Friday, August 25, 2006

Pew Poll on Politics and Religion

Pew released a poll recently regarding perceptions of the parties as they relate to religion. The results showed a decline in the Republican monopoly of being "friendly to religion," and a very low number of people believing that the Democratic Party was "friendly to religion." Those initial numbers, with the Republicans polling at 47% friendly to religion and Democrats at 26% I don't particularly find problematic, this surface question shows no indication that anyone who the Democrats have any hope of reaching anyway considers whether the party is "friendly to religion" a voting issue. If people consider the Democrats to be unfriendly towards religion and don't vote based on that it doesn't matter. However, there are parts of this study that do show the Democrats having a problem of perception.
Sixty-nine percent agreed that liberals had “gone too far in trying to keep religion out of schools and government”

This is a perception problem, and it is probably fueled by the Constitutional illiteracy of most of the American public. Democrats should not change their positions as far as school prayer, and other "religion in the public square" issues. In large part because the Democrats hold a position that is consistent with years and years of Supreme Court precedent, it appears to be the "right" interpretation of the establishment clause, and Democrats should stand behind that, but what needs to happen is that a way to frame these issues while still upholding the essential core constitutional principles needs to be used by Democrats in which people begin to understand why Democrats hold these kinds of positions. This is precisely the point Barack Obama was making when he was chastised by much of the liberal blogosphere back in June. The poll, also interestingly has bad news for Republicans on this question:
And 49 percent agreed that conservative Christians had “gone too far in trying to impose their religious values on the country,” also a three percentage point increase.

This means that there is a large block of respondents who just flatly don't know which way is up, responding merely to a raw perception without any knowledge of either the Democrats or Republicans views on these issues. Which again feeds into Obama's point that Democrats need to reframe the debate on these kinds of perception issues.

Above anything else, I think this poll demonstrated that the public is by and large ignorant of either Party's approach to these "religion in the public square" issues. Republicans seem to wish to impose Christianity on American society, a fundamentally un-American idea, and Democrats have failed to make this case. Too many Democrats try to hide in the shadows until these issues pass by, which concedes the entire debate to the Republicans who can frame Democrats any way they like. Democrats should be standing up and explaining their positions instead of just conceding this ground to the Republicans as so many seem to want to do. One of the lessons of the 2004 election was that when the Republican Party tells boldfaced lies it hurts much more than it helps to ignore the lies and hope they go away.

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