Born Again, Or Born Democrat?

[ Posted Tuesday, February 19th, 2008 – 14:26 UTC ]

There are two different aspects of voter demographics and the media worth commenting on in the presidential race this year. The first, about the Republicans, the media has so far largely ignored (but may pick up on later); and the second, about the Democrats, where the media itself seems to be the problem.


The Christian Right

The Christian Right has been wielding enormous power within the Republican Party since the time of Ronald Reagan. Reagan, however, liked to "talk the talk" of the religious right, but never actually delivered all that much for them in terms of new legislation (he was, after all, America's first divorced president and he rarely went to church himself). And since then, the religious right has never really had a viable candidate of their own (one with an actual chance of winning the nomination) to rally behind, so their actual numbers were never really known. Their relative strength within the Republican Party was always a mystery. While they advocated quite loudly for their issues, nobody was really sure just how much support among the party's rank and file they actually commanded.

This year was different. They had one of their own -- a former minister, no less -- who won a surprising upset in the first state to vote (Iowa). Mike Huckabee defied all expectations by then going on to win five states in the South on Super Tuesday, and then he narrowly lost to McCain in a two-way race in Virginia. Unfortunately for Mike, even running against a candidate who evinces wrath among a large portion of conservatives has not been enough for Huckabee to translate victories in the South into victories elsewhere.

But this really isn't Huckabee's fault. He can't easily win outside the South because the Christian Right (or "social conservatives" or whatever you want to call them) just isn't that strong outside the South, even among heavily Republican states. Which means that a candidate who runs solely with their support can capture exactly what Huckabee has: almost all of the Southern states, maybe a few here and there in the Midwest, and that's all. While the Christian Right is dominant in one region, it is a much smaller component of the party elsewhere.

What will be interesting is what the Republican party does if McCain loses. Will the GOP realize the relative weakness of this faction within their own party? Will they realize that appealing only to their key issues (abortion, gay marriage, etc.) is going to further marginalize their party in the future? Even if they do realize this fact, will they actually do anything about it?

As a footnote, over at, the weekly "Top 10 Conservative Idiots" this week had a gem of a quote from Rush Limbaugh (the quote actually comes from CNN):

If I really wanted to torpedo McCain, I would endorse him. Because that would send the independents and liberals who are going to vote for him running away faster than anything.

What people don't realize is that I am doing McCain the biggest favor that can be done for him by staying out of this. If I endorsed him thoroughly and with passion, that would end the independents and moderates, because they so despise me and they so hate me.

Couldn't it be said, if somebody wanted to...that I am secretly supporting McCain, because I secretly do want him to win, but I know full well that if I come out and endorse him, he's cooked? Who may be in this whole kit and caboodle, this whole shebang, the most valuable asset McCain has?


Once you get around Rush's planet-sized ego, what he's really saying is that conservatism is now a small minority of the country's voters. They lost the great battle for the hearts and minds of America, in other words. If you can't convince the moderates to vote for you, then you're toast.

Out of anyone else's mouth, this would be a fairly non-controversial position, I realize. But when one of the voices of conservatism admits that the country's more liberal than they've been saying for about three decades, then maybe the Republican Party will be able to realize (assuming McCain loses in November) that unless it wants to be a permanent minority in Washington, that they've got to change their tune somehow.

Or maybe not.


Republicans think, but Democrats are born that way

How many stories have you heard this year about how Democratic evangelists are voting? None? That's because the media doesn't even ask in exit polls. Evangelical voters who care more about the helping-the-poor and blessed-are-the-peacemakers parts of the Bible just don't fit the media's narrative, so they don't even bother collecting the data. The media in general neatly break down factions in the Republican Party along ideological lines, but when it comes to Democrats the big divisions are drawn racially, ethnically, or by gender.

I'm not sure why this is, but I've noticed it more and more often as election-watchers attempt to attach some sort of narrative to this year's campaign. The media, you see, likes a good narrative, whether it's right or wrong. It's easier to talk about "soccer moms" than it is to find out what's really going on among the electorate, I guess.

Endless stories are written about the divisions within the Republicans, mostly breaking down into three main groups: social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and foreign policy hawks. Social conservatives cover the religious right, and all the issues that matter to them: anti-gay-rights, anti-abortion, and dismantling the separation of church and state. Fiscal conservatives are the tax-cutters, the budget-balancers, and the small-government types. Foreign policy hawks used to be called "anti-communists," but that's so twentieth-century... so they've come up with "neo-conservatism" instead. But each division, you'll note, is over ideas or beliefs.

When the media breaks down Democrats, it's usually something like: African-Americans, Hispanics, white men, white women, and gays. These are all things that you are born as, and have nothing to do with ideas.

Now, every so often, the media will talk about environmentalists, or the anti-war wing of the party, but it's the exception rather than the rule. The media also breaks down Democrats along class lines ("voters making over $50,000 a year"), and educational lines ("college graduates") as well, but making money or going to college aren't really ideologies either.

So if you were going to divide the party up into three or four main groups of ideology, where would you draw the lines? Sure, there are plenty of single-issue groups in the Democratic Party big tent, but I'm talking about bedrock issues that drive people to vote for (or against) specific candidates.

I guess I would start with labor unions, a traditional strength in the party. So we'd have the "pro-union" faction as one group. But after that, divisions get murky. So I ask the question to all of you: how would you describe the various Democratic factions, to better understand how people are voting and why? Or is the Democratic Party such a broad collection of smaller groups that it defies description in this manner?

And why does the media use different yardsticks for the two major parties?


-- Chris Weigant


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