Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Media Bias Against Democratic Believers

Faith in Public Life has the story here.  Exit and entrance polls asked Thursday night’s Iowa caucus goers whether or not they were “born again,” or “evangelical.” This helped the pundits see what the rest of us knew already–Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR)’s Iowa win was the result of a huge effort by conservative Christians in Iowa. But the media didn’t ask this question of Democratic caucus goers.  So, in a state that is mostly filled with white evangelicals, but in which the Democratic turnout was twice as big as the GOP turnout, we have no data on how many Democratic caucus goers were “born again,” “evangelical” or some other type of person of faith.  Did evangelicals of a different persuasion also make the difference for Sen. Barack Obama(D-IL) or were they evenly distributed between Obama, fmr. Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY)? We don’t know, because the media didn’t ask! Are we to assume that in IOWA, most of those huge Democratic caucus goers are secular or agnostic or atheist? I don’t think so.

I would have thought that the media had caught on this year to the existence of a broad religious left, including an evangelical left (as well as an evangelical center!) in this nation. They have covered the candidate’s faith in great detail, including more on Democratic candidates’ faith than at any time since Jimmy Carter ran in 1976 and had to explain to Time magazine what being “born again” meant. (Time went on to describe 1976 as “Year of the Evangelical.”) They have covered first Barack Obama and then Hillary Clinton speaking at Rick Warren’s mega-church conference on the AIDS crisis. They have covered the resurgent environmentalism among evangelicals. They have covered the Catholic population as the ultimate swing vote (because on issues like abortion and gay rights, Catholics agree more with conservative Republicans, but on issues like poverty, the death penalty, war, and the environment, Catholics think more like liberal Democrats).

And yet, still, the media are stuck in their narrative from the ’80s and ’90s: “Christian,” “evangelical,” and “person of faith,” necessarily means “conservative Republican.” How else to explain their failure to ask about the faith identifications of Democratic caucus goers?  Let’s hope they do better in New Hampshire and beyond.  We need raw data to know whether our stereotypes of the voting patterns of persons of faith are matching the reality of the nation.

Without such data, far too many will assume that if early predictions are right (and early predictions are notoriously shaky) and the Democrats win both the White House and increase their majorities in Congress this year, it will mean that the country somehow has become “more secular.” (Yep. That’s right. We all were overnight persuaded by the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins to abandon our faith. Don’t believe it.)

Let the media and the pollsters know you don’t appreciate this bias. UPDATE:  Center to Left Evangelical Leaders have now written an open letter to pollsters asking that this be corrected–asking that polls help us find out how many evangelicals are voting Democratic and for which Democratic candidates.  This will keep from giving the public the false impression that all evangelicals vote Republican.

January 6, 2008 - Posted by | prejudice, progressive faith, U.S. politics, young people


  1. Interestingly I heard someone on UK radio complaining about the religious left – all those namby-pamby liberation theology believing peaceniks who an uncounted but influence elections.

    I dunno. I still think it says something when Christians are considered power-brokers in society.

    Comment by joeturner | January 8, 2008

  2. As a certified member of the religious left, I’d be miffed too.

    Comment by Steve | January 13, 2008

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