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If you don’t believe in a loving God you’re vastly more likely to crave a loving government – a powerful yearning that helps explain the persistent appeal of the Democratic Party and political survival of Barack Obama.
Exit polls from 2012 strongly suggest that voters who seek divine compassion and attend religious services preferred Mitt Romney, while those more explicitly concerned with the compassion of politicians provided the president with his margin of victory. Rather than deriding voters who focus on the feelings of their leaders, conservatives must connect with them if they expect to turn the tide in future contests.
One of the most revealing exit poll questions offered voters four choices as to the “Most Important Candidate Quality.” Surprisingly, three-fourths of the electorate chose qualities in which they gave Romney a hefty advantage, agreeing that he “shared my values,” or had “a strong vision for the future,” or displayed characteristics of a “strong leader” more than President Obama. In fact, those who looked above all for a “strong leader” picked Romney by a landslide margin of 61 to 38%.
How, then, did Barack Obama win the election? Because 21% of the electorate identified their top priority as choosing a president who “cares about people like me,” and they favored the president by a margin of more than four-to-one, (81 to 18%).
Frustrated conservatives see these decisive numbers and argue that it’s irrational to make an electoral judgment based on how a politician feels rather than how he is likely to perform. The fact that a president cares about you, won’t impact his record in office as significantly as qualities of “strong leadership” or “strong vision for the future.” An office-holder’s caring only matters if the leader possesses the political skill and policy vision to act upon that concern.
While that proposition may make logical sense, on an emotional basis it’s also easy to understand why voters who feel vulnerable, lonely and disconnected would want a president who could function as a compassionate father figure. Another exit poll category gives an important indication of who such voters might be. Americans remain a deeply religious people, with 42% percent of those who participated in the last election attending church at least once a week. Romney won a landslide (59 to 39%) among these weekly churchgoers and similarly prevailed among the 82% who attended services at least a few times a year (51 to 47%). Only a minority of voters indicated they “never” go to church or synagogue, but that 17% of the electorate chose the president by nearly two-to-one, 62 to 34%. On election night, the president may have thanked God for his victory but he also should have thanked the godless, without whose lopsided support he would have lost.
It’s not surprising that those who lack the support of a religious community, and don’t count on protection or sustenance from an all-powerful God, might feel a stronger need for a caring president and a powerful, protective government. By the same token, the 40% of voters who are unmarried and can’t rely on a supportive spouse proved far more interested in a supportive government and gave Obama a two-to-one edge, even while the married majority strongly preferred Romney.
The challenge for Republicans involves the inexorable demographic growth of the Democratic “coalition of the disconnected” – including the unchurched and the unmarried – who want an activist government that will care for them. The only plausible appeal from conservatives would be to emphasize that growing bureaucracy, more federal spending and higher taxes are misguided and even damaging means for expressing compassion. The first President Bush made that point effectively in the campaign of 1988 with his emphasis on “a thousand points of light” and private sector charitable initiatives.
To some extent, he picked up themes pioneered by the late Congressman and cabinet secretary Jack Kemp who proudly described himself as “a bleeding heart conservative” and used to remind his fellow right-wingers: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” That advice should still steer Republicans in new efforts to persuade even an increasingly irreligious electorate that an all-powerful government makes a miserable replacement for an all-powerful God.

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Comments (8)

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  1. American  •  Jun 19, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Great article. There’s not nearly enough balanced sociology in the mainstream media. This is a welcome addition that points to the heart of a serious issue: Liberals replace God with government.

    They did it in the 20th century with state atheism and about a 150 million people lost their lives to the resulting democide. The severe persecution they perpetuated upon religious people ran into the hundreds of millions. And, in the end, they discovered that government is not God as the Soviet Union crumbled in on itself.

    The U.S. is increasingly following in their footsteps and reaping the same result. Denial is more than a river in Egypt.

  2. Mal Tomlin  •  Jun 20, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    What are the options? Either God created all (theism, deism, finite godism), god is all (pantheism, panentheism, polytheism) or no god at all (atheism/nihilism). Tangentially, the cosmos was either created (ex-nihilo), emanated (ex-deo) of is self-created (ex-materia). Scientists have confirmed a temporal cosmos with a beginning. The first point is “truth is knowable” (we can answer lots of questions). The second point is “the opposite of true is false” (Logic). Skeptics often lift up induction beyond its limitations – unaware that science is grounded by philosophy and probability. On one hand they extol science and on the other they dismiss it (e.g. Einstein, Borde-Guth-Vilenkin, Kovac: “To deny this now is to deny scientific fact.” A team of scientists headed by astronomer John M. Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics announced Monday it had found the evidence it was seeking to support the theory that the universe had a beginning).

  3. NoahVale  •  Jun 20, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Sorry, Michael, I disagree with your analysis that the “godless” returned Obama to office. Polls show high church attendance rates for African Americans and Hispanics – the two demographic groups Obama relied on. Godlessness does not equate to reliance on government.

    • Suretylink  •  Jun 20, 2014 at 5:43 pm

      I think you misinterpret what Medved is saying. Belief in G-d and reliance on G-d are two different things. What Medved is arguing is that the basic appeal to those who are looking for a President who ‘cares about people like me’ must be better captured by the GOP.

      The race demographics are a separate interesting question. But, there’s not enough room to discuss it here.

  4. Bourgeois Views  •  Jun 20, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    As long as conservatism is dominated by Plutocrats who only want your money and by Fundamentalists who only want your soul, there’s just no compelling argument for Compassionate Conservatism. The thing already associated with that term make it an oxymoron.

  5. James P  •  Jun 21, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    I’m sure you’re fine with a rich Democrat and an Islamic Fundamentalist.

  6. Paul V  •  Jun 27, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    All lawful, peace loving people regardless of their origin or ethnicity want the same things. Personal comfort, safety, and opportunity for their children.

    When the growing number of disconnected people choose the State as the primary source for those things, they will choose tyranny when the alternatives of family, actively supporting community, and a peaceful soul are not available to them.

    If we give the State enough power to keep us safe devoid of the historical roles a close-knit society provides, we also give the State the power to control everything, leaving nothing untouched that might infringe or upset any particular individual or activist group. The end result is no one can offend anyone because no one can do anything. We don’t even have to help anyone. We can stand around and take pictures of a beating because that’s what we pay the State to do- be there when we need them. We don’t have to get involved in the complicated personal lives of people enough to know exactly what kind of help they need, because we pay the all-knowing State to redistribute our wealth to those who need it, but the truth is, devoid of personal contact and involvement, the State does not spend this money correctly, so the taxes have to keep going up to fund the waste and corruption.


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