The news from Politico (and Gallup) is not good today. All the work of the past year has not (apparently) moved the dial when it comes to the religious voter.
The Gallup Poll now shows Obama backed by 28 percent of white voters who attend church at least once a week — a group that makes up a roughly a third of all voters — which would be no improvement from the 29 percent of these voters who, according to exit polls, backed Democrats John Kerry and Al Gore in the previous two presidential election.
There is something of a body blow to this, given the work that folks like Amy Sullivan and Mara Vanderslice have done, as well as the more explicit outreach efforts of the Democrats generally. Has nothing really changed? Pulling apart the article and looking at other recent data suggest that more be happening here than the top line numbers suggest.
Perceptions change. As the article notes
Democrats have made some gains in improving the public’s perception of their openness to religious Americans. Some 38 percent of Americans believe the Democratic Party is “generally friendly toward religion,” up from a low point of 26 percent in 2006, according to the annual August Pew Religion and Public Life Survey[.]
The true significance of such a move lies in the broader move of the Democratic party to the center out of a sectarian stance. The danger of its secularity had been that party would be seen as representing a niche in American society rather than the as a coalition of various subgroups. Ironically, the ascendency of true believers in the Republican party seems to be propelling that party into a similar sectarian stance. Too intense a religious commitment may be as dangerous as too little for a party aspiring to national leadership.
Moderate Shifts. As David Kuhn reports, occasional believers and Catholics are both showing shifts in allegiance to the Democrats. Here, the increasing Evangelical profile in the GOP works against it – groups that would otherwise share in their values nonetheless do not share the sociological identity of Evangelicals. So even if the sectarian box holds, others in the religious community seem to be abandoning it.
But the real give away in all this is the noting that the Democrats have stopped losing. The pattern of losing weekly church goers by increasingly larger margins has now flattened. This suggests again that outreach efforts have been successful at least in stopping the bleeding. The secular story is no longer seen as a self-defeating behavior that it has been where secular stances lead to rejection lead to secular stances. The bleeding has stopped.
But that’s not all the story.