Religion role in campaign 'exaggerated'

The political foolhardiness of the the theologizing that Joseph Biden and Nancy Pelosi did concerning abortion comes through loud and clear in a New York Times piece today, `Abortion Issue Again Dividing Catholic Votes.' The writer, David Kirkpatrick, sets the scene nicely with interviews at Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church in Scranton.But for my money (well, it was free), a well attended forum held at Fordham University last night offered the best insights I've encountered so far on the role of religion in the 2008 election.There was news: Pew pollster Andrew Kohut said Pew's next poll results will show John McCain moving ahead of Barack Obama in the Catholic vote.But the biggest point I took away was that, as Kohut said, "There's a tendency ... to exaggerate the role religion has on voter behavior." That was so in analyses of the 2004 presidential campaign, he said. And, he said, poll data show that abortion was even less important an issue to voters this year than it was four years ago - especially among people who are religious. As panelist E.J. Dionne said, there are just other issues on voters' minds.But that changed somewhat with Sarah Palin's entrance into the race, Kohut said. Her selection seems to have lit a fire under the culture wars - and abortion is about as important an issue to voters now as it was in 2004. Which is to say, according to Kohut, still far less important than we think.How will it play out among Catholic voters? " I don't think we know which way the white Catholic vote is going," said Kohut, who has watched the Catholic vote shift back and forth between Obama and McCain.Two other panelists who are veteran journalists - Peggy Fletcher Stack, religion writer for the Salt Lake Tribune, and Don Wycliff - excoriated news coverage of religion in the campaign. Stack said she was appalled at the way Mitt Romney's religious beliefs were examined and offered a list of legitimate religion/politics stories that should be sent out to assignment editors pronto. And Wycliff called the coverage "a trip to the zoo," with its menagerie of crazed Mormons and wild pastors.The event - `Sinners and Winners - Election '08: Religion, Morality and Media - was run by the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture, which Peter and Peg Steinfels direct. Ray Suarez was the moderator, and very good at it.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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