The Stew Reporting on government and politics

Religious influence on the ballot box

Politics | A recent poll finds voters are split on the importance of a candidate’s faith
by Anne K. Walters
Posted 9/13/18, 06:26 pm

WASHINGTON—U.S. voters are split ahead of November’s midterm elections on whether the faith of political candidates matters. More Americans said the religious faith of candidates was at least somewhat, if not very important, than those who thought it wasn’t very important or not important at all, but only by a very small margin, a poll released this week by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found.

The survey reported that 25 percent of voters think it is very or extremely important that a candidate has strong religious beliefs, while 43 percent found it not at all important or not very important. But 23 percent found strong religious beliefs to be at least moderately important for candidates.

Nearly half (47 percent) found it not important that the candidate share their faith, while 19 percent found it very important and 23 percent found it somewhat important.

The survey reflects the growing number of Americans with no religious ties but also the “real and fervent remaining group of Americans for whom religion still defines much of the rest of their lives,” said Adam Carrington, an assistant professor of politics at Hillsdale College. “While shrinking, it remains substantial enough to potentially make a significant difference in political elections in the fall.”

Those who identified as white born-again or evangelical Christians were most likely to say that faith was important in choosing a candidate, with 51 percent saying it was extremely or very important, followed by non-white Protestants, among whom 47 percent said it was extremely or very important, the poll found.

But Americans see a role for faith in shaping at least some policy issues. Respondents gave the highest support for religion influencing policy toward poverty, with some 57 percent saying it should play a role, while 49 percent favored influence in education policy, 45 percent on abortion, 44 percent on healthcare, and 43 percent on immigration. Nearly two-thirds of all Americans say religion should not play a role in policy toward LGBT issues, though 61 percent of white evangelicals disagreed.

“The fact that poverty gets the high marks—even higher than abortion and marriage—is arguably the most striking aspect of the results,” said Darryl Hart, a distinguished associate professor of history at Hillsdale College.

But the vague nature of polling questions make it difficult to determine what that means, he noted, with the poll also showing concerns about income equality ranking low (36 percent) and other issues with ties to poverty such as racial inequality and the Black Lives Matter movement not included in the questioning.

“Polling data like this is frustrating because—while it appears to be scientific—it is far more intuitive,” he said. “The squishy wording of the questions is so vague that they are almost unclear and easy to misinterpret. The ‘influence of religion on education’ could mean prayer and Bible reading in public schools. The same goes for the way questions were posed on LGBT issues. Does that lower number mean more support for gay marriage? Hard to tell.”

Americans have generally placed a strong value on candidates having at least some religious background, with a survey by Pew Research during the 2016 presidential election finding more than half of American adults would be less likely to vote for an atheist. Not believing in God was considered a bigger shortcoming than having had an extramarital affair, having financial troubles, or having smoked marijuana, according to that survey.

Meanwhile, more than 90 percent of members of Congress describe themselves as Christians, according to Pew.

Associated Press/Photo by Jose Luis Magana Associated Press/Photo by Jose Luis Magana Sen. Susan Collins (left) with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in the senator’s office on Aug. 21

Anti-Kavanaugh activists take aim at swing votes

Following up on the efforts last week of Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to thwart the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, liberal groups are campaigning to sway possible swing-vote Republican senators.

Two progressive organizations in Maine have launched a campaign to raise $1.3 million to donate to a future opponent of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, if she votes to confirm Kavanaugh. A video on the groups’ website tells Collins to “Be a hero and vote no, and if you don’t, we will replace you.” Collins, who faces reelection in 2020, has not revealed how she’ll vote.

“I consider this quid pro quo fundraising to be the equivalent of an attempt to bribe me to vote against Judge Kavanaugh,” Collins told Newsmax. “This effort will not influence my vote at all.”

Confirming a nominee takes just 51 votes, the exact number of Republicans in the Senate. If Collins defects, then Vice President Mike Pence could cast the tie-breaking vote to seal the confirmation. But some liberal groups like Planned Parenthood are targeting not only Collins but also fellow moderate Republican, pro-abortion Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Other anti-Kavanaugh activists have ratcheted up pressure on Collins with phone calls to her office and by sending her around 3,000 coat hangers last week to symbolize “back-alley abortions,” out of their fear that Kavanaugh, if confirmed, could be instrumental in dismantling Roe v. Wade. Collins told The Wall Street Journal that some of the attacks have gotten out of hand, with one caller threatening to rape one of her female staffers.

Several of Collins’ GOP colleagues have come to her defense, including Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who called the activists’ actions against Collins “false, nasty, vulgar, personal, uncivil verbal abuse of an honorable and diligent public servant.” —Harvest Prude

Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.

Culture of leaks

Newly released messages between disgraced former FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page have reawakened the controversy over whether investigators exhibited bias against President Donald Trump.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., in a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, said the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee had received new information that raised “grave concerns regarding an apparent systemic culture of media leaking,” particularly negative information about Trump, at the FBI and the Department of Justice. Meadows pointed to a series of April 2017 texts from Strzok to Page. In one, Strzok said he wanted to discuss the “media leak strategy with DOJ.” Two days later, Strzok texted, “Article is out! Well done, Page.” CNN reported that Strzok’s lawyer, Aitan Goelman, pushed back on the claims, saying the term referred to “a Department-wide initiative to detect and stop leaks.”

Meadows called the texts a basis for concern over the motives of special counsel Robert Mueller and the results of his investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The FBI fired Strzok last month for anti-Trump text messages, and Page resigned in May.

Trump took to Twitter to call the situation “terrible, and NOTHING is being done at DOJ or FBI.” —H.P.

White House officials assert op-ed innocence

After The New York Times published its controversial anonymous op-ed on Sept. 5, high-ranking White House officials have rushed to deny authorship as conspiracy theories seeking to uncover the identity of the author have sprouted.

The column described a group of “resistance” White House officials actively working to curb President Donald Trump’s agenda. White House officials asserting their innocence include Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, among others. Even first lady Melania Trump, who often abstains from weighing in on controversies surrounding the Trump administration, issued a scathing rebuke: “You are not protecting this country, you are sabotaging it with your cowardly actions.”

Trump responded by tweeting, “Does the so-called ‘Senior Administration Official’ really exist, or is just … another phony source?” He also demanded that the Times reveal the author’s identity to the government, citing national security concerns.

The scramble of adminstration members to distance themselves from this latest controversy coincides with the release this week of journalist Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House, which prompted those same officials to dispute quotes attributed to them in the book. —H.P.

Campaigning for speaker

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the first to announce a bid for speaker of the House of Representatives in July, enjoys the support of a cohort of conservative groups, from the Tea Party Patriots to FreedomWorks.

These groups and others have sought to bolster his campaign through financial and grassroots support. The co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus faces a stiff uphill battle against the GOP establishment–backed challenger, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. McCarthy secured the endorsement of incumbent Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who announced in April his retirement plans after this term. Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., may also run if McCarthy fails to secure the 218 votes needed.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will run for speaker should Democrats win control of the House in November’s midterm elections. Pelosi served a four-year tenure as speaker, from 2007 to 2011. —H.P.


  • OldMike
    Posted: Mon, 09/17/2018 10:10 pm

    Just occurred to me to wonder:  how do we KNOW the NY Times op-ed was really written by someone in the Trump Administration? Because the Times said so?  Maybe the whole thing is an invention of a Times staff writer, to create suspicion and mistrust in the Administration. 

    Do any of us really believe that is not possible?