Thinking about modern Democrats: There are three kinds and religion may be a crucial factor

As a rule, your GetReligionistas do not post critiques — positive or negative — about opinion pieces in the mainstream press. The exceptions usually run on weekends, when we point readers to “think pieces” and essays on topics linked to religion-news work.

Every now and then, however, a think piece comes along that does a better job of handling an important news topic than most of the “hard news” pieces on the same or similar topics.

In this case, we are talking about the many, many debates we will be seeing in the weeks and months ahead as Democratic Party leaders attempt to thin out the field of 666 or so candidates who want the right to run against Donald Trump in 2020.

That brings me to a very important New York Times piece that ran the other day — written by Thomas B. Edsall — under this wordy, but important headline:

The Democratic Party Is Actually Three Parties

They have different constituents and prefer different policies. Satisfying them all will not be easy.

Now, it is impossible, these days, to talk about divisions in the American political marketplace without running into controversial issues linked to religion, morality and culture. Can you say religious liberty? Oh, sorry, I meant “religious liberty.”

Obviously, one of these Democratic armies is the world of “woke” folks on Twitter. Then you have the left-of-center party establishment. And then you have the world of “moderates” and conservative Democrats, who still — believe it or not — exist. You can see evidence of that in recent GetReligion posts about the fault lines inside the Democratic Party on subjects linked to abortion.

Here is Edsall’s overture, which is long — but essential:

Democratic Party voters are split. Its most progressive wing, which is supportive of contentious policies on immigration, health care and other issues, is, in the context of the party’s electorate, disproportionately white. So is the party’s middle group of “somewhat liberal” voters. Its more moderate wing, which is pressing bread-and-butter concerns like jobs, taxes and a less totalizing vision of health care reform, is majority nonwhite, with almost half of its support coming from African-American and Hispanic voters.

This division revealed itself most recently in the CBS battleground tracking surveys of Democratic voters in the first 18 states that will hold primaries. Kabir Khanna, a senior elections manager at CBS, provided detailed findings on these key voters.

CBS broke them into three roughly equal groups.

The first two groups are made up of those who say they are “very liberal” and those who say they are “somewhat liberal.” Both groups are two-thirds white and have substantial — but for the Democratic Party below average — minority representation. They are roughly a quarter African-American and Hispanic.

Those in the third group are Democratic primary voters who describe themselves as moderate to conservative. This group has the largest number of minorities; it is 26 percent black, 19 percent Hispanic, 7 percent other nonwhites, and it has the smallest percentage of whites, at 48 percent.

Would you have predicted that the woke left would be overwhelmingly white, while the right side of the Democratic Party would have the highest percentages of blacks and Latinos?

Now, what happens in those numbers when you look for patterns of worship attendance and moderate-centrist stances on hot-button moral issues, like placing restrictions on abortion rights?

Want to guess which of these camps is almost completely secular? Hint: Dig into the details of the Pew Forum “nones” study. And remember this (from one of my “On Religion” columns about that study:

The unaffiliated overwhelmingly reject ancient doctrines on sexuality with 73 percent backing same-sex marriage and 72 percent saying abortion should be legal in all, or most, cases. Thus, the "Nones" skew heavily Democratic as voters — with 75 percent supporting Barack Obama in 2008. The unaffiliated are now a stronger presence in the Democratic Party than African-American Protestants, white mainline Protestants or white Catholics.

Edsall’s essay also notes that there are divisions, deep in the numbers, between elite white-collar workers and the older world of blue-collar Democrats and labor unions. The urban vs. suburban vs. flyover country rifts are in there, too.

Want to guess which of these three Democratic camps tends to be liberal on economic issues and conservative on moral and social issues?

Want to guess which camp is dominated by “identity politics”? Hint: It isn’t the one that contains the most blacks, Latinos and other people of color.

The story contains a crucial chart on hot-topic issues that I cannot reproduce here. Check that out for yourself. But here are some hints:

At the current stage in the contest, according to Khanna, very liberal Democrats are the most engaged and play a disproportionate role in setting the political agenda.

The three ideological groups favor different sets of policies. On the left, the very liberal voters stress “the environment, protecting immigrants, abortion, and race/gender,” Khanna emailed me, while the moderate to conservative Democrats are “more concerned with job creation and lowering taxes.”

There’s more:

Even more interesting is the way these three categories of Democrats split on some of the most contentious issues raised over the first two nights of the Democratic debates: providing health insurance to undocumented immigrants and a Medicare-for-all proposal that would eliminate private health plans. …

What the data demonstrates is that the group containing the largest proportion of minority voters is the most skeptical of some of the most progressive policies embraced by Democratic candidates like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris.

This article is primarily concerned about issues of immigration. However, there is one passage that hints at divisions linked to religion, morality and culture.

Let us attend:

Zach Goldberg, a graduate student in political science at Georgia State, has tracked partisan ideological trends in great detail. In a Tablet essay in June, “America’s White Saviors,” Goldberg wrote,

“Over the past decade, the baseline attitudes expressed by white liberals on racial and social justice questions have become radically more liberal. …”

Furthermore, Goldberg writes, black and Hispanic Democrats are more likely to part ways with white liberals “when it comes to contemporary social and gender-identity issues, including views of the #MeToo movement.”

Now, what kind of “social” and “gender-identity” issues might be dividing the “woke” white Democrats from the world of black, Latino and blue-collar Democrats?

Does anyone else think that it’s likely that religious beliefs and church attendance would show up as crucial factors dividing these three camps, if the political pollsters asked those questions?

So, please, ask those questions. There are religion issues looming over the Democratic Party debates.

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