The Fourth National Survey of Religion and Politics, sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, was conducted in November and December 2004 following the presidential election (thanks to Stumpy for passing on the link here). The poll (in-depth interviews with 2,730 Americans) reveals increased religious polarization (no surprise, that) but also contained the following conclusion that strikes us as a wee bit counter-intuitive:
"Mainline Protestants, considered a strong Republican constituency, divided their votes evenly between President George W. Bush and challenger John Kerry, producing the highest level of support for a Democratic presidential candidate in recent times from that religious group."
But wait. I had given scant attention to that key modifier "mainline," which apparently takes in a whole bunch of wealthy Episcopalians and Methodists and Presbyterians who don't generally bully people with born-again sanctimony.
This next conclusion is also unexpected, perhaps:
"Modernist Protestants (78%) and Catholics (69%) strongly supported Kerry, increasing their votes and turnout for the Democrat (71% and 70%, respectively) over 2000." (You'll have to read the full report to find out what Pew means by "modernist Protestants.")
Then here come the doubters, the atheists, and the agnostics: "The Democratic Party candidate gained ground among voters who were unaffiliated with major religions compared to 2000 (up 5 percentage points to 72%), but the turnout of those voters remained unchanged (52%)."
But here's the real challenge for the Democratic Party:
"The Republican incumbent's biggest gain came among Latino Protestants (63%), who moved from the Democratic column in 2000 to the Republican column in 2004."
The mainstream media branded this election the triumph of "morals" and "values" over ... whatever the opposite of morals & values may be imagined, but the Pew study is considerably more modulated in its conclusion:
"Foreign policy and economic priorities were far more important to the overall vote than social issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage. However, social issues were more important to Bush's religious constituencies. In contrast, economic issues were more important to Kerry's constituencies."
Imposing religiosity on the nation was "more important to Bush's religious constituencies." So the flexing of all those mullah muscles right now in decreeing what cartoons are acceptable, what thoughts, thinkable, run the very real risk of quickly over-reaching and turning off the majority. Especially, perhaps, when it comes to intolerance.