Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Religion and Politics in the Democratic Party

The New York Times carried an article over the weekend on "Helping Democrats Find a Way to Reach the Religious," featuring Dartmouth alumna (and Rockefeller Center Board of Visitors member) Leah Daughtry '84. Leah serves as Howard Dean's chief of staff at the DNC and is spearheading the Democratic Party's religious outreach. From the article:
The drive to reach religious Americans began after Election Day 2004, when Ms. Daughtry was so distraught over reports of a Republican landslide among “values voters” — a term commonly associated with conservative Christian voters — that she commissioned a poll on the subject. For roughly half of all voters, the poll found, religion is as much an influence on how they vote as any other factor.

For Mr. Dean, seeing the poll results was a “gestalt moment.”

“People weren’t scared about losing their jobs,” Mr. Dean said. “They were scared about losing their kids, about what was on television, and about the methamphetamine lab the local sheriff had just found.”

Mr. Dean did not have a vision for how religious outreach should work, Ms. Daughtry said, “but he had a willingness to say a rare thing in this town: ‘I don’t know. You do know, so what’s the best way to do this?’”

For Ms. Daughtry, the answer had less to do with Democrats changing positions than with engaging religious voters and articulating the values behind their positions.

Although I have no partisan interest in the Democratic Party, it is reassuring to see it attempting to put together the broadest possible coalition of voters, including parts of the voting population that it had ceded almost without a contest in years past.

1 comment:

Robert D Feinman said...

Every generation is convinced that the next one is going to hell in a handbasket. They rail against change and sometimes even pass legislation to try and stop it, but demographics eventually wins out. The old make way for the young and the young change the rules.

The most famous example was Prohibition. Currently the religious right is still obsessed with issues of personal conduct (gay marriage, reproductive rights, etc.), but the young don't see these as big issues.

Some stats seem to indicate that about half of all children from fundamentalist families drop out, there is even a similar trend among the Amish.

So the parties can pander (appeal, if you prefer) to the older, religious, sector and try to swing a few votes, but this is a waning effort. More important, especially for a long term strategy, is to attract younger people. They could easily overcome the conservative bias in the country if they only voted in large enough numbers.

Getting this group engaged would be a much better use of resources.