A mid-December story from The New Republic traces “How Democrats gave up on religious voters.” In the aftermath of the 2004 presidential elections, when evangelical Methodist President Bush got more of the religious vote than did Catholic John Kerry–even from Catholic voters–Democratic activists, party officials, and members of Congress initiated a range of efforts to draw religious support. The religious vote and enthusiasm for Barack Obama in 2008 seemed to vindicate their conviction that Democrats need not concede the religious vote to Republican candidates.
Yet in last November’s mid-term elections, the proportion of the Catholic and white-evangelical vote for Democratic candidates declined back to its old, strongly pro-Republican, level. What happened?
The article proposes as the main cause this: “the left has become sluggish in its courtship of religious voters, significantly scaling back its faith-outreach programs.”
The article is well worth reading, and yet that central premise surely is deeply flawed. The way to win the support of religious voters is not more energetic “outreach” but rather standing up for the essential concerns of those voters.
That’s an inherently difficult task, of course, for the parties must take positions on multiple issues, and religious voters hold diverse views. Further, neither party’s agenda meshes perfectly with the policy convictions of all or most religiously motivated voters.
Yet, in the contest for the religious vote, the Democratic Party has hobbled itself by not standing as firmly as Republicans on the side of religious freedom for individuals and institutions. Religious voters (with few exceptions) don’t want to compel all of society to follow their faith-based convictions, but they do want society to protect their ability to live by those convictions. Democrats can gain the sympathetic ear of more of those voters not by cranking back up their outreach efforts but instead by demonstrating in word and deed their commitment to a very robust institutional as well as individual freedom of religion.
~ The Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance works to safeguard the religious identity, faith-based standards and practices, and faith-shaped services of faith-based organizations across the range of service sectors and religions, enabling them to make their distinctive and best contributions to the common good.
See additional debate on this issue from Daniel Schultz.