A friend passed along an article called “Our secularist Democratic party”, written by Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio and published in The Public Interest. A PDF is available here. It received a sympathetic ear from someone (me) who thinks we regularly underestimate the importance of religion in politics. The big theme of the article is that while the media loves to talk about the influence of the fabled “Religious Right” in the Republican party, it has largely ignored the rise of an equally powerful political group, the secular Left, which has had a powerful voice in the Democratic party since the 1970s, and helped foment many of the culture wars we still fight today. I’m a numbers guy, so I’ll just share a few, often numerical, facts I found interesting, and you can read the whole article if you’d like. Note that the article was published in 2002.
1. In 1972, approximately 5% of the American public could be identified as “secularist” – meaning they espoused no religion and seldom or never attended religious services. However, over a third of white delegates to the Democratic National Convention fit this description.
2. In 1992 (20 years later), 60% of first-time white delegates to the Democratic National Convention either claimed no attachment to religion or displayed no attachment (by attending worship services “a few times a year” or less, according to surveys). About 5% of first-time delegates to the Republican convention identified as secularists, with 2/3 saying they attended religious services at least once a month.
3. Democratic delegates were surveyed regarding their “warmth” (rated on a “thermometer” scale) toward various groups – the rich, the pro-life, big business, etc. “Christian fundamentalists” received the lowest average score of all groups, with over half of delegates individually giving fundamentalists the absolute minimum score possible.
4. Surveys by the American National Election Survey have shown that about 70% of secularists oppose any law restricting a woman’s right to abortion, while most religious moderates and traditionalists favor some restrictions (parental consent laws, outlawing partial-birth abortion, etc.).
5. The religious gap among white voters in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 presidential elections was more important than many other more often discussed gaps (including gaps caused by gender, age, occupation, income, marital status, and difference in education.) In these elections, white women on average gave Democrats 9% more of the vote than white men – secularists gave Democrats 42% more of the vote than religious traditionalists.