond.

Yes Joanne, that very well may be true. A divorce, as you point out, could make someone feel on the "outside" of traditional Catholicism. Very perceptive.

This is why it is difficult to label people. Liberal Catholics who do not show up at the Eucharist bother me. I tell them that they are in danger of losing their faith if they have not already lost it. It seems to me they are liberals in the sense that they oppose many things.Same goes for divorce. What began as a fight to help people who were married to abusers, alcholics and the like devolved into " I grew but she didn't" type of nonsense.This is important because many conservatives become alarmed at these liberals, and rightly so. The problem is that this prevents them from properly dialoguing with responsible 'liberals."This is why Robertson, Falwell and the bishops, sometimes seek to polarize by saying that someone is against family values.Are we on to something here?Hopefully, we can learn from this and it can help the dialogue. Perhaps a way to begin is to agree (or insist) that we are committed disciples of Christ and proceed from there.

As to Peters question regarding the white Catholic vote, we should simply take the Way Back Machine (for all you Sherman and Mr. Peabody fans) to 1960 and substitute Irish Catholic vote, or the Italian Catholic vote. The whole point is that these groups have shifted dramatically to the conservative side. Interestingly, Peter seems to be operating from the assumption that it is their whiteness rather than their Catholicism that matters, even though the same report also says that the more Catholics attend mass the more likely they are to have shifted to the conservative side. We are already seeing the shift among Latino voters and also among more traditional church-going black voters. In answer to Peters question, I think fifty years from now the Catholic part of white Catholic or Latino Catholic will be more important to how people vote.

With resepct, Sean, I'm not assuming anything with respect to what is driving Catholic voting behavior. Galston himself admits that his analysis focuses primarily on white Catholics. There are very good demographic reasons for that focus. But Catholics are a diverse lot, and becoming more so over time.

Peter,I apologize if I read too much in to your comment on the changing ethnicity of Catholic Americans. My point, I suppose, was that I think the trends we are seeing, although there are ethnic and racial aspects to them, are driven more by beliefs and attitudes and less by ethnicity, and so we shouldnt expect the ethnic distinctions to continue over time. Fifty years is a long time in politics. In 1900 there was almost no such thing as a black Democrat, fifty years later the opposite was true. If you look at the data package that went with Mr. Galstons talk, across the board the one consistent trend was that active, traditionally minded religious people are voting more Republican. If you look at page 6 of the material, what is most striking is that the only groups that voted more Republican in 2004 than in 2000 were Modernist Mainline Protestants, Modernist Catholics, Secular Mainline Protestants (whatever that means), atheists and agnostics, unaffiliated Protestants, and other religions (which from their absence elsewhere, I would expect includes Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and others). Almost every other group, including Latino Catholics and Black Protestants voted more Republican than they had in 2000.

Aren't inculturation rates for young Latino Catholics much higher than previously predicted?

Grant:I think that's right and Latinos are also a lot more diverse politically.Here in California, Latinos are very strongly Democratic and are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Like the African-American voters cited in Galston's analysis, these voters tend to be traditionalists on issues like abortion or homosexuality, but they disagree so strongly with the Republican Party on other issues that they will continue to vote Democrat. The question is whether that will change in a generation or two, or whether the fallout from both state and national debates over immigration continues to affect their voting behavoir for a long time to come.But Latinos in Texas and Florida are often different in their voting patterns than California Latinos, and of course there are differences based on national origin, native born versus immigrants, etc.Sean H argues that these differences won't continue over time and that religious practice will be as powerful in the future as it is now. I'm not so sure and I'm willing to bet that the Latino population will be voting more "liberal" than its religious practice might otherwise suggest for many years to come.

An important factor left out of Galstons survey was consideration of the differences in church attendance among Catholics across generations. One source that does include interesting data on this is the statistical profile of Voice of the Faithful members by William DAntonio and Anthony Podgorelc. http://www.votf.org/DAntonio/Dantonio_summary.pdf