So, we’ve been collecting evidence of bias concerning Mitt Romney’s religion in the recent election. To date, most of the evidence we have collected has been of the intra-religious type. However, one of the things we have always contended is that the left had an enormous problem with Romney’s religion becasue they viewed it as somehow uber-religious. Evidence that such was a factor in the election just past is coming forward in an examination of the “nones,” those without religious affiliation:
Election analysts have hashed over the gender gap and the marriage gap. They talked about Hispanic voters and gay voters. But it was the religiously unaffiliated voters, says Iowa-based pollster J Ann Selzer, who gave her one of the election season’s big “aha” moments.
Selzer tells us that in her last Iowa poll before Election Day, data she had compiled for the Des Moines Register showed that Obama was losing to GOP nominee Mitt Romney among both Protestant and Catholic voters.
Those voters make up 88 percent of the state’s electorate, yet her final numbers still had Obama leading Romney by 5 percentage points.
“I see this in the data, and give a shout out to Michelle,” Selzer says, referring to her research assistant, Michelle Yeoman.
“How is this possible?” Selzer recalls saying. “I was pretty much awestruck.”
What Selzer found was that though her polling showed Romney leading among Catholics by 14 points and among Protestants by 6 points, Obama was winning the “nones” by a 52-point margin.
— In Ohio, Obama lost the Protestant vote by 3 points and the Catholic vote by 11, but he won the “nones” — 12 percent of the state’s electorate — by 47 points.
— In Virginia, Obama lost Protestants by 9 points and Catholics by 10 points, but won 76 percent of the “nones,” who were 10 percent of the electorate.
— In Florida, Obama lost Protestants by 16 points and Catholics by 5 points, but captured 72 percent of the “nones.” They were 15 percent of the electorate.
Similar results were seen in states including Michigan, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.
“It was hard to think this was just Iowa,” Selzer said. “And it wasn’t. One of the reasons Barack Obama won was that he had the ‘no religion’ vote by a huge margin.”
That is a fascinating result that needs much more thought and analysis than is possible at the moment. In one sense it is more polarization, a trend that we are seeing in all sorts of areas. But it also says an enormous amount about how religion is viewed culturally, which is something we have been examining and will continue to examine. Much of this trend, I think, has to do with continued confusing identifications between politics and religion. The BBC looked at it a bit and Jonah Goldberg wrote about some problems resulting from it, politically speaking.
Certainly in the minds of the press and seemingly a significant portion of the general public religion is nothing more than, to borrow a term from Goldberg, “a club” of like-minded people. Many are the churches that operate in precisely that manner because it keeps the pews full – and such churches serve as evidence of the misunderstanding. But religion is something much different. It does indeed inform our political opinion and as such will give us a natural affinity for the party that comes closest to that opinion.
However, religion is so much more than those political opinions, or even a set of theological precepts. But that is a subject for another post.
What is plain is that his religiosity harmed, maybe even fatally, Mitt Romney’s candidacy. One of the better things Goldberg said:
Evangelical Christians, or just plain Christians, are a major source of energy and passion in the GOP and on the right generally. And that’s a good thing. The part I find interesting is how the force of diversity saps, or rather can sap, the internal cohesion of mediating institutions. Ask, say, a Catholic charity to put its faith on the back burner to accommodate atheist or Jewish volunteers, and you’ll get more diversity but less esprit de corps. It’s not because Catholics are bigots, far from it. It’s just that certain groups attract people with shared values, cultures, and experiences. Take away that appeal, and you take away the appeal for many of the most loyal and dedicated members. Anyone who’s familiar with the debates over historically black colleges, single-sex schools, or countless other institutions out of tempo with the times, will know what I am talking about.
We have certainly seen such a sapping inside the Republican party with regards to Romney’s faith. There was clearly an energy lacking from the Evangelicals. And now we see a near revulsion from the less religiously committed and certainly the religiously unaffiliated. This latter factor makes me worry about future candidate of any faith. Marco Rubio is the first of the list of 2016 potentials to begin to act like a possible candidate. He is being extraordinarily open and frank about his faith. Even with the enormous diversity within his personal religious practice (a mass- attending Catholic that often worships in Evangelical settings and even has a Mormon past) such honesty could excite the base but still fall short of the final mark. It will be interesting to watch this space.
And in closing just a reminder that the religious biases we see are insignificant compared to much of the world.