There are two ways to think about the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), which focuses on the religion "ghosts" in some recent coverage of the modern Democratic Party's fortunes at the state and national levels.
First of all, there are some basic facts that I think all journalists can see.
The Democrats are way, way, way down when to comes to controlling state legislatures. The same thing is true when it comes to electing governors.
At the same time, the Republicans now control the U.S. House, Senate and the White House. But let it be noted that (a) there have been many close, close contests there and (b) Democrats easily control the states and cities that shape American public discourse, in terms of entertainment, higher education and news.
Democrats have some obvious demographic trends on their side -- with massive support among ethnic groups, the super-rich tech sector and the rapidly growing portion of the U.S. population that is young, urban, single and religiously unaffiliated.
Now, in my recent post ("NBC News on dazed Democrats left in lurch: Decline rooted in race, alone, or 'culture'?") I dug into a long, long feature that basically said the Democrats are having problems with working-class, heartland, white Americans for one reason and one reason only -- the party's history of fighting racism. The story alluded to vague "cultural" issues, but never mentioned, to cite on glaring omission, the role Roe v. Wade played in the creation of the Religious Right and the rise of the (Ronald) Reagan Democrats.
"Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I worked through all of that, including the fact that -- in the early exit-poll data from Donald Trump's win -- it appears that the "pew gap" remained in effect, favoring the GOP. What is the "pew gap"? Here is a chunk of my "On Religion" column about the 2016 election results:
The so-called "God gap" (also known as the "pew gap") held steady, with religious believers who claimed weekly worship attendance backing Trump over Hillary Clinton, 56 percent to 40 percent. Voters who said they never attend religious services backed Clinton by a 31-point margin, 62 percent to 31 percent. ...
Meanwhile, white Catholics supported Trump by a 23-point margin -- 60 percent to 37 percent -- compared with Mitt Romney's 19-point victory in that crucial swing-vote niche. Hispanic Catholics supported Clinton by a 41-point margin, 67 percent to 26 percent.
Clinton also drew overwhelming support from the growing coalition of Americans who are religious liberals, unbelievers or among the so-called "nones," people with no ties to any religious tradition. In the end, nearly 70 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans voted for Clinton, compared with 26 percent for Trump.
Note the two sides of that equation.