Scare quote alert: Cheers and jeers for that Associated Press primer on 2016 'religious vote'

Go ahead.

See if you can spot the scare quotes in this Associated Press primer on religion and the 2016 presidential election:

ATLANTA (AP) — Republican Donald Trump has told conservative evangelical pastors in Florida that his presidency would preserve "religious liberty" and reverse what he insists is a government-enforced muzzling of Christians.
The same afternoon, Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine praised a more liberal group of black church leaders in Louisiana for their "progressive values that are the values of Scripture," and he urged them to see Hillary Clinton as a kindred spirit.
The competing appearances earlier this month highlight an oft-overlooked political reality: The "religious vote" is vast and complex, and it extends beyond generalizations about "social conservatives" who side with Republicans and black Protestant churches whose pastors and parishioners opt nearly unanimously for Democrats.

Did you catch them?

If you're a regular GetReligion reader, you know that we have complained time and time again about the news media's love of scare quotes ( definition here in case you're new to the term) around "religious liberty" and "religious freedom."

So if you noticed the scare quotes on "religious liberty" in the AP's lede, you win the prize! (What is the prize? It's a free subscription to GetReligion. Go ahead and read all our posts for free!)

What's wrong with putting "religious liberty" or "religious freedom" in scare quotes? As even a GetReligion critic acknowledged this past spring, the quote marks inject editorial opinion into a news story and "imply something along the lines of: 'Religious freedom? Not necessarily.'" 

But what about those other quote marks in the's AP opening sentences — are they scare quotes, too?

Let's assess them, from a journalistic perspective, one at a time:

1. "progressive values that are the values of Scripture" — Definitely not scare quotes. Rather, this is an extended phrasing that needs quote marks to indicate it's exactly what Kaine said. 

2. "religious vote" — I don't see these as scare quotes either. Rather, they emphasize that the broad use of the term "religious vote" can obscure the vast and complex nature of that segment of the voting population. Given the context of this story, the quote marks work.

3. "social conservatives" — Again, not scare quotes, in my opinion. But these quote marks also aren't necessary, if you ask me. Delete the quote marks here, and it doesn't change the way a reader perceives that sentence. In fact, these quote marks detract from the effective use of the quote marks around "religious vote." 

Read the entire story — it's actually pretty short, written as a quick-hit overview — and another questionable use or two of quote marks show up. For example, given that we are 40 years past the election of Jimmy Carter as president, readers probably don't need the AP to put quote marks around the term "born-again." Right?

If you can get past the scare quotes and the extraneous quote marks, the AP piece is an interesting overview of the "religious vote." In fact, some of the points the writer makes could have come straight out of GetReligion. 

For example, the AP writer notes concerning Catholic voters:

The winner among Catholics has also won the national popular vote in every presidential election since 1972. But it's really more a function of math: Catholics cast about a quarter of presidential ballots, and the group is ideologically, ethnically, racially and geographically diverse. So it's basically a massive sample size of the complete electorate.

Right on.

For more on those Catholic voters, I hope you read tmatt's post this morning. If you somehow missed it, be sure to check it out.

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