In Congress, Religion Drives Divide

From there­veal­er­feed:

A study of con­gres­sion­al vot­ing pat­terns over the last 25 years shows that reli­gious affil­i­a­tion helps cre­ate an ide­o­log­i­cal divide between Repub­li­cans and Democ­rats that vir­tu­al­ly ensures a par­ti­san split on almost all votes—not just the cul­ture war issue—in Con­gress. The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Bill Broad­way reports that the study dis­cov­ered vot­ing pat­tern trends relat­ing to reli­gious affil­i­a­tion that sur­passed the well-acknowl­edged impact of the evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians in Amer­i­can politics.

In Con­gress, Reli­gion Dri­ves Divide
Polar­iza­tion of Polit­i­cal Par­ties Strength­ened by Dif­fer­ences in Faith Affiliation

By Bill Broadway
Wash­ing­ton Post Staff Writer
Sat­ur­day, August 28, 2004; Page B07

Mem­bers of Con­gress have become increas­ing­ly polar­ized over such issues as stem cell research, same-sex mar­riage and abor­tion, much like their con­stituents. But the divi­sion among pol­i­cy­mak­ers is more pro­nounced and influ­enced by reli­gious ide­ol­o­gy, accord­ing to a study of con­gres­sion­al vot­ing pat­terns over the last quarter-century.

That Con­gress mir­rors pub­lic atti­tudes on the so-called cul­ture wars came as no sur­prise to William D’An­to­nio, a pro­fes­sor at Catholic Uni­ver­si­ty who direct­ed the study and has observed the inter­ac­tion of reli­gion and pol­i­tics for 50 years.

What did sur­prise him, D’An­to­nio said, was the degree to which reli­gious affil­i­a­tion helped cre­ate an ide­o­log­i­cal divide between Repub­li­cans and Democ­rats that vir­tu­al­ly ensures a par­ti­san split on most votes before lawmakers.

Anto­nio and Steven Tuch, a pro­fes­sor at George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty, focused their research on con­gres­sion­al votes relat­ed to abor­tion cast from 1979 to 2003. They checked the reli­gious affil­i­a­tion of mem­bers of Con­gress against votes, includ­ing those on fed­er­al fund­ing of abor­tions and late-term pro­ce­dures. They then cor­re­lat­ed those results with votes on oth­er issues, such as mil­i­tary spend­ing, wel­fare and tax reform.

What they dis­cov­ered were trends in vot­ing pat­terns relat­ing to reli­gious affil­i­a­tion that went beyond the broad­ly acknowl­edged impact of the evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian­i­ty in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, which began with the emer­gence of the Moral Major­i­ty in 1980.

The study looks at a peri­od that begins with the 96th Con­gress and con­tin­ues through the first half of the cur­rent ses­sion, the 108th. In 1979, the polit­i­cal par­ties had not solid­i­fied their posi­tions on a wom­an’s right to abor­tion, affirmed just six years ear­li­er in Roe v. Wade.

Democ­rats were more like­ly to sup­port abor­tion rights and Repub­li­cans, antiabor­tion mea­sures. But mem­bers of Con­gress were more like­ly to vote on abor­tion issues based on per­son­al con­vic­tions, reli­gious or oth­er­wise — votes that often con­flict­ed with oth­ers in their party.

Today, there appears to be few, if any, dis­putes with­in par­ties over abor­tion. That is not the case with­in the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion, where sur­veys show Amer­i­cans are divid­ed over abor­tion, but in nuanced ways.

About 25 per­cent of Amer­i­cans sup­port a wom­an’s right to abor­tion under any cir­cum­stances, and about 20 per­cent oppose abor­tion for any rea­son, accord­ing to Gallup and oth­er research orga­ni­za­tions. Those in between approve of abor­tion if the wom­an’s health is at risk, in cas­es of incest or rape, or if the fetus appears deformed.

But on Capi­tol Hill, eth­i­cal nuances have giv­en way to the par­ty line, with Democ­rats typ­i­cal­ly favor­ing access to abor­tion and Repub­li­cans gen­er­al­ly reject­ing it, accord­ing to D’An­to­nio and Tuch.

“The great mid­dle is not rep­re­sent­ed,” D’An­to­nio said, refer­ring to the 55 per­cent of Amer­i­cans who sup­port a wom­an’s right to choose depend­ing on the circumstance.

So what does reli­gion have to do with this polarization?

James Guth, who since 1995 has exam­ined reli­gious affil­i­a­tion and vot­ing pat­terns in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, says a “sub­stan­tial increase” in the num­ber of evan­gel­i­cal Protes­tants in Con­gress, most of them Repub­li­cans, has con­tributed to the moral cli­mate of vot­ing on abor­tion and oth­er cul­tur­al issues.

Esti­mates on the num­ber of evan­gel­i­cals in Con­gress vary, from few­er than 10 per­cent in the 1970s to more than 25 per­cent today.

In anoth­er impor­tant devel­op­ment, Roman Catholic leg­is­la­tors are no longer pre­dom­i­nant­ly aligned with the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. Tra­di­tion­al Catholics land on the Repub­li­can side and the­o­log­i­cal­ly lib­er­al Catholics on the Democratic.

“Reli­gion is much more aligned with par­ti­san­ship than it was in the past,” said Guth, a pro­fes­sor of polit­i­cal sci­ence at Fur­man Uni­ver­si­ty in Greenville, S.C. Evan­gel­i­cal Protes­tants recruit oth­er evan­gel­i­cals to run for office, as do the­o­log­i­cal­ly lib­er­al Catholics, con­ser­v­a­tive main­line Protes­tants, and so forth.

The most vis­i­ble exam­ples of such align­ments have occurred among main­line Protes­tants and Roman Catholics, accord­ing to D’An­to­nio and Tuch.

Most main­line Protes­tant denom­i­na­tions have tak­en a for­mal posi­tion sup­port­ing a wom­an’s right to have an abor­tion, while the Catholic Church has stead­fast­ly opposed any form of abor­tion. Yet some law­mak­ers affil­i­at­ed with those faith groups in recent ses­sions have vot­ed the oth­er way.

From 1979 to 2003, main­line Protes­tant Democ­rats — Epis­co­palian, Luther­an, Pres­by­ter­ian, Methodist and Unit­ed Church of Christ — gen­er­al­ly fol­lowed their church’s teach­ing, increas­ing their abor­tion-rights votes by 13 per­cent­age points, from 62 per­cent to 75 per­cent, accord­ing to the study.

Dur­ing the same time, main­line Protes­tant Repub­li­cans in the Sen­ate shift­ed from being split on abor­tion — 45 per­cent for abor­tion rights and 55 per­cent against — to being 80 per­cent antiabor­tion in 1996. Main­line Protes­tant Repub­li­cans in the House have remained steady — 80 per­cent are against abor­tion rights, D’An­to­nio said.

Not sur­pris­ing­ly, Catholic Repub­li­cans remained over­whelm­ing­ly antiabor­tion dur­ing the peri­od of the study, vot­ing almost unan­i­mous­ly with the antiabor­tion posi­tion tak­en by the Vat­i­can and by the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops, D’An­to­nio said.

At the same time, Catholic Democ­rats have evolved from being strong­ly in favor of abor­tion rights to over­whelm­ing­ly so.

On oth­er key issues tak­en by the bish­ops, the roles are reversed, with Catholic Repub­li­cans oppos­ing the posi­tions Catholic bish­ops have tak­en and Catholic Democ­rats sup­port­ing them. Such issues include tax­es, min­i­mum wage, health care, remov­ing sanc­tions against Cuba and nuclear weapons.

In inter­views and in their study, which has not been pub­lished, D’An­to­nio and Tuch said they are con­cerned that the polar­iza­tion of Con­gress will under­mine the coun­try’s two-par­ty sys­tem, which was designed for con­sen­sus building.

As ide­ol­o­gy has tak­en over and pol­i­cy debates have become uncom­pro­mis­ing­ly bru­tal, many mod­er­ate Amer­i­cans give up on the polit­i­cal process as poten­tial office­hold­ers or vot­ers, D’An­to­nio said. “A sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the pub­lic has been turned off by the polit­i­cal sys­tem, leav­ing the extremes to fight it out.”

© 2004 The Wash­ing­ton Post Company”>In Con­gress, Reli­gion Dri­ves Divide
Polar­iza­tion of Polit­i­cal Par­ties Strength­ened by Dif­fer­ences in Faith Affiliation

By Bill Broadway
Wash­ing­ton Post Staff Writer
Sat­ur­day, August 28, 2004; Page B07

Mem­bers of Con­gress have become increas­ing­ly polar­ized over such issues as stem cell research, same-sex mar­riage and abor­tion, much like their con­stituents. But the divi­sion among pol­i­cy­mak­ers is more pro­nounced and influ­enced by reli­gious ide­ol­o­gy, accord­ing to a study of con­gres­sion­al vot­ing pat­terns over the last quarter-century.

That Con­gress mir­rors pub­lic atti­tudes on the so-called cul­ture wars came as no sur­prise to William D’An­to­nio, a pro­fes­sor at Catholic Uni­ver­si­ty who direct­ed the study and has observed the inter­ac­tion of reli­gion and pol­i­tics for 50 years.

What did sur­prise him, D’An­to­nio said, was the degree to which reli­gious affil­i­a­tion helped cre­ate an ide­o­log­i­cal divide between Repub­li­cans and Democ­rats that vir­tu­al­ly ensures a par­ti­san split on most votes before lawmakers.

Anto­nio and Steven Tuch, a pro­fes­sor at George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty, focused their research on con­gres­sion­al votes relat­ed to abor­tion cast from 1979 to 2003. They checked the reli­gious affil­i­a­tion of mem­bers of Con­gress against votes, includ­ing those on fed­er­al fund­ing of abor­tions and late-term pro­ce­dures. They then cor­re­lat­ed those results with votes on oth­er issues, such as mil­i­tary spend­ing, wel­fare and tax reform.

What they dis­cov­ered were trends in vot­ing pat­terns relat­ing to reli­gious affil­i­a­tion that went beyond the broad­ly acknowl­edged impact of the evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian­i­ty in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, which began with the emer­gence of the Moral Major­i­ty in 1980.

The study looks at a peri­od that begins with the 96th Con­gress and con­tin­ues through the first half of the cur­rent ses­sion, the 108th. In 1979, the polit­i­cal par­ties had not solid­i­fied their posi­tions on a wom­an’s right to abor­tion, affirmed just six years ear­li­er in Roe v. Wade.

Democ­rats were more like­ly to sup­port abor­tion rights and Repub­li­cans, antiabor­tion mea­sures. But mem­bers of Con­gress were more like­ly to vote on abor­tion issues based on per­son­al con­vic­tions, reli­gious or oth­er­wise — votes that often con­flict­ed with oth­ers in their party.

Today, there appears to be few, if any, dis­putes with­in par­ties over abor­tion. That is not the case with­in the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion, where sur­veys show Amer­i­cans are divid­ed over abor­tion, but in nuanced ways.

About 25 per­cent of Amer­i­cans sup­port a wom­an’s right to abor­tion under any cir­cum­stances, and about 20 per­cent oppose abor­tion for any rea­son, accord­ing to Gallup and oth­er research orga­ni­za­tions. Those in between approve of abor­tion if the wom­an’s health is at risk, in cas­es of incest or rape, or if the fetus appears deformed.

But on Capi­tol Hill, eth­i­cal nuances have giv­en way to the par­ty line, with Democ­rats typ­i­cal­ly favor­ing access to abor­tion and Repub­li­cans gen­er­al­ly reject­ing it, accord­ing to D’An­to­nio and Tuch.

“The great mid­dle is not rep­re­sent­ed,” D’An­to­nio said, refer­ring to the 55 per­cent of Amer­i­cans who sup­port a wom­an’s right to choose depend­ing on the circumstance.

So what does reli­gion have to do with this polarization?

James Guth, who since 1995 has exam­ined reli­gious affil­i­a­tion and vot­ing pat­terns in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, says a “sub­stan­tial increase” in the num­ber of evan­gel­i­cal Protes­tants in Con­gress, most of them Repub­li­cans, has con­tributed to the moral cli­mate of vot­ing on abor­tion and oth­er cul­tur­al issues.

Esti­mates on the num­ber of evan­gel­i­cals in Con­gress vary, from few­er than 10 per­cent in the 1970s to more than 25 per­cent today.

In anoth­er impor­tant devel­op­ment, Roman Catholic leg­is­la­tors are no longer pre­dom­i­nant­ly aligned with the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. Tra­di­tion­al Catholics land on the Repub­li­can side and the­o­log­i­cal­ly lib­er­al Catholics on the Democratic.

“Reli­gion is much more aligned with par­ti­san­ship than it was in the past,” said Guth, a pro­fes­sor of polit­i­cal sci­ence at Fur­man Uni­ver­si­ty in Greenville, S.C. Evan­gel­i­cal Protes­tants recruit oth­er evan­gel­i­cals to run for office, as do the­o­log­i­cal­ly lib­er­al Catholics, con­ser­v­a­tive main­line Protes­tants, and so forth.

The most vis­i­ble exam­ples of such align­ments have occurred among main­line Protes­tants and Roman Catholics, accord­ing to D’An­to­nio and Tuch.

Most main­line Protes­tant denom­i­na­tions have tak­en a for­mal posi­tion sup­port­ing a wom­an’s right to have an abor­tion, while the Catholic Church has stead­fast­ly opposed any form of abor­tion. Yet some law­mak­ers affil­i­at­ed with those faith groups in recent ses­sions have vot­ed the oth­er way.

From 1979 to 2003, main­line Protes­tant Democ­rats — Epis­co­palian, Luther­an, Pres­by­ter­ian, Methodist and Unit­ed Church of Christ — gen­er­al­ly fol­lowed their church’s teach­ing, increas­ing their abor­tion-rights votes by 13 per­cent­age points, from 62 per­cent to 75 per­cent, accord­ing to the study.

Dur­ing the same time, main­line Protes­tant Repub­li­cans in the Sen­ate shift­ed from being split on abor­tion — 45 per­cent for abor­tion rights and 55 per­cent against — to being 80 per­cent antiabor­tion in 1996. Main­line Protes­tant Repub­li­cans in the House have remained steady — 80 per­cent are against abor­tion rights, D’An­to­nio said.

Not sur­pris­ing­ly, Catholic Repub­li­cans remained over­whelm­ing­ly antiabor­tion dur­ing the peri­od of the study, vot­ing almost unan­i­mous­ly with the antiabor­tion posi­tion tak­en by the Vat­i­can and by the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops, D’An­to­nio said.

At the same time, Catholic Democ­rats have evolved from being strong­ly in favor of abor­tion rights to over­whelm­ing­ly so.

On oth­er key issues tak­en by the bish­ops, the roles are reversed, with Catholic Repub­li­cans oppos­ing the posi­tions Catholic bish­ops have tak­en and Catholic Democ­rats sup­port­ing them. Such issues include tax­es, min­i­mum wage, health care, remov­ing sanc­tions against Cuba and nuclear weapons.

In inter­views and in their study, which has not been pub­lished, D’An­to­nio and Tuch said they are con­cerned that the polar­iza­tion of Con­gress will under­mine the coun­try’s two-par­ty sys­tem, which was designed for con­sen­sus building.

As ide­ol­o­gy has tak­en over and pol­i­cy debates have become uncom­pro­mis­ing­ly bru­tal, many mod­er­ate Amer­i­cans give up on the polit­i­cal process as poten­tial office­hold­ers or vot­ers, D’An­to­nio said. “A sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the pub­lic has been turned off by the polit­i­cal sys­tem, leav­ing the extremes to fight it out.”

© 2004 The Wash­ing­ton Post Company

Cur­rent Mood: 😡cranky
Cyn is a proud Mommy & Mémé, professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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