Why Democratic platform uproar points to deeper challenge for party
Democrats restored the words 'God' and 'Jerusalem' to their platform Wednesday, saying the omission was an 'oversight.' But with a growing share of Democrats turning away from organized religion, 'God talk' can cause some tension.
Why the words “God” and “Jerusalem” were excised from the Democratic platform is not exactly clear – Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz called it a "technical oversight." But even if it was a mistake, it points to the Democratic Party's challenge of recognizing its robust and integral religious supporters while also acknowledging that a growing share of members see organized religion as a diminishing priority.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures The Democratic National Convention 2012
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To be sure, the optics of reinserting the words into the platform Wednesday as some conventioneers seemed to boo were not ideal. But convention Chairman and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has said President Obama insisted on the change, and the reasons are clear.
“For your undecided voter in Nevada, North Carolina, in Florida, in Ohio, in Pennsylvania – those key swing states, yeah, of course God matters,” says Davis Houck, a communications professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee. “And that’s why Obama basically said, ‘You better put that back in – we can’t be seen as the party taking God out of the platform.’ ”
Support for Mr. Obama among religious voters was high in several key states in 2008 and could be key again in 2012. “In an election as close as this one will be, we can't ignore something as central to most Americans as faith,” Democratic political consultant Eric Sapp wrote on Huffington Post in June.
But while religious voters remain crucially important to the Democrats' prospects in November, the party is also seeing growth in the number of supporters who have little or no connection to organized religion. The percentage of Democrats who seldom or never attend church grew from 35 percent in 2000 to 52 percent in 2011, according to Gallup.
“Within the Democratic Party there are strong Democratic constituencies that take faith very seriously, whether it’s African-American protestants or Hispanic Catholics,” says John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron in Ohio, who studies the intersection between politics and religion. “But another large constituency are the unaffiliated, who are not involved in organization religion – including atheists, agnostics, and those who are spiritual but not religious.”