Mike the Mad Biologist

An LA Times story about voters’ willingness to support candidates of various religious backgrounds completely baffles me. In the story is good news, bad news, and things that just don’t make sense.

Razib summarizes findings:

54% of Americans would not vote for a Muslim
37% of Americans would not vote for a Mormon
21% of Americans would not vote for an evangelical Christian
15% of Americans would not vote for a Jew
10% of Americans would not vote for a Roman Catholic

(an aside: I disagree with Razib about Gov. Mitt Romney. I think the real problem Romney will face is not his Mormonism, despite the poll, but that he really is not very popular in Massachusetts right now, particularly among the press. There’s a whole mess of dirty laundry that would make Bernard Kerik look clean just waiting to come out).

The good news is that anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism are on the wane (rock on Sen. Feingold!). The bad news is the strong bigotry towards Muslims and Mormons (I’ll discuss evangelicals later). But it’s the puzzling stuff that gets me.

In 2001, 25.4% of Americans called themselves Catholic. Assuming the Catholics don’t hate themselves (no jokes, please), that means about 13% of non-Catholics wouldn’t vote for a Catholic. Self-indentified Jews are about 2%, which means basically 15% of non-Jewish Americans would not vote for a Jew. About 18% of Americans would be considered evangelical. That means around 25% of non-evangelicals would not vote for an evangelical. Damn. I wonder why that is: Falwell and Dobson are certainly giving evangelicalism a good name, aren’t they? Maybe our Founders had the right idea protecting religion from the contamination of politics, after all.

The thing I don’t understand is that given the historically low levels of anti-Semitism, how does one explain what is happening in Delaware? Are there isolated enclaves of rampanant stupidity and hatred? (note: don’t try to explain the other side to me. Last I checked, “Jew boy” isn’t a term of endearment). I find that very puzzling.

Comments

  1. #1 CanuckRob
    July 5, 2006

    If you keep people in a state of fear they will tend to find something to strike out at.

    Was there not a poll in the last year or so that indicated that the highest percentage of would not vote for went to “atheist”? Can’t tell from the article if that question was asked this time.

  2. #2 Dan R.
    July 5, 2006

    From everything I’ve seen about what happened in Delaware, anti-semitism wasn’t the driving force. The driving force was that someone — anyone — was standing up for their 1st amendment rights. I have little doubt that a Jew, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist would have all been treated similarly.

    With that being said, there was obviously some anti-semitism, and quite possibly there was one or two families that particularly had it out for Jews. However, I doubt the end result would have been significantly different for anyone sufficiently out of the mainstream religion — and insisting on their rights.

  3. #3 razib
    July 5, 2006

    worse that bernie kerik? you serious??? i don’t think lack of popularity in mass. would be a bad thing in the repub. primaries btw.

  4. #4 ebohlman
    July 6, 2006

    I think Dan is on the right track; there are indeed “isolated enclaves of rampant stupidity and hatred” but they’re dynamic, not static, phenomena. What happens is that a small number of true extremists gain local power (remember that in a school board election, 5% of registered voters is a fantastic turnout, so it’s very easy for crazies to take over), do something stupid, and then the people who know them (and might not have been aware of their extremism or might have dismissed it as a harmless eccentricity) get overcome by tribalism and stick up for them simply because of who they are. It’s the same reason that cops won’t rat on fellow officers who use their positions to commit crimes; why just about every hip-hop artist has signed a pledge not to cooperate with police who are investigating murders of fellow community members; why the soldier who uncovered (and stopped) the My Lai massacre was considerably less popular at VFW halls than Jane Fonda. In a way, it’s a sort of groupthink phenomenon (in the orginal Bay of Pigs sense, not the way Randroids use the term) where people will collectively support a position that few if any of them would individually agree to.

  5. #5 Clayton
    July 6, 2006

    I am always skeptical of polls that do not list, verbatim, what was asked. It shouldn’t be a suprise that how a question is asked can dramatically skew the results of a poll.
    If a candidate affirms a belief or opinion that is likely to effect a policy decision, lacking other data, it is prudent to factor that in to your decision. I don’t believe doing so make a person a bigot. Ideally we would know where all candidates stand on all issues however, that is rarely, if ever, the case. Often we are left to infer their likely stance based on other factors.

    Example:
    A candidate claims to be a member of a church whose denomination is known for its literal interpretation of the Bible.

    What is the candidates likely stance on:
    gay marriage?
    abortion?

    If you were a bookie, what odds would you bet?
    I’m not saying you should rule anyone out based solely on religion, as the article implies these people did. I do however find it more likely that the question was flawed and/or that the results were mis-interpreted. Possibly that this was done so intentionally so as to make the story more sensational. Color me cynical.

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