The liberal polling firm Democracy Corps has released the results of its latest research project. Titled, “The Culture Divide & the Challenge of Winning Back Rural & Red State Voters,” the memo encapsulating the results of a series of focus groups paints a grim picture for Democrats. “Most [focus group participants] referred to Democrats as ‘liberal’ on issues of morality, but some even go so far as to label them ‘immoral,’ ‘morally bankrupt,’ or even ‘anti-religious,'” report Karl Agne and Stan Greenberg from Democracy Corps.
Go figure. The same day Democracy Corps released its study, NARAL Pro-Choice America began airing a television ad that implies Supreme Court nominee Judge John G. Roberts supports abortion clinic bombers. Whether you call it “the God gap,” “the values gap,” or “the culture gap,” it has never been wider than it is now.
It’s been almost ten months since Democrats promised to take “moral values” voters seriously after the drubbing this important voting bloc gave them in the 2004 election. Back then, it seemed every aspiring Democrat politician in America was ready to enroll in the Rites of Catholic Initiation for Adults or start attending an Evangelical Megachurch. “Our moral values are closer to the American people than the Republicans’ are,” Howard Dean preached in his campaign to become the new chairman of the Democrat National Committee. Dean’s opponent Don Fowler went a step further saying, “I am a Democrat because I am a Christian, not in spite of it.”
It all came off as a bit solicitous and, frankly, futile. It’s hard to imagine anyone uttering the word “values” more frequently than altar boy John Kerry did during the 2004 campaign. And it’s not as if Americans of faith were a swing group. President George W. Bush beat Kerry among both Protestants (59%-40%) and Catholics (52%-47%). He won among those who attend church monthly, weekly, and more than once a week, which is to say people who enter a church for reasons other than to ask for directions (though Kerry slaughtered Bush among voters who never attend church). White Evangelicals supported Bush over Kerry by a greater margin than gays, lesbians, and bisexuals favored Kerry.
But then came the backlash. Despite exit polls showing a plurality of voters said “moral values” was their number one issue of concern on Election Day, liberals, libertarians, and even neocons managed to cover their ears and chant “there’s no such thing as a ‘moral values’ voter” long enough to convince themselves they were right.
It got worse. When her estranged husband and Florida state courts decided it was time for Terri Schiavo to go, Christian conservatives and some Republican politicians protested. Loudly. Congress passed a measure to grant the Supreme Court review of her case. President Bush signed it. All involved were accused of placating the Religious Right. Republicans left, right, and center were accused of being “theocrats.” All the polls said people had turned on the Religious Right. The “moral values” movement was as dead as that poor girl in Florida. It all ended badly for Christian conservatives (and not at all well for Ms. Schiavo).
It soon became so gauche to be a “moral values” American, Howard Dean called Republicans a “white, Christian party.” And he meant it as an epithet.
Except that someone forgot to tell Americans.
According to the Democracy Corps memo:
President Bush and Republicans in Congress were faulted for their lack of effective leadership on these issues and their failure to offer new ideas. Furthermore, there was strong support for some specific progressive initiatives and a belief among many that Democrats would be more willing to tackle these issues and to offer new ideas in the face of current policies that are clearly failing. However, as powerful as the concern over these issues is, the introduction of cultural themes — specifically gay marriage, abortion, the importance of the traditional family unit, and the role of religion in public life — quickly renders them almost irrelevant in terms of electoral politics at the national level.
In short, “moral values” issues still trump everything else. And what’s more, “moral value” voters still resent the Democrats’ derision of their worldview. In the memo’s words:
…these attitudes were most powerfully captured in symbolic issues such as display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings, removing God from the Pledge of Allegiance, or outlawing public manger displays at Christmastime. On each of these symbolic cases in point, there was a broad perception that Republicans would be on the side of American tradition, Judeo-Christian values, and the forgotten majority while Democrats would stand up and fight for a subversive minority seeking to erode the moral foundation of our country.
The voters are right, of course, just as they were in 2004. But Americans should expect another round of insincere Democrat yawps of piety and “our values are better than your values” talk. And then when the next “moral value” issue strikes (the entire John Roberts confirmation applies) liberals will blame those damn Christians for anything they can imagine. Then they’ll lose some more elections until they say, Okay this time, we’re really going to pay attention to Americans of faith.