A Different Kind of Religious “Wedge”

Even as Republicans continue to hope that perceptions of Obama administration hostility to organized religion will increase and create a “wedge issue” hurting Democrats, evidence continues to mount that the theocratic vibes set off by conservative rhetoric could backfire.

Today Pew released one of its periodic surveys on public attitudes about religion and politics. The headline everyone’s talking about is the growing percentage of Americans who are getting uncomfortable about religious expression by politicians. But it’s the subhed–“Santorum voters disagree”–that I find most interesting, along with a general and growing tendency towards partisan and ideological polarization on the issue that could prove very troubling to the GOP.

I won’t go through all the numbers, but the main point is that self-identified independents are tracking Democrats very closely in the percentage who believe there is “too much” religious talk from pols (46% of Democrats, 42% of indies). The percentage of Republicans feeling that way is also rising, at 24%, but it’s still less than the 28% of GOPers who say the amount of religious expression is fine, and the 40% who want more of it. Unsurprisingly, an actual majority of Santorum supporters fall into the “give us more” category.

Similarly, 60% of Democrats and 58% of indies (and, BTW, 60% of Catholics) think churches should stay out of politics. Only 44% of Republicans feel that way, and the number drops to 36% among white evangelicals.

Sure looks to me like Republicans are being tugged by their “base” in a direction away from the views of independents and of a significant minority of their own voters. That may or may not be a recipe for the subject to become a “wedge issue,” but if it does, it probably won’t be Democrats who are being “wedged.”

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.