Chris Callizza of the Washington Post recently wrote an article about the religious and racial identities of the two major American political parties. He displayed two pie charts that showed this breakdown. Unless you have been living under a rock for the past four-to-20 years, it is unsurprising that the Republican Party base has a very significant number of white evangelical Protestants (34% of the party). It is equally unsurprising that the next largest groups are white mainline Protestants (20%), and white Catholics (18%).
However, if the Republican Party's composition does not surprise anyone, neither should the composition of the Democrats. The spread is much more even, with 9% of the party identifying as white Evangelicals, another 14% identifying as white mainline Protestants, and 13% identifying as white Catholics. Democrats make up for their lack of white religious voters is in the other categories. Sixteen percent of Democrats identify as black Protestants, and 18% identify as “other” which includes smaller religious groups as well as Protestants and Christians that identified as something other than white, black, or Hispanic. The single largest bloc in the Democratic Party is that of the religiously unaffiliated (24%), a category that only comprises 11% of the Republican Party.
But why is this? The two major parties have been separated by race for decades. This does not come as a shocker and all it takes is a quick Google search to uncover the racialized history of the American political system.
The religious question is a more interesting one. If every single American were to vote (already a big stretch) and everyone who voted did so in their best economic and societal interest, it would stand to reason that the majority of Americans would vote Democrat. They are the party of “YES!” Yes, you can have government assisted living, food, health care, public education, and economic security through Social Security and unemployment benefits. Why? Because for Democrats that is the true function of government: to be an assistant to the people. Since the vast majority of Americans are in a position to take advantage of at least one of those programs, it would stand to reason that everybody should vote for them.
Republicans, on the other hand, are the group that Time Magazine labeled “The Party of ‘No’.” No, you cannot have all those “socialist” benefits that the Democrats want you to have. Why? Because you should pick yourself up, work for your money, and not have government intervention and taxes getting in your way. After all, everybody in America has an equal right to succeed.
That is, at least according to the Republicans. The fact that they are wrong on that assumption is a topic for another article.
So why do so many people flock to the Republican Party even though it is against their best interests? The answer is religion.
Although there are many Democrats who identify strongly with one or more faiths, most of them are liberal on social issues. But for some reason, issues of faith-based morality override societal/economic logic and become the single most important issue for conservative voters. When the label “conservative” was originally applied to politics, it referred the ideals of fiscal conservatism and the ideal of a free market above all else. However, being “conservative” today first and foremost means discriminating against people who don’t agree with ideals grounded in your faith. It means not letting people love freely and not letting women have control over their own bodies. It means oppressing racial minorities and people who are viewed as foreigners. It means enforcing the traditional power structure in every way imaginable.
Fiscal conservatism today is an afterthought. When it actually comes into play, it means reinforcing the traditional mechanisms of control by privileging the rich. This means that The American Dream is no longer a reality. It means that people cannot “pick themselves up by their bootstraps” because the majority of Americans don’t own them anymore. Rather, those bootstraps have been bought, sold, reappraised, overvalued, sold to an investment firm, and then broken down and sent to China for scrap material. It was always my understanding that the Republicans really don’t care about anybody under the middle-class but pander to them anyway because they need to do so. However, with Mitt Romney’s recently leaked raw footage, it has apparently become the official party policy and is now out in the open for all to see and judge.
While we cannot blame all of this on religion, it sure doesn’t help. Although religion brings people together in beautiful ways, it is also the single most divisive aspect in politics. With Callizza’s data, we now see how drastic that separation really is.