The previous "Polling Critic" column ~ #41, showed that extensive and careful public-interest polling conducted and analyzed by Alex Koshkin offered an important new dimension for election campaign strategizing. Here is what Koshkin found. For the overwhelming majority of all Americans, it is true that each one prefers to elect political leaders who hold higher and more evolved moral and ethical values than their own. Prior to 2004 Election Day, this fact was discounted and ignored by the mainstream media. In the rare cases where the public's values figured at all in political news stories, the mainstream media denigrated the public with story-lines such as "politicians with dubious moral and ethical values once again are re-elected by the voters." Post-election, this media attitude is changing a little.
My analysis of 2004 campaign strategies showed that John Kerry's top pollsters and campaign advisors were unaware or ignorant of the overwhelming public desire for higher values from elected officials and, as detailed in column No. 41, repeatedly recommended losing campaign strategies. Funding permitting, the Kerry people would surely have tried to develop an ad campaign that persuaded any important group to vote for their man. They just never thought that a huge values-oriented group was escaping from the Democratic tent until recently, when the outcome of the election hit them hard.
The 2004 election produced millions of new voters who pushed President George W. Bush over the top. Many of them seemed to be newly politicized and ready-to-vote fundamentalist and evangelical Christians (FECs), roughly two thirds of whom went for Bush, compared to one third for Kerry. But how many of this same FEC group were Bush voters in 2000? What fraction of Bush's 10.4 million larger vote in 2004 came from FECs over and above what Bush got in 2000 from them? Kerry got 6.5 million more votes than Al Gore got in 2000 and only 3.9 million less than Bush in 2004. We simply don't have data confirming where Bush's extra 3.9 million vote surge came from. Partially enlightened by the outcome, Democratic pollsters and campaign strategists, as could be expected, are going ahead with new strategies without full awareness of the whole story. They have started to examine options for including religious as well as traditional secular themes in future campaigns. Though top Democrat leaders have been religious, even born-again Christians, the Democratic strategists are confronted with a big obstacle to their approach – fundamentalist and evangelical Christians are securely lodged in the Republican tent. What to do now, Democrats?
How about accepting Kochkin's findings? Upgrade your candidates. Let them demonstrate that they hold higher and more evolved moral and ethical values. Because it will take them some time to convert to and fully absorb such a startlingly new strategy, let leaders start now aiming for effectiveness by 2006 and perhaps settling for a Democratic turn-around in 2008 or even later.
And what about the data on religion and spirituality? Many pollsters routinely ask religion as a demographic question, but that data to my knowledge was never mined until I pursued the data described in Column No. 35, posted April 14, 2004, six months before the 2004 election, based on the findings of my organization, Americans Talk Issues (ATI). ATI asked the same demographic religion question in over 30 surveys from 1987 to 1999 using the language shown in Q1. Here interviewers spoken words are in italics, and instructions to interviewers are in [brackets].
Q1: Is your religious background, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish or something else? [If "something else"– or unclear whether Christian ask:] Is that a Christian church?
|Nov 1999||Mar 1991||Oct 1987|
|2%||1%||not asked separately|
|None||5%||} 4%||} 5%|
A trend, probably previously unknown, emerged. The three traditional religions, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish, together over the 12-year period (October 1987 to November 1999) dropped by 13 points. The traditional religions were a "shrinking" group.
The three other groups, "Non-Christian", "No religion or No answer", and "Other Christian," absorbed the difference. Each of these three rose by four points, and constitute the "growing" group. Since "Other Christian" is the primary affiliation of fundamentalist and evangelical Christians (FECs), a gross number of religious adherents that includes the growth of FECs in 12 years was 8 million. We do not know the growth after 2000 of the fraction of FECs that were newly politicized in 2004. In the 8.5-year period, March 1991 to November 1999, the pattern of change is similar but slightly accelerated, with one point more coming from the shrinking group average and going to the growing group average.
The change seems relatively modest and might be labeled "diversification" away from the traditional religions, and polarized in equal measure (1) toward more extreme Christian sects, (2) toward other religions (Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc.,) and (3) toward "no religion or no specified religion." The diversification might well reflect the trend in U.S. immigration as much as the change in non-immigrant attitudes during this 12-year period. ATI gathered no further data after November 1999, i.e., in the last five years.
Also, more than six months before the election, Column No. 35 recommended a religion survey question-set, (shown as Q2). There was still plenty of time to put together new election campaign strategies based on findings from such a question-set, which could easily have been included in one of the several polls the Kerry campaign strategists conducted. Like Q2, this question-set could have clearly shown the size of support by individuals for evangelicals, fundamentalists, born-agains, deists and other Christians, as well as atheists, agnostics, spiritual values adherents, gaians, believers in re-incarnation, or people with secular values only. That would have helped the Kerry campaign strategists a great deal. Column No. 35 also contains other concepts for asking this more detailed religious/ spiritual values question to correlate adherency to both modern and traditional attitudes about when, why, and how-often Christians go to church.
A question like Q2 could be asked in a survey along with questions on more broadly held values (like science, technology, evolution, and others dear to secular humanists and to those who strongly believe in the separation of church and state). Cross-tabulation of these questions could produce a bonanza for understanding the evolving role of religion and spirituality in the total population. By such public-interest polling, the Democratic election campaign strategists could still help themselves and the electability of their candidates. Ultimately, they would do a great service to the whole country. All of us would be in a position to handle divisive religious/spirituality issues more knowledgably and sensibly than we have done so far.
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