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From 1972 to 1998,
July 8, 2001 9:08 AM   Subscribe

From 1972 to 1998, the number of American voters claiming to attend church regularly has stayed stable at 37%. The number who say they never attend church at all has risen from 14% to 33%. What affect will this have on American politics?
posted by Steven Den Beste (31 comments total)

 
What is so stunning about the report is that the GOP worries not about what they might offer the American public in the way of a platform and a program so they might win but rather the simple fact that something must be done so they can continue to WIN. Does it ever occur to these folks that it might be their positions on matters that is losing them support?
posted by Postroad at 9:24 AM on July 8, 2001


Postroad: In my experience with politically active members of the GOP, they're not the sort of people who want to win by catering to the desires of the people (like you seem to want them to, if I'm understanding your comment correctly). Rather, they're people who believe that certain principals are good for America, and they want to win by convincing people to embrace these principals. As a result, significantly altering key parts of their platform is anathema to them. Even if they lose as a result. (Obviously, there are limits to this explanation. Mainly in the form of "you have to win in order to govern".)

Note: My experience with the GOP has been mainly, but not exclusively, at the state and local level. However, I suspect that my comments largely hold true across the board.
posted by gd779 at 10:15 AM on July 8, 2001


I dunno. More people went to church in the 1930s and '40s and yet the Democrats won quite a bit then. They dominated Congress for exactly how long? It's what type of church that people have been attending, and the rise of overt use of religion as a means of hitting "wedge" issues home, that has seemed to change things. Plenty of people who don't attend church very often also are conservative or completely apathetic (the main competition is TV and shopping, after all), so it doesn't have much effect either way. Then certain religious folks become more insular and hardened in their viewpoints, as do some of those who've been alienated from religion (or less friendly to it) as a result of politics. (Nietzsche saw this coming, and in almost clear outline -- see "Human, All to Human." Plenty to enrage and endear everyone simultaneously in that particular segment. He sees the whole thing as leading to a privatization of everything, but more or less endorses the continuing support of the nation-state until a stable and good alternative exists.)

Goodness, though, this is way too complex a topic to bear. There is, for instance, the "never attends, but acts overbearing about religion anyway, for gosh knows what psychological reason" contingent. Also, if fewer people go to church, why do so many people consistently tell pollsters that they favor so-called "faith-based" programs? Because they think they're supposed to?
posted by raysmj at 10:18 AM on July 8, 2001


If I remember the thread on faith-based programs correctly, many people supported those programs only when the faiths happened to be christian -- a good percentage didn't think money should go to muslim or buddhist organizations, for example. I'd love to see the ruckus a satanic church applying for state money would cause.

And then you have Bush Mark One's infamous atheists shouldn't be Amurricans statement, that apparently doesn't outrage anyone. Makes you wonder about how far public tolerance as regards to different belief systems is actually willing to stretch.
posted by lia at 10:31 AM on July 8, 2001


Ray...

America is still 85% Judeo-Christian. The 15% non-religious or subscribed to another religion can't make a dent in the polls about faith-based concerns, but they are very important in elections where 1 or 2 percent mean the difference between a Democrat or Republican seat in the White House.
posted by Kevs at 11:03 AM on July 8, 2001


Most people give nary a thought to the deep questions of existence. Take Mullet Man for example, busy tinkering under his car, listening to Motley Crue on Jackson Mississippi's hottest radio station. He doesn't go to church. But, he damn well thinks old time Christian religion's a good thing. And he also figures he should probably eventually get back to church one of these days too.
posted by crasspastor at 11:13 AM on July 8, 2001


As long as we're painting with brushstrokes wide enough to fit a Buick ... The percentage of African-Americans that are supportive of Bush and Bush's policies, is now far above the 10% of so it was during the election. It wavers back and forth a lot, but it edged close to 30% at some point in the past few months. Democrats usually depend on the blind, kneejerk support of the black community for their election victories. If any sizeable chink appears in that armor, and it stays put for any length of time, the Democrats are doomed.

And, interestingly, the most logical hypotheses I've seen for this shift is that a higher percentage of blacks tend to be churchgoers than whites, and they're rather pleased with Bush's faith-based initiatives.

Enjoy.
posted by aaron at 11:50 AM on July 8, 2001



crass: I've lived near the hardcore Motley Crue-listening types before (I heard it from the cars). And I live in the South, so . . . Two had a totally trashed house, filled with 800 beer cans and bongs and Marlboro boxes, in an inherited house. The city housing inspector looked for them for months. Another lived near me for a month, and he was just a violent, drunk a-hole who was summarily evicted after it came to light that he was housing a man wanted for aggravated assault. These cats may still have the old time religion in their souls (and Motley Crue music's base is gospel, after all), but it's not coming out very soon.
posted by raysmj at 12:15 PM on July 8, 2001


Democrats usually depend on the blind, kneejerk support of the black community for their election victories.

Never mind that the Democratic stance is generally in the best interests of the black community.
posted by skyline at 12:36 PM on July 8, 2001



I think all it shows is that the stigma of not going to church on a regular basis has been somewhat lessened since 1972, so that more people are willing to admit it. I doubt there's any real movement in these numbers.



Democrats usually depend on the blind, kneejerk support of the black community for their election victories.

This always strikes me as a somewhat funny argument. First of all, by making it it assumes that black people are ignorant and can't make their own decisions, and they are simply willing prey for the Democrats, who have put the community under some kind of spell. Also, on the opposite side: There's no blind, knee jerk support of white Southerners for the GOP?
posted by brucec at 12:44 PM on July 8, 2001


This always strikes me as a somewhat funny argument.

Especially when it's posted with no backup whatsoever. It's as if they fully expect blacks to blindly support them.
posted by aaron at 1:29 PM on July 8, 2001



I like raysmj's point about previous support for the Democrats in more churchy eras. In fact, there's a larger point to be made here about the homogenization of the politics of christian denominations in the US -- before the 50s and 60s but especially before the turn of the century, there were many progressive congregations. Especially in the West, they were often seats of organizing labor and farm interests and making the progressives a major political bloc. As churches get more conservative, they drive away people while cementing certain voting blocs.
posted by norm at 1:32 PM on July 8, 2001


It's as if they fully expect blacks to blindly support them.

Well, when one side believes that blacks should be a part of the party apparatus and actually gives black issues a voice - while the other side doesn't think that their voting rights are that important.... pretty simple choice!
posted by owillis at 1:33 PM on July 8, 2001


while the other side doesn't think that their voting rights are that important

Anyone who falls for that false belief is in sheep-grazing territory indeed.
posted by aaron at 1:39 PM on July 8, 2001



Never mind that the Democratic stance is generally in the best interests of the black community.

In very general terms, the Democratic stance (for everyone, not just blacks) typically comes in the form of a hand-out. Hand-out's are rarely in anybody's best interest. It's just hard to realize that when you're the recipient.

Brucec: It's not that the Democrats put anybody under a spell, it's that they seduce them with the siren-song of personal short term gain which is paid for by everybody else in the long-term.

Owillis: Your comment is interesting. Please explain what you mean in a little more detail.
posted by gd779 at 1:41 PM on July 8, 2001


It's not that the Democrats put anybody under a spell, it's that they seduce them with the siren-song of personal short term gain which is paid for by everybody else in the long-term.

Not at all like the GOP's tax plan. Everyone can't wait for their $300 bucks to come in next year.
posted by skallas at 1:56 PM on July 8, 2001


This is off-topic into the stupid area.
posted by norm at 2:01 PM on July 8, 2001


while the other side doesn't think that their voting rights are that important

Owillis -- that's a load of crap and you know it. As long as they are voting Republican, black people's votes are of the utmost importance.
posted by Dirjy at 2:07 PM on July 8, 2001


The Republican idea of fair voting apparently involves military troops guarding the polling places (to keep pesky "Democratic" non-partisan election officials away) and a police state of "dokumentat citizen!" such as they have only imagined in their most fevered nightmares about gun control.

skyline, I would never be so arrogant as to assume I really do know what's best for a particular community. I would only assume that black support for the Democrats comes because blacks have long experience with the Democratic party and they themselves believe overwhelmingly that Democratic policies are preferable. (An overwhelmingness that has remained remarkably steady even as Republican inroads have come in the single-digit percentages, which is not something that I'm willing to entertain suddenly steamrolled after the recent election, as aaron fantasizes. Aaron: don't confuse approval ratings with electoral support. Not the same thing.)

Norm makes a good point about the politics of churches. Indeed, the "mainline Protestant" churches, ranging from the center-right Presbyterians to the center-left Lutherans to the downright lefty United Church of Christ, have all been losing membership over the last few decades -- most often to evangelical churches (though that's leveled off in the 90s) and more recently to the modern "megachurches" in the Willow Creek vein, which tend to be mainly evangelical-based but build their membership straight along commercial principles, offering church "movie nights", day care, convenient daily services, and the like, while downplaying ideology. This has been a source of considerable angst (in the churches with declining numbers) for mere internal reasons, but it also has an exterior political effect.
posted by dhartung at 2:34 PM on July 8, 2001


I think it's a good idea to remember that voter turnout in the 2000 election was about 50% and Bush's share of that vote was ~49% making him the favorite of less than 25% of the electorate. Are church-goers evenly distributed among that 25%? I think not. I'd say most of the Bushie's went to church. As long as people don't vote, church-going patterns don't matter very much.
posted by caraig at 2:37 PM on July 8, 2001


skyline, I would never be so arrogant as to assume I really do know what's best for a particular community.

That's a bit harsh. Wether you're looking at individual issues or the overall ideology, it's pretty hard to argue that the Democrat party isn't the closest fit for a community that is disproportionately affected by economic inequality.
posted by skyline at 3:37 PM on July 8, 2001


It's good to see so many Americans are still god-fearing enough to attend church in such high numbers. In Australia, the Church has definitely lost to the Television set.

I suppose that's what you'd expect from a nation founded by pilgrims (as opposed to one founded by convicts).
posted by lagado at 5:07 PM on July 8, 2001


I suppose that's what you'd expect from a nation founded by pilgrims (as opposed to one founded by convicts).

Both more folklore than reality, of course.

I think, as Ray pointed out, those numbers are inflated by people telling pollsters what they think they should be saying. How much is unclear to me.
posted by rodii at 5:12 PM on July 8, 2001


It's good to see so many Americans are still god-fearing enough to attend church in such high numbers.

I think calling someone "god-fearing" merely because they attend a church is a bit of a stretch. In my experience, most people go to church in order to validate their own beliefs and to feel spiritually superior to others.
posted by kindall at 5:17 PM on July 8, 2001


Brucec: It's not that the Democrats put anybody under a spell, it's that they seduce them with the siren-song of
personal short term gain which is paid for by everybody else in the long-term.


The comments about short term-long term is too general to argue. I happen to think Republican program are short term. But the overall comment is is exactly the same as the arguments that African americans are put under a spell by Democrats, just using different words. That the community can be seduced it just reveals a lack of understanding and is probably interpreted as condescending.

Think again. Instead of a magic 'siren-song' perhaps you can consider that African Americans maybe, just maybe, might be the Democrats? and affecting the direction of the party in some way. Maybe, that's why they associate with the Democratic party, and why they used to associate with the Republican a hundred years ago.
posted by brucec at 6:25 PM on July 8, 2001


It's not that the Democrats put anybody under a spell, it's that they seduce them with the siren-song of personal short term gain which is paid for by everybody else in the long-term.

brucec: Again, let me clarify. My comments (especially the one excerpted above) were not aimed at African Americans, but rather at anyone who "votes their pocketbook". I should clarify that, as skallas quite correctly points out, this may not be limited to Democrats. (I am not familiar enough with Bush's tax-cut plan, so I make no comment as to whether it is good policy). The point I am trying to make is that Democratic voting blocks, black or otherwise, may be choosing to vote Democratic because the Democrats promise them short-term personal gain at the long-term expense of the country as a whole.

Who would turn down a deal like that? Many Republican's that I know wouldn't... that helps to fuel their support for tax cuts. Both sides should stop acting like selfish two-year olds trying to get the biggest slice of pizza for themselves and start acting like responsible citizens. Or better yet, everybody ought to start acting like statesmen.

Then again, as Dennis Miller says: "It's just my opinion. I could be wrong."
posted by gd779 at 6:58 PM on July 8, 2001


Besides, brucec, anybody who thinks that the American community can't be seduced, fooled, or otherwise mislead into endorsing stupid policies is fooling themselves. For a view of the intelligence of the average American, go here. Then start reading up on P.T. Barnum.
posted by gd779 at 7:03 PM on July 8, 2001


Your clarified position is tough to argue with. Many democratic programs would be considered long-term. Almost all government investment is long-term; only a few programs will have any benefit in the short term. Social Security is one of the long-term programs ever devised. Road construction is long term. Education is probably the most long-term investment government makes.

OK fine, you weren't specifically talking about African Americans, well then your comment is not an answer to mine then, but it seemed to be structured as one. I was making a comment about how many times people make the argument that the black community is "swindled, put under a spell, seduced, etc" and how silly this is when its said as if these people don't believe in the policy, have a role in shaping the policy, and that they could possibly seduced as a group into believing something that's really outside their interest.

Of course, ala PT Barnum individuals can be fooled, but you make my point - , but to take groups and say they are being fooled while others are not is, well, foolish.
posted by brucec at 7:18 PM on July 8, 2001


Brucec: Okay, we'll just agree to disagree about which party is choosing to take the long-term view. ;) However, go back up to the first paragraph of my post:

In very general terms, the Democratic stance (for everyone, not just blacks) typically comes in the form of a hand-out. Hand-out's are rarely in anybody's best interest. It's just hard to realize that when you're the recipient.

Beyond long-term/short-term, there is also selfish vs. principled.

Republican policies tend to emphasize personal responsibility, while Democratic policies tend to emphasize "helping the unfortunate", hence the hand-outs. (Again, I'm painting with a very broad brush here, there are obvious exceptions to both policies). Beyond the "give a man a fish" argument, I believe that personal responsibility is more than just good policy... as the phrase implies, it's a responsibility. This country was built upon a strong sense of responsibility and work ethic (and it's much-preferred cousin, Freedom). We cannot have Freedom without Responsibility; the two go together.

It's late, and I'm tired, so I'll stop there. Thoughts?
posted by gd779 at 7:32 PM on July 8, 2001


These federal programs aren't (are at least aren't intended to become) hand-outs, nor life-long life-lines. The fact is, hard work isn't the sole determinant of prosperity; where we start out from can hurt the hardest worker or elevate the lazy. This wouldn't be a terrible thing, if the field was a bit more level.

Sometimes, the man already knows how to fish, but can't afford the bus fare to reach the pond.
posted by skyline at 8:27 PM on July 8, 2001


Hand-out's are rarely in anybody's best interest. It's just hard to realize that when you're the recipient.

Chilling.
posted by Mocata at 3:20 AM on July 9, 2001


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