Here in the heartland of the Christian Right in Michigan one can sense the energy beginning to drain. Certainly the letters to the editor are not so virulent. But you won’t see many Jack Hoogendyk signs about. And when social conservatives have run, as in the 72nd, the issues were those of leadership v. true (economic) conservative. Even Gary Glenn’s recent protest seemed to fall on deaf ears.
Is this really a case of summer doldrums? McCain? Or has something changed? According to this week’s release of the Pew Report on Religion and Politics, it appears that things are indeed slipping for the Christian Right.
In the poll a majority (52%) now say churches should keep out of politics. Compare this to 2004 when 51% thought churches should express their views.
The Pew data gets real interesting when we look at the subsets. This is a shift in conservative opinion even more than it is among Republicans. On the key social issues (gays, abortion), half of those with strong views now also believe that the church should keep out.
2004 2008 Change
% saying churches should keep out
Among those who say….
Very important 2004: 25 2008: 25
Very important 2004: 33 2008 : 49
What appears to be going on is that conservatives are growing in their disenchantment with the Republicans to deliver on their core issue. The Impact of this failure is all the more prominent when we examine the role of education. The shift in opinion lies principally among those without a college degree (an 11 point jump). This is the heartland of the conservative populist vote, our old “Reagan Democrats” or of our out county voters.
They still want those conservative values, but they’ve grown disenchanted about the means to achieve them. Clearly, the role of the Church (evangelical or Catholic) to act as a conduit of their dissatisfaction hs diminished. (I think this a serious problem for especially the evangelicals). Tactically, that’s good news. Conservative appeals will now rest on the guns, patriotism, and class resentment (Obama as elitist). As the battle turns towards the economic, there is an opening here for at least conservative Dems to walk through — as the Virginians Gov. Kaine and Sen. Webb have shown.
At another level, the fading of the church’s political role likely indicates the growing sense of disenchantment. In Michigan, we know it in the general grumpiness about the economy and the penchant for silver bullets. The residue of the faded theocratic moment may be a loss of vision and imagination. And long term that’s our common political struggle.