Print More

A lively discussion took place yesterday in the upper reaches of the blogosphere in response to Kathleen Parker’s rant against the evangelical wing of the Republican Party, in the course of which Marc Ambinder asked whether there is any actual evidence out there to suggest that suburban independents declined to vote Republican because of Palin-inspired concern about the influence of conservative evangelicals in the party. What the survey data show, he notes, is concern about her readiness to handle the job, not about her religion.
It’s a fair question, and it is at least arguable that had Palin demonstrated a greater command of the issues, a significant number of those Democratic-voting suburban independents would have gone with McCain. The problem is that, so far as I know, pre-election polling didn’t ask potential voters what they felt about Palin’s religion; they were asked whether they thought the candidates on the national tickets were ready to be president, and she came up short. The evidence that Palin’s religion was a problem is (beyond the anecdotal) indirect. Here’s how I’d lay it out.
1. Palin’s identity as an evangelical and a strong social conservative was well known, as was her strong appeal to the evangelical/social conservative base of the Republican Party.
2. When it comes to evangelicals, voting patterns show sharp divisions, not only between Republicans and Democrats but within Republican ranks. In the Republican primaries this year, the strong evangelical preference for Huckabee was widely recognized, but there was also a strong disinclination for other primary voters to vote for him. Non-evangelical Christians, and Catholics in particular, stayed away from Huckabee in droves.
3. There is clear evidence of strong anti-evangelical sentiment in parts of the American public. For example, in a recent study, 53 percent of faculty members at colleges and universities admitted to negative views of evangelicals. The next highest ranking were Mormons, at 33 percent. Catholics came in at 13 percent and Jews, the lowest, at 3 percent.
4. Palin’s readiness on the stump to divide the country into real and unreal America cannot but have helped turn away suburban independents. As she presented it, the real America is the America of (among other things) religion. Readiness for the presidency was not an issue here.
While this evidence is plenty suggestive, it is far from determinative. It would, therefore, be good to have some post-election surveying that sought to identify the sources of anti-Palinism more directly.