Spare the religiosity, it is political ideology that matters

(Cross-posted from Think it Through)

A good rule to follow when interpreting election results and voter sentiments is to ignore explanations that rely on references to religion or God.  I was reminded of this rule this week when I read Mark Mellman's column in The Hill.

Mark's column, "Revisiting the G-d gap," argues that religiosity is dividing Democratic and Republican voters, and he concludes:  "If Democrats truly want to win religious voters, they must adopt a new vocabulary and a different perspective, without betraying the values that define us."

I counter that it will be futile for Democrats to devise a strategy specifically to win religious voters because when religiosity shows up as meaningful in crosstabs of surveys, it is most often an artifact of political ideology rather than the core driver of political attitudes.

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With ideological battles shaping up, a response to Nate

I already posted this on my blog, at Campaign Diaries. I am cross-posting it here because it arose as a response to a diary by "the mollusk."

With Democrats in a position to shape legislation for the first time this decade, ideological disputes were bound to arise quickly - and centrists led by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are already winning the Administration's first internal battles:

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Does it matter who ends up running the Republican Party?

As Jonathan noted yesterday, the Republican National Committee needs a new leader, with no front-runner emerging for that job. Meanwhile, a mini-scandal has erupted over one candidate's decision to give RNC members a CD including a song called "Barack the Magic Negro."

Since the election, the divided Republican Party of Iowa has also been preoccupied with the search for a new chair. The comment threads on the leadership contest at Iowa conservative blogs are nastier than anything I remember reading on Democratic blogs when Howard Dean was running for Democratic National Committee chairman in 2005.

I've been wondering how much these leadership contests matter.

Obviously some people will be better organizers or better fundraisers or better communicators than others, and for all I know some of the declared candidates are truly inept. But let's assume the Republicans find leaders with all the qualities on a party hack's wish list. Will they be able to turn things around for the GOP by raising more money and improving their campaign mechanics?

Commenting on plans to create a think tank within the RNC called the "Center for Republican Renewal,"Matthew Yglesias recently observed,

Ambitious people don't like the idea that their fate is out of their hands. But an opposition political party's fate is largely out of its hands. The Democratic Party's recovery from its low ebb in the winter of 2004-2005 had very little to do with Democratic policy innovation and a great deal to do with the fact that the objective situation facing the country got worse. The time for the GOP to improve, policy-wise, was back then. Had the Bush administration been animated by better ideas, Bush might not have led to declining incomes, rising inequality, and catastrophic military adventures. But since he did, the GOP lost. And now the reality is that it's the Democrats' turn to govern. If things work out poorly, the GOP will get back in whether or not they have an ideological renewal, and if things work out well the Republicans will stay locked out.

I suspect Yglesias is right. Republican conservatives want to "embrace their core principles and effectively communicate a compelling message of bold-color conservatism". Moderates want to do away with "litmus tests" and "recapture the broad base."

But the facts of life are these: in Iowa and at the federal level, voters have given Democrats control of the legislative and executive branches. Whether the Republicans bounce back in 2010 or 2012 will depend more on whether Democrats blow it than whether the RNC or the Iowa GOP State Central Committee chooses the right leader.

What do you think?

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The Republican Party Does Have a Right Problem

Looks like J Ro and I are thinking alike. I finished this post about a minute after he hit post on his.

Over at The Next Right, Patrick Ruffini writes that with regards to the future of the Republican Party, "Center vs. Right is the Wrong Debate." Moreover, he writes, "American elections are by and large not referendums on ideologies. They are contests of personality, optics, and performance in office." I'd recommend you read the piece if you get the chance.

There's certainly something to the argument, particularly that the attractiveness of the candidate and the broader environment in the country weigh heavily on elections. But I do not believe this tells the whole story. Take a look, for instance at the recent track record of the Club for Growth, the aim of which is to shift the Republican Party to the right.

As the Republicans gather all over the place to mull their future, one group wants to single out the conservative Club for Growth for hurting the party with moderates. In particular, the League of Conservation voters says it's finding it difficult to find moderate pro-environment Republicans to support, because the Club has been so successful knocking them off in GOP primaries. But the LCV notes the Club's record in general elections is not good. Club-backed candidates -- who defeated some Republicans the LCV would have supported or have supported -- lost congressional elections last week in MD-01, MI-07, and ID-01. In addition, their New Mexico Senate candidate also lost (and lost badly). Has the Club been too pure and ended up nominating candidates that are too conservative, allowing Democrats to win in places like, well, Idaho? The Club is going to have some defending to do (particularly with its donors) about how well the conservative purity game is playing out on the trail.

On the down ballot level, it's very clear that the Republicans have lost seats as a result of ideology in recent cycles. To take one example, in Maryland's first congressional district, which is mentioned above, moderate Republican Wayne Gilchrest would almost undoubtedly have won reelection this month had he not been defeated by a far-right, Club-sponsored candidate in the GOP primary; instead, Democrat Frank Kratovil is the Congressman-elect. To take another example, which isn't mentioned above, the Republicans likely would not have been able to retake Kansas' second congressional district had they nominated conservative Jim Ryun instead of moderate Lynn Jenkins to take on freshman Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Boyda. Similarly, moderate GOP Senator Susan Collins was about the only potentially vulnerable Republican hailing from a blue state to win reelection (and handily) this fall. And the list goes on.

More broadly, ideology -- and particularly Americans' reaction to Republican conservatism -- was one of the keys to spelling the doom of George W. Bush's presidency. Hurricane Katrina, and the federal government's inability to deal with the disaster, were clearly the straw that broke the camel's back. However, even before Katrina, Heckuva Job Brownie, etc., it was Americans' disgust and antipathy towards Bush's attempt to partially privatize Social Security -- an ideological move if there ever was one -- that began to drive some who had previously supported the President to begin to oppose him. In short, here ideology mattered, and the far right stance of the GOP cost the party support and votes.

And just to add one more point, Ruffini writes, "The Democrats did not have to change their ideology to win." In some regards this is true, but in others it isn't. Take the issue of guns, which played no small part in the defeats of Al Gore and John Kerry. The Democrats have by and large given up on the idea of gun control, recognizing that it has been a political loser; they dropped their ideological stance on the issue, thus neutralizing it as an effective electoral tool for the other side, and were able to win.

I don't expect any Republicans to listen to me when I suggest that they should move to the center instead of the right, because clearly it's in my interest (at least on the policy level) for the party to be more accommodating of the agenda of Barack Obama and Democrats on Capitol Hill. But if they believe that ideology had nothing to do with their decline in recent years, I do believe they are mistaken.

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Our Long National Nightmare is Over...and now...

Tuesday night we were all fixated to the polls. We all cried (or at least I know I did - it was John Lewis that broke my dam on that front). I even cried yesterday, and I wasn't the only one. Here in Blue Connecticut there were many tear stained faces, many relieved looks, even a pervasive, genuine happiness.

I bought the paper with Obama's picture on it and the caption, "Mr. President" at the grocery store. The young woman ringing me up said, "I'm really glad he won yesterday."

Obama's remade the electoral map. Now it is time for us to remake our ideological maps - or specifically, I would advocate, completely rip those maps into shreds and start over.

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