With God on Obama’s side (maybe)

telephone You would think that if the Los Angeles Times put two reporters on a story, they would make a little effort to pick up the phone. Unfortunately, this was not the case on a recent piece titled "Obama administration has religion on its side." That's quite the exaggeration, considering 37 percent of Americans polled said they see President Obama as religion-friendly. That's not a majority, is it? So why do the reporters make it seem like Obama has captured all religious voters? I can forgive a lame headline once in a while since I hear the copy editor side from my husband, but the story reads like a press release for the administration.

The reporters compare Obama to the Democratic Party, which garnered 29 percent of the vote for religion-friendly.

The findings aren't surprising. During his campaign for the presidency, Obama courted religious voters more aggressively than most recent Democratic presidential candidates by putting faith front and center.

In July 2008, during the height of the presidential race, then-Sen. Obama pledged to expand a controversial White House program that gives federal grants to churches and small community groups.

Later that summer, during a forum at evangelical Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in Orange County, Obama, a Christian, spoke of "walking humbly with our God" and quoted from the Gospel of Matthew.

It paid off.

This analysis seems a bit weak, as if Obama's policies on issues like abortion didn't matter--just sprinkle in a biblical phrase here and there and you'll get them religious voters. Also, I seem to remember that one of the negative takeaways for Obama's appearance at Saddleback was his remark that determining when life begins is "above my pay grade." I'm just wondering again why the reporter didn't pick up the phone and call one of the scholars who worked on the survey. Perhaps a scholar could connect the dots a little bit better than a few observations.

Also, few reporters are still covering Obama's religious outreach (or lack thereof). Eric Metaxas highlights a bit from a New York Times article that suggests the White House was planning a "non-religious Christmas celebration--hardly a surprising idea for an administration making a special effort to reach out to other faiths." Actually, that is surprising. As Metaxas writes, "For those of you confused by that, it's just like a 'non-religious' Yom Kippur celebration, or a 'non-Irish' St. Patrick's Day celebration, or an 'international' July 4th celebration." There were discussions about whether or not to display a creche. Why is that piece of info buried in the 13th paragraph of the Times article?

Also, while reporters were focused on party crashers, Ed Stetzer wanted to know why they did not cover Obama's leading words at his first state dinner where he highlighted his participation at a Hindu and a Sikh religious event.

Regardless of whether you like President Obama or not, it seems like "news" to me that the President would make these his first words at his first state dinner. It seems news to me that he would mention his celebration of major religious events in two religions. Regardless of whether you are a Democrat, Republican, or independent, I cannot picture JFK or Ronald Reagan doing such a thing in their day-- and President Obama points out that he was the "first" to do these things in the White House.

Back to the LA Times article, it compares the final election results, but it would be nice to see more numbers. Here's what we get:

Forty-three percent of voters who said they attend church weekly chose Obama over Republican John McCain, according to the National Election Pool exit survey, a change from recent election trends, in which religious voters overwhelmingly chose Republican candidates. Among occasional worshipers, Obama won 57% of the vote.

I'd like to know what numbers John McCain garnered, and what the exact percentage change was from the last election.

Down further in the story, we find out that 48 percent of those polled viewed the GOP as friendly toward religion. What were Obama's numbers again? 37 percent? Looks like religion isn't necessarily "on his side."

I glanced through the summary of the report and found a few more tidbits that could have been noteworthy. For example, the report breaks down the parties' popularity vs. friendly-toward-religion.

For Obama as well as for both political parties, being viewed as friendly toward religion is closely associated with popularity generally. Among those who say the Obama administration is friendly toward religion, fully three-quarters approve of the job he is doing (77%), compared with half of those who say the administration is neutral toward religion (51%) and a scant 7% of those who say it is unfriendly.

For the Republican Party, the link is less pronounced. Almost half of those who say the GOP is friendly toward religion view the party favorably (48%), compared with 41% among those who say it is neutral and 21% for those who say it is unfriendly.

The report also breaks down the religion factor for Hollywood (47 percent see Hollywood as unfriendly toward religion while 11 percent say it's friendly) and science (35 percent say scientists are unfriendly toward religion and 12 percent see scientists as friendly).

Here's one last bit from the poll that GetReligion readers might find interesting: 42 percent say the news media are neutral toward religion, 35 percent say it's unfriendly toward religion, while 14 percent of those polled said they view the news media as friendly toward religion. Is anyone surprised?

Photo via DanBrady on Flickr's Creative Commons.

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