Monday, February 27, 2006

Twelve Tribes Wandering in the Desert

An interesting article at Beliefnet.com tries to divide up the complicated American religious-political landscape (HT: GetReligion). Using poll results relative to the last election, it divides Americans into twelve tribes. I've arranged them from smallest to largest. My summaries may be a little misleading in parts, due to diversity in the groups; see the article for further details.

Jews (about 1.7% of the voting population)
46% liberal, 36% moderate, 68% Democrat. Heavy emphasis on foreign policy.

Muslims and Other Faiths (about 3% of the voting population)
Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, and other smaller groups. 46% moderate, 44% liberal, 55% Democrat. Heavy emphasis on the economy.

Spiritual but not Religious (about 5.3% of the voting population)
Most report spiritual beliefs--85% believe in God and more than half are sure there is some kind of life after death--but they don't much like houses of worship or organized religion. They report no formal religious affiliation and a majority report seldom or never attending worship services. 47% are under age 35. 49% moderate, 37% Independent, 35% Democrat.

Latinos (about 7.3% of the voting population)
Majority Catholic, but with a large Protestant minority. Fairly conservative in practice (53% report attending worship once a week or more) and belief (60% of the Catholics agreed with papal infallibility; 58% of the Protestants are biblical literalists). 45% moderate, 54% Democrat. Heavy emphasis on the economy, but also a strong emphasis on the importance of faith to politics.

White Bread Protestants (about 8% of voting population)
The core members of the Protestant "mainline" churches-- United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church in the USA, American Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, and so forth. About one-quarter report regular church attendance and just 19% are biblical literalists; 47% agree that "all the world's great religions are equally true and good." 43% moderate, 37% conservative, 46% Republican, 33% Democrat. Liberal on social issues, conservative on economic issues; heavy emphasis on the economy.

Convertible Catholics (about 8.1% of voting population)
The core of the white Catholic community, they outnumber conservative Catholics by nearly two to one. Religiously moderate in practice (42% claim to attend worship weekly) and belief (less than one-half agree with papal infallibility). 52% agree that "all the world's great religions are equally true and good." 49% moderate, 47% Democrat, 34% Republican. Heavy emphasis on the economy.

Black Protestants (about 9.6% of the voting population)
Fairly conservative in practice (59% report attending worship once a week or more) and belief (56% are biblical literalists). However, the experience of slavery and segregation has produced a distinctive theology. 48% moderate, 71% Democrat. Heavy emphasis on the economy, but highly conservative on social issues, and comfortable with religious involvement in politics.

Seculars (about 10.7% of the voting population)
Non-religious, atheists, and agnostics. 48% moderate, 35% liberal, 47% Democrat. Liberal on social issues; 47% young.

Moderate Evangelicals (about 10.8% of voting population)
These white evangelical Protestants hold less conservative religious beliefs (54% are biblical literalists) and don’t show up in church quite as often as the "religious right" (35% go weekly or more often), but they belong to evangelical churches and regard themselves as born-again Christians. 48% conservative, 47% Republican, 31% Democrat. Heavy emphasis on economic issues. Support religious involvement in politics, but tend not to say that their faith is important to their politics.

Heartland Culture Warriors (about 11.4% of voting population)
Conservative Catholics and conservative mainline Protestants, Latter-day Saints, and other smaller groups. Slightly less conservative than the Religious Right (54% of the Protestants are biblical literalists; 60% of the Catholics agree with papal infallibility) and more theologically diverse. But they are regular churchgoers (three-quarters report attending worship service weekly or more often). 50% conservative, 41% moderate, 54% Republican. Heavy emphasis on social issues.

Religious Left (about 12.6% of the voting population)
Theologically liberal Catholics, mainline and evangelical Protestants. Less church-bound (less than one-quarter report weekly worship attendance) and pluralistic in their beliefs (two-thirds agree that "all the world's great religious are equally true and good".) 50% moderate, 51% Democrat. Liberal on social issues; tend to oppose religious involvement in politics.

Religious Right (about 12.6% of the voting population)
Religiously conservative white evangelical Protestants: 88% believe the Bible is literally true; 87% report attending worship once a week or more; 44% live in the South. 66% conservative, 70% Republican. Strongly supportive of religious involvement in politics. Heavy emphasis on social issues.

Of course, as one might expect with this sort of thing, it's entirely possible to criticize various aspects of the division. But it's an interesting thing to think about, and is much better than the simplistic dichotomies that are usually used. (One of my particular frustrations with the usual ways of classifying this sort of thing is that Latino Christians and Black Protestants tend to drop out of consideration entirely, despite the fact that they are essential for understanding the interaction between religion and politics in the U.S.)

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