Last weekend, a coalition of pro-family and faith-based organizations hosted the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. But while hundreds of attendees gathered to hear dozens of prominent politicians and pundits discuss the issues that motivate people of faith, one group was conspicuously absent: liberals.
It’s not that the left hasn’t been “reaching-out” to religious voters. In fact, ever since exit polls showed “moral values” was the difference maker in the 2004 presidential election, liberals have been hard at work courting people of faith. Democratic Party leaders began consulting with religious leaders and appearing on Christian broadcasts and at conservative churches, and Democratic candidates started incorporating religious themes into their speeches. Most recently, Democrats launched FaithfulDemocrats.com, an online community of Christian Democrats that “make[s] no apologies for rooting our identity as Democrats in our faith as Christians.” As the Economist stated earlier this summer, “the religious left is more energized than it has been for years.”
Unfortunately for the left, all this God talk has yet to resonate with most Americans. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that the percentage of Americans who saw Democrats as “religion friendly” fell from 40% in October 2004 to 26% last month (including a 14 percentage point drop among black Protestants and 10 points among Catholic Democrats). Further, 69% of the public still thinks “Liberals [have] gone too far in trying to keep religion out of schools and government (up two points from 2005).” Most telling, according to Pew, only about 7% of the public say they identify with the “religious left” political movement.
Despite the left’s recent values offensive, the “God gap” is actually growing!
The Pew poll sheds light on a fundamental problem facing the left as it attempts to court faith-based voters: authenticity. While liberals have begun to talk about religious values, they have yet to support the policies people of faith care most about.
Consider, for example, the Democrats’ recent opposition to the Child Custody Protection Act, legislation that would make it a crime to knowingly skirt a state’s parental consent or notification law by taking a pregnant minor to another state for an abortion. Though supported by 80% of the public, only 28% of congressional Democrats voted for the bill. In contrast, 95% of Republicans supported it.
Democrats’ cognitive dissonance on values issues like abortion stems from the fact that their base—from the interest groups and funders to the netroots—is comprised of people who view any talk of faith in politics as an infringement on the First Amendment. Think about the endless list of groups embraced by the Left that actively seek to undermine religious freedom and family values: People For the American Way, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Defcon, Moveon.org, and the list goes on.
What’s more, in the 2004 presidential election, John Kerry’s strongest support came from professed atheists and non-churchgoers. A Gallup Poll released earlier this month showed Democrats felt more negatively than Republicans about most religious groups. In fact, out of 10 religious groups listed in the survey, the only two groups Democrats felt more positively about were atheists and Scientologists. Meanwhile, less than a third of Democrats had positive feelings about Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians, groups that received over 50% positive ratings from Republicans.
This all makes for a difficult balancing act as Democrats attempt to make overtures to people of faith, while being careful not antagonize their secular base.
It’s a good thing Democrats are discussing religion more openly. Their previous hostility toward public expressions of faith was out of step with the 90% of Americans who believe in God and the majority who belong to an organized religion. But, after two years of attempts to woo religious voters, it’s clear liberals still misunderstand how churchgoing Americans view the role of religion in politics. Because, if the left believes it can capture hearts and minds by simply cloaking extreme policy positions in religious rhetoric, it won’t have a prayer of winning over values voters.