Political Animal


March 21, 2012 5:17 PM A Different Kind of Religious “Wedge”

By Ed Kilgore

Even as Republicans continue to hope that perceptions of Obama administration hostility to organized religion will increase and create a “wedge issue” hurting Democrats, evidence continues to mount that the theocratic vibes set off by conservative rhetoric could backfire.

Today Pew released one of its periodic surveys on public attitudes about religion and politics. The headline everyone’s talking about is the growing percentage of Americans who are getting uncomfortable about religious expression by politicians. But it’s the subhed—“Santorum voters disagree”—that I find most interesting, along with a general and growing tendency towards partisan and ideological polarization on the issue that could prove very troubling to the GOP.

I won’t go through all the numbers, but the main point is that self-identified independents are tracking Democrats very closely in the percentage who believe there is “too much” religious talk from pols (46% of Democrats, 42% of indies). The percentage of Republicans feeling that way is also rising, at 24%, but it’s still less than the 28% of GOPers who say the amount of religious expression is fine, and the 40% who want more of it. Unsurprisingly, an actual majority of Santorum supporters fall into the “give us more” category.

Similarly, 60% of Democrats and 58% of indies (and, BTW, 60% of Catholics) think churches should stay out of politics. Only 44% of Republicans feel that way, and the number drops to 36% among white evangelicals.

Sure looks to me like Republicans are being tugged by their “base” in a direction away from the views of independents and of a significant minority of their own voters. That may or may not be a recipe for the subject to become a “wedge issue,” but if it does, it probably won’t be Democrats who are being “wedged.”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • T2 on March 21, 2012 5:30 PM:

    once again we have a poll illustrating just how "Fringe" today's version of the Republican Party has become. White, bordering-on-crazy Religious, hateful of "the others". Meanwhile "the others" are simply passing them by.

  • Joey Tranchina on March 21, 2012 5:46 PM:

    Toxic Religion has a way of creating Toxic Politics, which in turn generates unjust public policy.

    This is long past the theoretical; the ignorant anti-science bias of Fundamentalist religion threatens the future of American democracy and the health of the American economy.

    What those polls say is the more then 50% of the member of a major political party do not believe in an America that is not dominated by Christians for Christians.

    I'd say that fact puts America's future, as a free democratic 21st century nation, on a bubble.

    All that stuff that Jefferson said about "ignorant and free" well, you can't be.

  • Mitch on March 21, 2012 6:27 PM:

    @Joey Tranchina

    Excellent comment, and very true. There is no enemy of human freedom that is more dangerous that theocracy - simply because all theocrats are convinced that they are doing the right thing in God's eyes.

    What terrifies me the most about all of this is that, historically speaking, it has never taken a true majority to install a theocracy in a region. A passionate and dedicated minority is often all that it takes.

    "Experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution." -James Madison

  • MichMan on March 21, 2012 9:42 PM:

    I'd love to see the Reppugs get a wedgie!

  • bleh on March 21, 2012 10:32 PM:

    This obviously is tremendous news for McCain.

    I predict extensive run-up plus at least one cycle of Sunday talk shows debating earnestly HOW good this is for Republicans and for Voters Of Faith, and how much it will hurt Obama's chances in the fall.

    Liberal media, you know...

  • liam foote on March 21, 2012 10:41 PM:

    Islam comprises mostly moderates and non-practitioners, with a scant extremist minority who advocate jihad and terrorism against infidels, demanding that religion guide their politics and civil law. This is actually remarkably similar to the situation in the US where the Christian extremists basically mirror these sentiments.