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Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats are Closing the God Gap


Over the past year I have been interested in the vote of the religious sector of the United States, and one of the many articles I read was by Amy Sullivan, and it mentioned her book The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats are Closing the God Gap. It sounded right up my alley, so off to the library I went.

When you hear phrases like "family values," "values voter," or "the party of religion," your mind conjures up the GOP. Sullivan, however, argues that the tide may be turning. Written ten years ago, this book examines how the Republican party won over religious voters and the Democratic party lost them, and it then relays why the Dems are willing them back. At the heart of the issue is Catholicism, Evangelicalism, and abortion. It's debatable what cost Democrats their presidential elections for decades (with Bill Clinton being an exception who won over evangelical voters in great numbers), but it's fair to say that alienating religious voters may have factored into it. Are Democrats closing the God Gap?

Even though this book came out a decade ago, it is still timely and well worth reading. Sullivan, an Evangelical herself, is a liberal leaning journalist who writes extensively on religion and politics, and I find her writing to be insightful and thoughtful. I picked this book up because I was impressed with her analysis of the intersection of these two issues and the care she takes with honoring the delicate psychology of why people make the decisions that they do. That is also an assessment of this book, and she very clearly points out the weak spots in Democratic campaigns as well as examples of those doing it right. (This includes, interestingly enough, Tim Ryan, whose background made me stop in my tracks -- not only is from Niles, OH, where my father's family hails, but he is a Catholic who attended Our Lady of Mount Caramel, my own father's school for most of his education.) 

I find the abortion debate to be interesting because often those who are pro-choice are painted as people who celebrate abortion, which is a myth that Sullivan addresses and dispels in this book, much to my appreciation. She also addresses what I find to be the most important evidence-based argument for reducing abortions, which is what Representative Tim Ryan pushed a decade ago, which is pregnancy prevention (namely contraception) and supporting in varying ways women who are pregnant and feel they need financial aid to raise the child. Research and history has continuously shown that this is the best way to reduce abortions; abortion rates decrease during Democratic presidencies precisely for these reasons. (I urge you to look up peer reviewed research on Google Scholar or another reliable search engine.) Sullivan presents evidence that holding these views and making sure that this information reaches Catholic and Evangelical voters is what will help close that God Gap.

I found the presidential election in 2016 to be interesting in the fact that there is a swath of people who were willing to vote for the Republican candidate simply because he told them he would repeal Roe v. Wade. (This is another subject for another time, but it's fair to say that most people who buy this don't actually know what Roe says -- having read it myself, I can tell you that a simple repeal to ban abortion isn't super likely based on the precedent set in the majority decision, and plus, even if that was the case, it would not outright ban abortion nationally as states would still be able to individually opt to legalize the procedure, which Sullivan addresses in this book.) This is interesting to me because, regardless of my personal feelings toward the man, there are more than five egregious facts I can pull off the top of my head as to why religious voters should have turned away from him, not the least of which encompasses the "sanctity of marriage" argument. That a whole swath of people are so focused on being one-issue voters is wild to me, but it is eye opening in terms of explaining why Democrats need to close the God Gap by embracing religious voters instead of snubbing them.

Ultimately this book is well worth a read if you are interested in politics and how constituencies affect outcomes of elections, both nationally and locally.  

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