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Thursday, July 15, 2004

Kerry, Don't Preach

Not only does Paul Waldman work a Madonna reference into his article title, but also he delivers a good response to those who claim John Kerry needs to get all religious in his campaign talk (his Gadflyer colleague Amy Sullivan among them--looks like an intra-web zine rumble is brewing). I agree that if Kerry makes like Howard Dean and blatantly starts throwing in Biblical references to his speeches, it will look forced and phony, adding to the impression that he's a political opportunist who will do anything to get elected.

What's more insightful, though, is Waldman's parsing of polling data that supposedly shows voters want politicians who wear their religion on their sleeve. It turns out that if you ask the question a different way, you get results that indicate maybe people really don't want more religion in their politics. The much-touted bit about church attendance being a top predictor of voting may also be flawed:

Evidence indicates that polls significantly overstate the frequency of church attendance. Researchers call this the "social desirability bias"--just as 70% of Americans will claim they voted in the last election (when the actual number was closer to 50%), many say they attend services more often than they actually do. Studies indicate the overstatement may be as high as 50%, with only half as many people showing up in the pews each weekend as polls would suggest. And by any measure, attendance at religious services has been steadily declining since the early 1960s.

Waldman suggests that misreading the data here may be more of a problem for Republicans that Democrats, and he wraps up with the campaign advice for Kerry that, "every issue is a values issue." Perhaps I'm so enamored of this column because it fits nicely with what I want to believe (must be wary of that when reading sometimes) and Sullivan warns, "blistering rebuttal to come shortly"--stay tuned.

A similar column to Waldman's appeared in the Sunday LA Times, and People of Faith for Kerry recently launched on the campaign's web site.

I expressed my disdain for "values" campaigning last week. Better to talk values in terms of real, tangible policy matters like healthcare, and I think Kerry's been doing this pretty well lately.