pew gap

Pew gap 2020: Thinking about Emma Green, sad Trump voters and woke wing of Democratic Party

Pew gap 2020: Thinking about Emma Green, sad Trump voters and woke wing of Democratic Party

As the 2020 White House race draws closer, I think I hear a familiar train a comin’. Or maybe it’s this slow train, coming up around the bend. I’ve already bought my new political t-shirt for the months ahead.

Whatever you want to call it, the train that’s coming is more and more coverage of Donald Trump and his white evangelical voters — both enthusiastic supporters and reluctant ones. It’s the same train that so many mainstream journalists spotted in 2016, but never took the time to understand (or were unwilling to make that effort, for some strange reason).

The bottom line: They thought the whole “81 percent” thing was a story about the Republican Party and the Republican Party, alone.

As for me, I keep thinking about all the church-goin’ people that I know who really, really, really do not want to vote for Trump. Yet they hear the train a comin’, since they remain worried about all those familiar issues linked to the First Amendment, abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court, etc. (Click here for my breakdown on the various evangelical voting camps in the Trump era.)

So what is happening on the Democratic Party side of this story?

That brings me to a short, but important, essay by Emma Green (she’s everywhere, these days) that ran at The Atlantic Monthly website with this headline: “Pete Buttigieg Takes Aim at Religious Hypocrisy.” It starts you know where:

On the debate stage, Buttigieg gave voice to a view that has become common among Democratic voters: Many of Trump’s policies, along with his conduct as president, do not reflect Christian values. “The Republican Party likes to cloak itself in the language of religion,” Buttigieg said. “We should call out hypocrisy when we see it.”

Many religious conservatives, of course, agree with that statement, that Trump’s conduct doesn’t “reflect Christian values.” His policies? That’s a bizarre, very mixed bag, for most religious conservatives that I know.

Back to Green:

This has been a theme throughout Buttigieg’s campaign. The mayor has spoken openly about his religious faith and rallied religious rhetoric to his advantage: This spring, he called out Mike Pence for his opposition to same-sex marriage, saying, “Your quarrel, sir, it is with my creator.”

This is a departure from the usual playbook for the Democratic Party.

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When politics shatter relationships: Does anyone else sense a religion ghost in Reuters report?

When politics shatter relationships: Does anyone else sense a religion ghost in Reuters report?

It's a story that, in one form or another, has become a mainstream news staple during the media meltdown after the election of Donald Trump as president. I am talking about the Wars On Facebook phenomenon, the whole idea that this election has driven painful, emotional wedges into families and circles of friends, severing the ties that bind.

It's a hot story because, for many people, it's absolutely true. This is really happening out there in social-media land and in the real world or real people. The question, of course, is "Why?" What are these divisions really about?

In most of the coverage the key issue is Trump himself -- period.

For journalists, it appears, Americans are either for Trump or against him. However, anyone who has read deeper into the coverage -- especially polls focusing on religious voters -- knows that millions of voters did not vote for Trump because they wanted Trump. They voted against Hillary Clinton, in part because of their concerns about moral and social issues (think religious liberty, as well) and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thus, at the very least, there are three divisions at the heart of the Wars On Facebook phenomenon. Anyone -- oh, like me -- who was #NeverTrump #NeverHillary knows that.

So what are these highly personal social-media spats really about? Yes, might there -- if "pew wars" principles remain in effect -- be a religion ghost or two haunting these faith-free stories?

The other day, Mark "KMark" Kellner sent out a perfect example of this phenomenon, care of Reuters. I call this story it perfect because it contains absolutely zero content about religion and/or moral and social issues. The headline: "From disputes to a breakup: wounds still raw after U.S. election." Here is the overture:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Burning passions over Donald Trump's presidency are taking a personal toll on both sides of the political divide. For Gayle McCormick, it is particularly wrenching: she has separated from her husband of 22 years.

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Ken Woodward, et al: History behind Democrats losing some key faith ties that bind

Ken Woodward, et al: History behind Democrats losing some key faith ties that bind

It's for a deep, deep dive into my GetReligion folder of guilt, that cyber stash of items that I really planned to write about pronto, but then things (oh, like the post-election mainstream news media meltdown) got in the way.

I remembered this particular item because of my recent posts about NBC News and Politico coverage of challenges facing the Democratic Party, which has gone off a cliff in terms of its fortunes at the level of state legislatures (and governors' mansions) in the American heartland (and other places, too). Of course, Democrats are in trouble in Washington, D.C., as well -- but after some truly agonizing close losses.

To sum up those posts: Both NBC News and The Politico totally ignored the role of religious, moral and cultural issues in the current predicament facing the modern Democrats. That "pew gap"? Never heard of it.

But there are people who are thinking about that issue, such as Emma Green at The Atlantic. Scores of faithful readers let us know about the recent piece there that ran with this headline: "Democrats Have a Religion Problem." It's an interview with conservative evangelical Michael Wear, who served as former director of Barack Obama’s 2012 faith-outreach efforts.

For example: What does Wear think of the modern party's attempts to deal with pro-life Democrats, such as himself? Green states the question this way: "How would you characterize Democrats’ willingness to engage with the moral question of abortion, and why is it that way?"

Wear: There were a lot of things that were surprising about Hillary’s answer [to a question about abortion] in the third debate. She didn’t advance moral reservations she had in the past about abortion. She also made the exact kind of positive moral argument for abortion that women’s groups -- who have been calling on people to tell their abortion stories -- had been demanding.
The Democratic Party used to welcome people who didn’t support abortion into the party. We are now so far from that, it’s insane.

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Are faith, morality and culture issues haunting modern Democrats? (Round II)

Are faith, morality and culture issues haunting modern Democrats? (Round II)

There are two ways to think about the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), which focuses on the religion "ghosts" in some recent coverage of the modern Democratic Party's fortunes at the state and national levels.

First of all, there are some basic facts that I think all journalists can see.

The Democrats are way, way, way down when to comes to controlling state legislatures. The same thing is true when it comes to electing governors.

At the same time, the Republicans now control the U.S. House, Senate and the White House. But let it be noted that (a) there have been many close, close contests there and (b) Democrats easily control the states and cities that shape American public discourse, in terms of entertainment, higher education and news.

Democrats have some obvious demographic trends on their side -- with massive support among ethnic groups, the super-rich tech sector and the rapidly growing portion of the U.S. population that is young, urban, single and religiously unaffiliated.

Now, in my recent post ("NBC News on dazed Democrats left in lurch: Decline rooted in race, alone, or 'culture'?") I dug into a long, long feature that basically said the Democrats are having problems with working-class, heartland, white Americans for one reason and one reason only -- the party's history of fighting racism. The story alluded to vague "cultural" issues, but never mentioned, to cite on glaring omission, the role Roe v. Wade played in the creation of the Religious Right and the rise of the (Ronald) Reagan Democrats.

"Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I worked through all of that, including the fact that -- in the early exit-poll data from Donald Trump's win -- it appears that the "pew gap" remained in effect, favoring the GOP. What is the "pew gap"? Here is a chunk of my "On Religion" column about the 2016 election results:

The so-called "God gap" (also known as the "pew gap") held steady, with religious believers who claimed weekly worship attendance backing Trump over Hillary Clinton, 56 percent to 40 percent. Voters who said they never attend religious services backed Clinton by a 31-point margin, 62 percent to 31 percent. ...
Meanwhile, white Catholics supported Trump by a 23-point margin -- 60 percent to 37 percent -- compared with Mitt Romney's 19-point victory in that crucial swing-vote niche. Hispanic Catholics supported Clinton by a 41-point margin, 67 percent to 26 percent.
Clinton also drew overwhelming support from the growing coalition of Americans who are religious liberals, unbelievers or among the so-called "nones," people with no ties to any religious tradition. In the end, nearly 70 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans voted for Clinton, compared with 26 percent for Trump.

Note the two sides of that equation.

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NBC News on dazed Democrats left in lurch: Decline rooted in race, alone, or 'culture'?

NBC News on dazed Democrats left in lurch: Decline rooted in race, alone, or 'culture'?

The very first item posted here at GetReligion -- written on Feb. 1, 2004 and the site went live the next day -- had this headline: "What we do, why we do it."

That was a long time ago. This piece, obviously, was a statement of purpose for the blog. Several million words of writing later, there are lots of things in it that I would update (and I have, here and here), but few things I would change.

In that first post, co-founder Doug Leblanc and I introduced the concept of mainstream news stories being "haunted" by religion "ghosts" -- a term your GetReligionistas are still using today. And I am about to use it again right now while probing a lengthy NBC News piece that ran online with this dramatic double-decker headline: 

Democrats: Left in the Lurch
The curious decline and uncertain future of the Democratic Party

Before we look at a few haunted passages in this long story, let's flash back to GetReligion Day 1 and review our whole "ghost" thing. The essay starts like this:

Day after day, millions of Americans who frequent pews see ghosts when they pick up their newspapers or turn on television news.
They read stories that are important to their lives, yet they seem to catch fleeting glimpses of other characters or other plots between the lines. There seem to be other ideas or influences hiding there.
One minute they are there. The next they are gone. There are ghosts in there, hiding in the ink and the pixels. Something is missing in the basic facts or perhaps most of the key facts are there, yet some are twisted. Perhaps there are sins of omission, rather than commission.
A lot of these ghosts are, well, holy ghosts. They are facts and stories and faces linked to the power of religious faith. Now you see them. Now you don’t. In fact, a whole lot of the time you don’t get to see them. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

According to this NBC News feature, the current distressed state of the Democratic Party at the level of state and national races (including Hillary Clinton's loss to Citizen Donald Trump) is based on race and maybe this other strange something that has to do with the culture of cities vs. people in rural America, or working-class people vs. elites, or something

But the key R-word is "race," not You Know What. It's "race" and race alone.

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Hey journalists: If you wanted to find Latino Trump voters, where would it be smart to look?

Hey journalists: If you wanted to find Latino Trump voters, where would it be smart to look?

If you want to start an argument, post-Election Day, here is one of the many questions that you can ask: How many Latino voters backed Donald Trump?

The Washington Post political team has been all over this issue, asking: Did 29 percent of Hispanics actually vote for Trump? Was this just a matter of "rural" Latinos, whatever that means, swinging his way?

This is a very, very hot-button topic. During live coverage of the Florida results you could hear a "this is like 9/11" shock in the voices of the on-camera talent (I was mostly watching CNN) as they realized that a smallish, but significant, percentage of the state's complex Latino population was going to back Trump.

As a former resident of West Palm Beach, I looked at the numbers and thought to myself: (1) The Cuban vote alone cannot explain what is happening and (2) someone needs to ask this question: What percentage of Latinos in Florida have converted to evangelical and Pentecostal forms of Protestantism?

So here is the question journalists should think about as we look at another piece of Washington Post coverage on this issue: If you were going to look for Latino Trump voters in Texas, where would you start looking? 

Start with this exercise: Click over to the full blog post and look at the screen shot of this particular Post story, located at the very top of my text. What is the first thing that you see in this image?

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Washington Post: USA more pessimistic, divided than ever (and don’t ask about religion)

Washington Post: USA more pessimistic, divided than ever (and don’t ask about religion)

It’s a familiar journalism strategy during election years: When in doubt, run a poll story.

The leaders of The Washington Post are doing everything that they can do, in terms of social media and online promotions, to trumpet their new 50-state survey of potential American voters. This poll is somewhat different, at this stage in the White House horse race, because it focuses more on the nation’s mood than a single-minded focus on the alleged popularity of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

The big news: America is as divided than ever -- maybe even more divided -- and the vast majority of Americans are pessimistic when it comes to finding a way out of this mess. The exception to this rule: optimistic Americans are part of the coalition that President Barack Obama has favored in his policies and executive orders. 

What’s at the heart of this story? Apparently it's a mysterious something called “values.”

However, since we are talking about the Post political desk, it appears that zero effort was made to see if that word “values” might be attached to moral or religious issues. Here is a crucial chunk of the story, near the top:

Americans also say they fear they are being left behind by the cultural changes that are transforming the country. Asked whether the America of today reflects their values more or less than it did in the past, large majorities of registered voters in every state say the country reflects their values less. … 
The survey is the largest sample ever undertaken by The Post, which joined with SurveyMonkey and its online polling resources to produce the results. The findings from each state are based on responses from more than 74,000 registered voters during the period of Aug. 9 to Sept. 1. The extensive sample makes it possible not only to compare one state with another but also to examine the attitudes of various parts of the population, based on age, gender, ideology, education and economic standing.

Let's see, what might be missing from that list of key variables? Hint, we are talking about a factor that in recent decades -- roughly post Roe v. Wade -- has proven to be a powerful factor in predicting how Americans will behave at the polls.

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Hey Washington Post editors: Why is Donald Trump in trouble in Utah? Think about it

Hey Washington Post editors: Why is Donald Trump in trouble in Utah? Think about it

For many elite journalists, it has been the big, nagging existential question for more than a year: Who is to blame for the rise of Donald Trump?

For starters, his popularity must have something to do with a revolt among blue-collar and Middle Class white Americans. The press seems to get that, in part because this trend can also be linked to some of the supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders.

But from the get go, journalists have been fascinated by the fact that some religious conservatives have -- no matter how outrageous the past actions of the proud playboy called The Donald -- been willing to forgive Trump's many sins against faith and family.

In other words, when in doubt, blame all those yahoos on the Religious Right.

The problem, of course, was the evidence that the more religious conservatives, you know, spent time in pews and pulpits the less likely they were to support Trump, especially with any sense of enthusiasm. The split between "cultural evangelicals" and the leadership class in their churches kept showing up in the exit polls. And what about Catholics? And Mormons? Is there a reason that someone like Mitt Romney is the face of the #NeverTrump world?

The bottom line: How can journalists cover the "lesser of two evils" story that dominates this year's White House race without weighing the moral and religious issues linked to that dilemma? What kinds of voters are in the most pain, right now, as they contemplate a choice between Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton?

This brings me to two items from The Washington Post that I am convinced are linked. It appears that the political editors at the Post don't see it that way.

Let's start with this headline at the reported blog called The Fix: "This new Utah poll is amazingly bad for Donald Trump." At the heart of the story is a truly shocking set of numbers, if you know anything about GOP life.

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Seriously? New York Times story on GOP schism is silent on 'pew gap' issues (updated)

Seriously? New York Times story on GOP schism is silent on 'pew gap' issues (updated)

As you would expect, the political experts at The New York Times have noticed that, once again, war has broken out between the populist and country-club wings of the Republican Party. Thus, they produced a very interesting piece that ran under the headline, "For Republicans, Mounting Fears of Lasting Split."

This story will be interesting, to GetReligion readers, just as much because of what the editors left out, as well as that they put in. They correctly stress that, this time around, the GOP leaders face fundamental differences on a host of crucial issues such as immigration, rising tides of refugees and how far to go in battles with radical forms of Islam.

It is also interesting that, over and over, the piece equates the candidacy of Sen. Ted Cruz with that of billionaire reality-TV star Donald Trump. The implication is that they are appealing to many of the same voters and that there isn't much difference between the two.

But what is missing? To be blunt: Religion.

So, do you remember the "pew gap"? Apparently, it is completely gone or is now irrelevant in GOP debates, as well as the nation has a whole. Is that really true in the GOP? It must be true, because the Times team -- in this crucial piece about the threat of a GOP split -- completely ignores religious and moral issues (even as the U.S. Supreme Court faces case after case linked to religious liberty issues).

So what is the "pew gap"? Many people used to incorrectly claim that religious people vote for Republicans and non-religious people vote for Democrats. While it is true that highly secular and religiously unaffiliated voters are crucial in the Democratic coalition, there are also religious believers active in doctrinally liberal flocks -- which makes them a perfect fit in the modern Democratic Party. However, a crucial "pew gap" fact is that liberal religious groups tend to be smaller in terms of numbers.

If you are looking for the roots of the "pew gap" -- the fact that people who frequent pews are more likely to vote Republican -- then it's hard to top the 2003 Atlantic Monthly essay called "Blue Movie," written by Thomas Byrne Edsall. This is a flashback, of course, to a campaign dominated by Bill Clinton, not Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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