Democrats Get Religious When It Suits Them

The Gallup Organization poses it as a conundrum: Churchgoers are much more likely to support George W. Bush, while those who don’t attend church regularly are more likely to favor John F. Kerry. Men are also more likely to favor Bush, while women back Kerry. Yet, more women than men can be found in the pews any Sunday morning. So how is it that Bush does better than Kerry among both church attendees and men?

The answer, according to Jeffrey M. Jones and Joseph Carroll, who analyzed the Gallup data, is that white men who attend services weekly so overwhelmingly support Bush that they tip the scales. Religiously inclined women also are more likely to support Bush, but less so than their devout male counterparts. Among white men who attend church on a weekly basis, Bush gets a whopping 70 percent of the registered voters in the Gallup sample to Kerry’s 27 percent. Women in this group of once-a-week attendees give Bush the nod, but by a smaller margin, 52 percent to Kerry’s 42 percent.

Kerry, meanwhile, has the advantage among registered voters who never — or rarely — attend services, especially among women who shun the church door. A majority of men who don’t attend church or other religious services support Kerry, 53-45 percent. But an even higher proportion of women in this category are much more likely to favor Kerry: 61-36 percent.

So what about voters who go to church, but not as regularly as the most devout? Among both men and women who attend religious services monthly, Bush and Kerry are in a dead heat, with men in this group slightly favoring Bush, 49-47 percent, and women splitting their vote 48-48. Nonetheless, according to Jones and Carroll, “the data suggest, however, that whites at this level of religious commitment show a noticeable preference for Bush over Kerry.”

The Democrats have been trying to overcome their reputation as the less God-fearing party, making sure that speakers at their recent convention invoked spiritual and religious themes. Barack Obama, the Illinois state representative now running for U.S. Senate, told a cheering audience, “We worship an awesome God in the ‘Blue States.'” But Kerry gave the most spirited defense of faith in his speech: “in this campaign, we welcome people of faith,” he said. “America is not us and them. I think of what Ron Reagan said of his father a few weeks ago, and I want to say this to you tonight: I don’t wear my own faith on my sleeve. But faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday.”

So why aren’t his words resonating with the people of faith Kerry talked about? Although Kerry attends mass regularly, and carries a rosary and prayer book with him on the campaign trail, he is at odds with his Church on abortion and gay marriage. But perhaps more importantly, Kerry’s positions on these issues seem motivated more by political expediency than principle.

He says he opposes gay marriage, but voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, one of only a handful of senators to do so. He has said that he believes that life begins at conception and that he is personally opposed to abortion but then votes consistently counter to these professed moral principles. Kerry has voted against legislation to outlaw the gruesome practice of late-term, partial-birth abortion each time it has come up. And just weeks ago, he abandoned campaigning to return to the Senate floor to vote against the “unborn victims of crime bill,” which would allow federal prosecutors to treat violence against a pregnant woman as a crime against two victims.

It would be one thing if he said he disagreed with the Catholic Church on these matters, but he doesn’t. Instead, he tries to have it both ways, making him appear weak and unprincipled. And that may be why religious voters — especially men — seem less comfortable with John Kerry.