“Culture Wars & Economics in Election 2012”
South Beach, Florida
Dr. William A. Galston, Senior Fellow & The Ezra K. Zilkha Chair in Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution
Michael Cromartie, Vice-President, Ethics & Public Policy Center
MICHAEL CROMARTIE: Well now we have Dr. Bill Galston this morning. The topic is “Culture Wars in the Economy and Election 2012.” The reason for that topic is simple. As I told you we have an advisers luncheon and several of our advisers at the last lunch said you know, we wanted to do something about the upcoming election. And several people said, well you know the election is not going to be about religion at all, it’s going to be about the economy. And of course we all agreed with that, but then right after that lunch, the culture wars issues took on a whole new shape with the candidacy of Rick Santorum and so I thought what better person to address the question of culture wars and the economy than our presenter today, Bill Galston.
You have his bio, you know him by reputation, many of us know him as the smartest political analyst in Washington, DC. So what more can I say? Bill, thank you for coming.
DR. WILLIAM A. GALSTON: A weak field.
Well I’m going to start by filling out my evaluation form right here and right now. This has been a terrific meeting and thank you so much for organizing it. As I told some folks yesterday, given my schedule, I don’t take three days off to do, as they say, south of the Mason-Dixon line, hardly anything, but every time I’m invited to one of these conferences I say yes if I possibly can because it is such an incredibly enriching experience for everybody and so thanks to Michael for more than a decade of leadership and I hope it goes on and on and on.
This is going to be something very different from yesterday and I apologize for the abrupt descent from the heights of theology to the depths of politics. I did form some impressions after the conversation yesterday.
First of all, I must say I came away very grateful that I don’t have to have a dog in the Trinitarian hunt.
And I also came away fortified in a belief that I’ve had since graduate school and that is that Athens and Jerusalem form an extremely combustible mixture. And I was reinforced in those views after the dinner table conversation last night where it seemed to me that the more dogmatic theology was practiced, the more resonances I began hear of the Greeks and I began to think that maybe my tribe was even wiser than I thought it was, not that we had much of a choice.
At any rate, in good professorial fashion, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do and then do it and as a reward for good behavior I promise not to conclude by telling you what I’ve done. I’m going to start out by focusing on some of the religious and demographic groups that I think are going to be significant this year, not that this year will be different on that regard and I’m going to use that as a prelude to a more comprehensive analysis of where I think we are and where I think we’re going in 2012. I am going to be focusing on the economy to the extent that I have to and I think events are going to compel us to do that.
But at the same time there are other things going on that are worthy of our attention, many of them have already happened.
So let me begin with what I think is one of the most interesting groups to focus on right now and that is young adults, and let me try to frame this conversation. At the top of the three pages that were passed out this morning is a table from the second edition of Bob Putnam and David Campbell’s book, American Grace. And one of the most important, although not very much appreciated theses of American Grace is the following argument, a piece of which we heard yesterday. What we had in the 1960s and in the early 1970s was a rise of religious liberalism which manifested itself in the civil rights movement, in the antiwar movement and it rippled through American culture and society. And that contributed to a countermovement, the great evangelical mobilization back into American politics after a period of relative quiescence that had lasted for about four decades. That’s the story that we’ve all been focused on ever since the evangelical counter mobilization into politics.
Well, Putnam and Campbell began picking up on a third phase which might be called a counter-counter mobilization and that is young adults were not by in large reacting favorably to what they saw of this evangelical mobilization. And in the view of Putnam and Campbell, that counter-counter mobilization has been gaining strength and velocity over the past decade. And what you see in this table is a side-by-side comparison between this massive American religious survey that they did in 2006 and a repeat of that survey in 2011.
And what you see particularly pronounced among 18 to 29 year olds is a movement away from organized religion, both behaviorally and creedaly. And so if you just run your finger down the table, “attends religious services less than once a year” is 24 percent of 18 to 29 year olds in 2006, 30 percent in 2011; “doesn’t believe in God or not sure,” 15 to 24 percent; “religious preference, none,” 25 to 33 percent; “religion not at all important in the respondent’s daily life,” 16 to 25 percent; “religion not very important to sense of identity,” 25 to 42 percent; “evolution without God,” 18 to 27 percent; “not absolutely sure about the existence of hell,” 45 to 57 percent; “premarital sex is never wrong,” 34 to 44 percent; “homosexual relations never wrong,” a stunning 26 to 41 percent; gay marriage, 48 to 60; and then interestingly, “more important to teach a child self-reliance than obedience,” 41 to 53 percent. You wonder to what extent that last one will survive the experience of parenthood, but stay tuned on that.
At any rate, now obviously there is a life cycle effect as 18 to 29s segue from single status to marriage, they take on various adult responsibilities. Some of these opinions will be moderated or even reversed but there’s also something called a cohort effect and where you start influences where you end up. And if today’s 18 to 29 year olds start with more pronounced attitudes of behavior of disaffiliation and attitudes of disbelief or skepticism, the history of survey research tells us that 20, 30, 40 years later they will end up higher along all of those dimensions than their parents and grandparents were. So these are extremely important results suggesting that what I’m calling the counter-counter mobilization is in fact a leading indicator to a shift in American politics if not this year or in 2016, in 10 years or 20 years and it’s something to keep your eye on.
Now, that got me interested in the question of this millennial generation more generally. And for all of the working journalists among you I commend two recent studies. One, by a terrific outfit that you probably all know about, the Public Religion Research Institute published recently a Millennial Values Survey which is a wonderful document and let me give you some highlights from that.
Among millennials about 11 percent grew up without a religious affiliation, but now 25 percent claim no religious affiliation. So when they were children, 11 percent and now as young adults, 25 percent. Almost 100 percent of that shift towards disaffiliation is attributable to young Catholic adults peeling away and young white mainline Protestants peeling away. None of it is attributable to evangelical erosion. So if you are affiliated as an evangelical as a child you are about 90 to 95 percent likely to regard yourself as affiliated as a young adult, but not so for mainline Protestant kids or Catholic kids. And you know, the Catholic numbers are really quite startling because non-affiliated goes from about 28 percent to 20 percent, eight percentage points.
Now, the survey also asks these young adults about their attitudes towards Christianity. Given the flavor of this conference, I think these results may be of some interest. Fifty-eight percent of millennials, young adults, say that Christianity is “relevant” but 64 percent of them say that Christianity is systemically anti-gay, 62 percent say that Christianity is judgmental, as we learned yesterday not a term of praise in their lexicon, and 58 percent say that Christianity is hypocritical because it’s leaders say one thing and do another. I think that those findings should make for some uncomfortable reading in the circles of Christian leadership.
Among millennials, 45 percent are willing to say that there are some things that are always wrong, but 50 percent say that morality depends on the circumstances. In this respect as in many others, young white evangelicals are culturally religious and moral outliers because fully 68 percent of white evangelical young adults are willing to say quite firmly that there are some things that are always right and always wrong regardless of the circumstances.
Young adults are very worried that government is getting too involved in the inculcation of morality; it’s 57 percent feel that, only 35 percent believe that government should do more to promote morality. And the bulk of that 35 percent is of course attributable to young white evangelical adults.
Among the issues, 54 percent of young adults think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases and 59 percent endorse same sex marriage. There has been a stunningly abrupt shift in that cohort as well as the country as a whole and I’m tempted to conclude and I think this is going to turn out to be right, that gay marriage is the trajectory and the dynamic is a lot more like race than abortion, right. Race, once the shift began, it shifted steadily until there was an overwhelming consensus in society a generation later. With abortion, the split that developed in the wake of Roe, has persisted and has driven our politics ever since.
I think ten years ago one might have thought that gay marriage would be more like abortion but if you look at the dynamics as opposed to the statics it seems to me that just the reverse is more likely to be the case and I’ve heard any number of people, including very conservative people, say you know, I think our children and our grandchildren are going to ask what the fight was all about, they’re not going to understand it. And the same way that today there are a lot of people who simply can’t believe the way race relations used to be structured in this country.
The second millennial survey that’s interesting was conducted by the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School at Harvard, they do this quite regularly. And here are a few takeaways from that survey that may intrigue you. Let’s start with attitudes towards Barack Obama. It appears that what I’ll call the Obama generation lasted about five years and I say that because the IOP study shows that 18 to 24 years are significantly less enthusiastic about the President than our 25 to 29 year olds and given what they’re facing as they emerge blinking from college with student loans and no jobs it’s not too hard to understand why. And so Obama’s lead over Romney is only half as great among 18 to 24 year olds as it is among 25 to 29 year olds. And so the Obama campaign may actually have cause to celebrate quietly that college students are not going to be as mobilized this time around as they were four years ago.
More disturbingly it seems to me, not just from the Obama perspective, but from a civic perspective, is that the past four years have had the result of substantially reversing the mobilization of young adults into the official political system that had taken place around the first Obama campaign. Trust in government among young adults is way down and their reported involvement in official politics is way down as well, both in my judgment deeply regrettable trends but I’m afraid unmistakable in the data. When you ask young adults what their key issues are, it looks like a very familiar list, the economy and jobs, the deficit, healthcare, lower taxes and education; the social issues are at the bottom. And young adults are in no way outliers in this regard. If you’ll turn to the second page of the three page handout that I gave you, here is page 2 from the most recent Comprehensive Pew Study and if you glance at the lower right hand column, “Economic Issues Top Voters Agenda,” what you’ll see there is, Economy, Jobs, Budget, Deficits, Healthcare and Education; on top exactly like young adults and look what’s at the bottom. So it seems to me, this is one more piece of evidence about the primary focus of this year’s election. And if you want to see it even more dramatically, turn to page 3, this is from the most recent CBS New York Times Survey, “What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?” Because that really sticks it to people, because it’s easy to say that well something is very important to me if that doesn’t come at the expense of saying that something else is very important to me. But if you ask people, what’s the single most important issue then you get some very revealing answers and as you’ll see, jobs gets 26, the economy gets 22 and nothing else breaks into double digits, nothing else. And if you look at the social issues, abortion, 1; moral values, 3; poverty, 1; crime, 0; immigration, 0; religious values, 1. So this is a very revealing snapshot of what’s on people’s minds right now.
Now, does it follow from that that the sorts of things that we’ve been talking about today will have no role in the election? No, it does not, for reasons that I’ll try to articulate. But it gives you a baseline for understanding what the 2012 election is going to be about.
So let me now segue into Part 2 which will be a somewhat more organized consideration of the role of religious and values issues in this year’s election. As you all know, over the past generation a basic American political structure has developed on those questions and that structure has mapped onto the sorting and differentiation and polarization of the political parties. The more observant Americans are disproportionately Republican, less observant, disproportionately Democrats. The Republicans can rely on white evangelicals, Mormons and white Catholics, although for reasons that I’ll explain later. White Catholics are swingier than evangelicals or Mormons. Democrats can rely on black Protestants, Latino Catholics, Jews, Muslims and the unaffiliated. The major swing groups are the white mainline Protestants and Catholics for a very interesting reason. The Catholic vote is always close, although it does move up and down within about a five point range which can be very significant. But if you decompose the Catholic vote, white Catholics are almost always majority Republican and Latino Catholics are about 70 percent Democrat. You put those two things together and you get the close Catholic vote overall, but in order to understand what’s really going on you have to break that down because those are two very different groups.
Now if that’s the basic structure and I don’t think that basic structure has changed fundamentally, has anything changed this year that we ought to pay attention to? And the answer to that question is, yes, four things have changed this year.
Number 1 is what I’ll call the Obama effect. The clash between the regulatory enforcement of the Affordable Care Act and the Catholic Church raised concerns, particularly though not exclusively in the Catholic community and in the period in which that controversy raged Catholic support for Obama fell by 8 percentage points, a very significant swing. That’s about as much of a swing as you get in the Catholic vote. It fell from 53 percent to 45 percent between the beginning of March and the middle of April and it has stayed down, for reasons that I’ll explain when I get into the role of politics that can be a really big deal for purposes of this election. And so people were paying some attention to that debate and even Catholics who didn’t agree with their hierarchy, I think sort of resented the fact that the church was getting pushed around. You know, there was a sort of, we have the right to fight with our hierarchy but those guys don’t have the right to push them around.
The second thing that changed is what I’ll call the Santorum effect. When I started, I’ve been on the Santorum case for a long time. I was the first reviewer of his 2005 book. I don’t think he liked my review very much, I didn’t like the book very much, although it was honest, I’ll give him that. But I think that when Santorum showed up this year, people were astonished to hear the pure distilled essence of a pre-Vatican II Catholic on the national stage. As a matter of fact, I’ve listened to him and I said to myself, boy this sounds a lot like Opus Dei and then to my astonishment, a week after I said that, there was a front page article in The Washington Post, “Santorum’s Religious Journey, ‘Candidate has Embraced Spanish Priest Behind the Devout Group Opus Dei.’” And the more people heard that, except for the ones who are really disposed to listen to it and like it, the more alarmed they became.
And it had a disproportionate effect on women who could not believe what they were hearing and so during exactly that period a lot of women deserted the Republican party in droves, not because of anything that Romney did, but because of what he failed to do. He had probably eleven opportunities for “Sista Soulja” moment during the height of that controversy; he didn’t take advantage of a single one of them. I understand he’s going to Liberty University so he has yet another opportunity and I predict he will whiff, yet again. And so I think some of that support among women, particularly unmarried women may return to the Romney campaign, but as is the case with the Obama effect, I think the Santorum effect will leave a permanent residue in the 2012 campaign. I’m being just as blunt as possible so that you can get in touch with me in six months or so and say, boy you really blew that.
The third change is what I’ll call the Republican primary effect which revealed, I think, the increasing domination of the republic party by people who regard themselves as very conservative and that’s true at both the activist level and the rank and file level and that lead to rising qualms about the role of religion in our politics. There are surveys done by Pew and other organizations that monitor a series of questions and during this period those surveys picked up substantial increases in the following dimensions: substantial increase in the people who think that there’s too much expression of faith by our political leaders; a substantial increase in people who believe that religious conservatives have too much control over the Republican party and a substantial increase in the percentage of people who believe that church leaders should refrain from expressing explicitly political views.
Now, the fourth big change is that the Republican party has nominated a Mormon! Why the exclamation mark? Well, one of my favorite documents from American History is the cover of the platform of the First Convention of the Republican Party in 1856. And on that cover you see a graphic representing what were called the “Twin Relics of Barbarism.” One of them was slavery and I bet you can guess what the other one was.
UNKNOWN SPEAKER: Polygamy.
DR. GALSTON: Right. The Republican Party over the next 40 years had two principal objectives, one of which took only ten years to achieve, the abolition of slavery, and the other of which took the next 30, namely the extirpation of Mormonism. The Republican Party remorselessly harassed Mormons from the end of the Civil War into the mid-1890s and finally actually a Supreme Court decision closed down the Mormon church in the 1890s. And the Mormons were not allowed to reopen; it was sort of like a religious forced bankruptcy. They had to be reorganized under new auspices and new management so to speak. But so the fact that the party that was responsible for the near extirpation of Mormons ended up now being the first party to nominate a Mormon for president is really stunning.
Now, so that raises the question, what do Republicans think about Mormonism at this point anyway, this was one of the issues that we talked about yesterday. Well, 54 percent of Republicans think that Mormons are Christians, 33 percent are sure they aren’t. Among evangelicals it’s just the reverse, 35 think that Mormons are Christians, 53 percent don’t. Among mainliners it’s 67 percent who think that Mormons are Christians and interestingly among white Catholics who tend to be quite latitudinarian on these issues among others, 63 percent. So that will illustrate the outlier status of white evangelicals even within the Republican party.
Nevertheless, more than 90 percent of these Republicans will support Romney over Obama. There is zero evidence, and I made this point yesterday, there is zero evidence that I can find that the Mormon effect is at all consequential for the base of the Republican party and I think it is eloquent testimony to their antipathy to the President. And if you’ll remember back to the famous Pastor Jeffress introduction of Rick Perry, he asked in his peroration to that introduction (I paraphrase here), “Who do you want to nominate, a good moral man or a sincere follower of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?” Now I wasn’t sure quite which way he wanted the argument to go at that point and that is word for word what Pastor Jeffress said and I took note of that right, but I’m not sure what Rick Perry thought of that introduction. But what that told me, and the press followed it up with Pastor Jeffress after the event, “Pastor are you saying you won’t recommend that your followers support Mitt Romney if he’s the nominee?” Of course not, if it comes down to Romney versus Obama, of course it’s Romney. And so it has proved.
And I actually took a look at the effect of Romney’s nomination, not just on the Republican party in general, but on the evangelical vote, the white evangelical vote. In 2008, McCain ended up with 73 percent of the white evangelical vote and as of the most recent Pew Survey, Romney has 73 percent of the white evangelical vote. I rest my case.
Now, let me take a look at some of the other key religious groupings in the population. Obama got 47 percent of the white Catholic vote in 2008; right now he has 37 percent, single biggest change and potentially a big deal in the Midwest. Keep your eye on white Catholics this year because despite the fact and I’ll get to this in my more organized, when I get to my actual article, despite the fact that Obama is now ahead in Pennsylvania, I don’t see how he carries Pennsylvania with white Catholic support at that level. So Pennsylvania I think is going to be a very interesting state this year, more interesting than it’s been for quite some time.
By contrast, Obama got about 70 percent of the Latino Catholic vote last time and that’s exactly what he’s scoring this time. There’s been no change among white mainline Protestants, Obama got 44 percent, McCain got 55 and the most recent surveys show almost exactly the same pattern this year. What about Jews? Now there’s been a lot of speculation that the early misadventures of the Obama administration with the Israeli Palestinian negotiations and the famous frosty first reception that Netanyahu got at the White House and then the head to head dueling speeches at APAC, there’s been a lot of speculation that would have a big effect on the Jewish vote. Well, if so, I can’t find it, not yet, and maybe not ever.
The Public Religion Research Institute has just come out with a terrific document called “The Jewish Value Survey 2012” and for religion reporters I commend it to your attention. It shows right now that Obama has 62 percent of the Jewish vote and Romney has 30 percent which is almost exactly where Obama stood at this stage in the 2008 campaign. And intriguingly the alert PRRI folks went back to Obama’s 2008 Jewish supporters and asked them, well, do you want to see this guy re-elected and only seven percent said no. So there’s simply no sign of a mass Jewish desertion of Obama and here’s why.
American Jews are exactly what you think they are and let me just illustrate that. The survey asked about a thousand Jews, what is most important to your identity as a Jew? Here are the results. Number 1, commitment to social equality, 46 percent. Number 2, commitment to Israel, 20 percent. Number 3, religious observance, 17 percent. I think it was Milton Himmelfarb who famously quipped, the Jews live like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans and that has not changed. And to prove it, Jews to the best of my knowledge, with the possible exception of Indian Americans are the wealthiest ethnic group in the country, 64 percent of them endorse the proposition that it is very important for the government to do more to reduce the gap in income and wealth between the rich and the rest. Eighty-one percent say that it’s important for government to raise the tax rates of the wealthy.
You know the lawyers have this phrase “an argument against interest,” this is the clearest demonstration of such an argument in American politics because I guarantee you that most of the Jews who are recommending increases in the top marginal tax rates will pay those increases. It doesn’t matter. So that in a nutshell is why despite everything that’s happened in the past three-and-a-half years, and I must say I’m a little surprised by this, there has been hardly any erosion in Jewish support for Obama.
Let me conclude this section of my remarks by talking about views of non-Muslim Americans about American Muslims. This a very interesting story and consequential. Views of American Muslims are less favorable now than they were seven years ago, which I find quite surprising. And you have 35 percent of the population saying that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence, you know, compared to 42 percent who disagree with that proposition.
There was majority opposition to the construction of an Islamic Center near the former World Trade Center. There is 62 percent support for the proposition that in general Muslims should have the same rights to build mosques as other religious groups have to build their houses of worship but the fact that you have 25 percent of Americans saying no to that important aspect of the First Amendment, what is more central to religious liberty than freedom of worship, I mean that’s the core of the core of religious liberty and you have 25 percent of Americans saying we don’t think that Muslims ought to be allowed to build these, at least not anywhere near us.
And even young adults for all of their vaulted pluralism have qualms and here’s one question that jumped out at me. Young adults were asked, is Islam at odds with American values and our way of life? Forty-seven percent of 18 to 29 year olds said yes it is, compared to 49 percent who disagreed. I find that a remarkable statistic given the fact that many more young adults in America have Muslim friends than is characteristic of any other age cohort. So there is a continuing issue there.
Yesterday I distributed a piece that’s embargoed for release on Thursday and it contains my more or less considered thoughts on where the election is in general and where it’s going. My overall argument, I think, has an air of paradox to it because I claim, and I’m sure that this is right, that the economy will be the dominant issue in the election. I also say that the election is going to be very close, much closer than 2008, whoever wins.
What that implies is that relatively small portions of the electorate for whom non-economic issues are dominant could end up making the difference. And so for example, white Catholics in some Midwestern states move not so much by economic issues as by their initial and enduring response to the religious liberty controversy could end up conceivably being decisive in the Electoral College.
The Obama campaign would have liked to have a rerun of the 1984 Reagan campaign which I remember almost on a minute-by-minute basis because as some of you know I was Walter Mondale’s Issues Director during that campaign and the unindicted co-conspirator in the famous tax pledge. True story. But instead, at best, the Obama folks are going to get a re-run of 2004. I say at best and I’ll try to explain that later.
So here are the key propositions that I lay out in this long document. First of all it’s going to be a very close election based on the economic indicators that I round up and a mountain of survey evidence. Secondly, the election is going to take place against a backdrop and that is a very particular mood of the country which is one not only of discontent with the economic present but also deep anxiety and foreboding about the future. People think that the American dream is in peril. It’s in peril for internal reasons and it’s also in peril for external reasons having to do with global competition. Everybody ought to read David Brooks’s column this morning because the American people are intuitive structuralists. The American people get it that the old 20th century American success story will not be adequate for the 21st century; they get that. And one of the things that distresses them most about the current state of American politics is that they don’t think that either political party gets that. And there’s one stunning survey finding when people are asked, “do you think either political candidate has presented a clear and persuasive economic plan for the future?” And the American people give Obama about 36 percent affirmative on that question and Romney a few points lower. So they get it; they know that whatever the success story for the 21st century may be they’re not hearing it and they’re not optimistic that they will hear it this year and that has created a very sour mood in the country.
The issues this year; well, economic stewardship first and foremost, fiscal policy turns out when you probe to be quite important and it’s an area of great potential weakness for the President; taxes are actually a mid-range issue this year, not in the top tier and it’s easy to understand why, they’re much lower overall. There is a tax fairness issue which is important but it’s alloyed by the suspicions of the American people. The American people strongly support the Buffett Rule in principle.
Then there was a very smart follow up question, two follow up questions actually. Number 1, what should President Obama do with the money that he raises from the Buffett Rule and you have about two-thirds of the people saying you ought to use it to reduce the deficit and about a third saying he ought to use it to invest in the future. Then they’re asked, what do you think he will do with the money and about one-third say that he’ll use it to reduce the deficit and about two-thirds say that he’ll spend it. So if they had confidence that the proceeds from the Buffett Rule would actually be used the way they want, they’d be more enthusiastic about the idea of raising taxes on the wealthy than they are.
The healthcare bill, which no doubt Democrats thought would be a big plus when they were pushing for it, is a big negative. But there’s a big caveat there and that is if the Supreme Court overrules some or all of the Affordable Care Act that will set in motion a very interesting unpredictable dynamic. And I’ll speculate that it might well turn out to be a mobilizer for Democrats. I think it would confirm Republicans in their judgment that the bill was misguided from the start, both in policy terms and in constitutional terms. It would enrage Democrats and from a policy standpoint it would be an enormous blow to the Obama administration, both short term and long term. From a political standpoint between now and November we can talk about this because I’m really just speculating now, it might turn out to be a plus.
What about defense and foreign policy? This is fascinating. For more than 40 years the Democratic party has been on the defensive in defense and foreign policy; not this year. So the Obama Administration, through its aggressive pursuit of the war on terror has managed to accomplish what might be termed an historic neutralization of the defense and foreign policy issue, but apparently the Romney team hasn’t got the message. And I can give you a very simple metric as to whether the Romney campaign is going well or badly. It’s going badly whenever it talks about foreign policy. If the Romney team thinks that they’re going to score any points with the American people by banging away at Obama on foreign policy, I think they’re fooling themselves. We can argue about that and there are some important foreign policy issues to debate. But I don’t think Republicans should be under any illusion that they’re going to make political progress by debating those issues. There are civic reasons to debate those issues.
The third point I want to make about defense and foreign policy is that this issue like so many others has gotten caught up in the culture wars in a very interesting way. When Romney charges that Obama has gone around the country on “apology tours” he’s making essentially a cultural point about how Americans ought to think of themselves and how they ought to comport themselves. And when conservatives criticize Obama for allegedly abandoning American exceptionalism they’re making another version of that same point. America is an exceptional nation, most Republicans read John Winthrop’s famous “City on a Hill” speech as elevating Americans above the rest of the world. I think what Winthrop really had in mind is that our flaws would be more visible and therefore we’d better be very careful about how we behave; that’s the point I think he was making but that’s not the way the speech is universally read.
But whether foreign policy rests on overtly exceptionalist foundations or not has become part of the culture war argument in a very, very interesting way which leads me to another important feature of the argument that I’m making about the contemporary political scene and that is the extraordinary, not just partisan polarization and Democrats and Republicans, but ideological polarization. It’s the combination of partisanship and ideology that gives the distinctive flavor that modern American politics has. And we haven’t seen anything like this, you know, serious political science studies tell us, since the 1890s, not the 1990s, the 1890s. So the sense that so many of us have that we’ve never seen anything like this, it’s not just journalistic myopia, it’s the truth, we haven’t, all right. We live in not unprecedented times, but at one of the four cyclical peaks of the polarization of the American party system since it was invented against the predictions and over the protests of so many founders in the 1790s.
And this polarization, partisan and ideological is one of many reasons why events have pushed both of the candidates away from the center in the past year. Obama was pushed away by the failure of the big fiscal agreement push that consumed most of 2011. Romney was pushed away by the tone and temper of the nominating contest. So these two candidates, if you just look at their ideological positioning, present the biggest ideological gap between two presidential nominees since at least 1984.
Now, that leads to the question of the role that ideology actually plays in American politics and here I want to make just three basic points. First of all, and I have to keep on reminding my Democratic friends of this fact, there are twice as many people in the country that consider themselves conservative as consider themselves liberal, that’s just a fact, a basic structural fact. And it helps to explain why Republicans can be so much more homogenously conservative as a party than Democrats can be liberal.
The second crucial fact was articulated by a couple of political scientists in the mid-1950s. You know, Hadley Cantrell and Lloyd Free famously remarked that Americans are ideologically conservative but operationally and programmatically not so much. So you know, the classic example of that is an ideological preference for limited government but not at the expense of cuts in Medicare. So programs pull in one direction, ideological predilections another.
Now, this year if I were asked to list three of the most significant facts about the basic structure of American politics this year, here is one of them: the average voter is ideologically closer to Romney than to Obama. But that same average voter is ideologically closer to Obama than to the Republican party. So right now average voters, and this is particularly true for independents, see a lot of daylight between Mitt Romney and their perception of the Republican party as a whole. If Romney can preserve that daylight through the general election campaign he’ll be in relatively good competitive shape. If on the other hand, he morphs into Mr. House Republican, if his name becomes not Mitt Romney, but Ryan Romney, then he’s in trouble. And so the tactical imperatives of the two campaigns are absolutely clear. Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is on the Romney side, to preserve the gap and on the Obama side to close it. Stay tuned.
Now in response to the past three years, there have been some interesting ideological shifts. There was a surge of relative enthusiasm for more activist government in 2007 and 2008; that surge of enthusiasm crested, broke on the beach and then pulled back substantially. And there has been a shift back towards support for a more limited and frugal government.
If you ask Americans now about the fundamental goals of economic policy, what do they think is most important? You have 82 percent saying that growth is extremely or very important; 70 percent saying equal opportunity; only 46 percent saying narrowing the gap of wealth and income between the rich and the rest of us. And one of the stunning findings which both Pew and Gallup have confirmed that there is actually less support for moves towards equalization now than there was in the late 1990s which makes sense when you think about it because people are always in a more generous mood when things are going well than when they’re going badly. So a time when the middle class is so much under pressure is a hard time to make this argument unless you can persuade the middle class that equalization is not going to come at their expense. But that is not an easy argument to make typically.
Winding my way towards my conclusion, what kind of election is this going to be? And there are two big questions, there are two big sub-questions. First of all, is it going to be more a referendum or more a choice? One of the things that I do in my piece of is to put Romney’s opening general election speech side-by-side with Obama’s opening general election speech and it’s crystal clear. The Romney campaign wants this race to be a referendum on the President’s record and the President wants it to be a choice between two visions of the future.
Now let me put on my political scientist hat for just a minute. There is a lot of political science that’s been committed in the past generation that tends towards the same conclusion. In elections, particularly national elections involving incumbents the President’s record is Exhibit A for the electorate and that is the default position of an incumbent election is the position of referendum rather than choice. And so the Romney campaign is going with the grain in pushing the referendum and the Obama campaign is going against the grain in trying to make it into a choice. Does that mean that there are no choicey elements in the race? No and let me try to say why with an historical example.
Think back to the 1980 campaign. There was a classic two-step process of voters coming to judgment. Step number 1, do we want to rehire the incumbent? In Jimmy Carter’s case, the answer to that question was somewhere between no and hell no depending on the pollster. But then Step 2 came in, is Ronald Reagan an acceptable replacement? Is he safe enough; is he steady enough; will he get us into a nuclear war?, which is what the Carter campaign was charging relentlessly from June through October, et cetera. Was he this crazy conservative or could we entrust the powers of the Oval Office to him? And the election remained tied despite the fact that Jimmy Carter’s approval rating was in the 30s until the one and only Presidential debate and the genial, avuncular Reagan who showed up was so far from the portrait of Reagan that had been painted by his adversaries that actually the expectational baseline worked very much to his advantage and people said, gee, seems like a nice guy, yeah, we can live with him. And you know as Pat Caddell famously put it, the bottom fell out in the next 48 hours and that was the election.
So the Obama campaign is not simply wasting its time trying to preempt by making Romney unacceptable so that even if people want to replace Obama because the economy doesn’t do very well that they will decide that they don’t want to give the office to Romney. I don’t think that that strategy is likely to succeed but the basic structure of the situation tells you why they’re trying to do it.
The second key question about this Presidential election or any presidential election is whether it’s likely to focus more on persuasion or mobilization. And persuasion elections tend to take place when there are relatively high numbers of swing voters and you have mobilization elections when there are relatively few swing voters. If you turn to page 13 of my report you’ll see a very interesting chart from a recent Pew Survey right at the bottom of the page and these are the last four elections involving incumbents, and as you can see 2012 with 23 percent of swing voters is shaping up to be more like 2004 than either 1996 or 1992 and what that tells me is that the focus is going to be at least as much on mobilization of the faithful as in persuasion of the persuadables. Having said that, persuadables are still important and two important facts about the election this year is that both candidates are weaker with the more centrists portions of their respective coalitions than they are with the basis of those respective coalitions. Mitt Romney’s problem right now is not, repeat not, with conservatives. It’s with Republicans who call themselves moderates and even liberals which still amounts to about 30 percent of the self-reported Republicans. And Obama’s problems, likewise, are not with the Nancy Pelosi wing of the Democratic party but rather with the Steny Hoyer wing of the Democratic party.
The other thing that jumps out at me is that Obama is significantly weaker among independents at least so far this year than he was in 2008. In 2008 he actually carried the independent vote 52 to 44. A Politico survey, the battleground survey, came out yesterday putting him behind Romney by 10 percentage points among independents; that’s not a good number. And it’s exactly the same number ABC/Washington Post survey came up with a couple of weeks ago. Independents disproportionately care about fiscal stabilization, the deficits, the debt and they are disproportionately worried about the Brooksian structural question about the future of the American economy. So if both campaigns are smart about the independent vote, you’ll be hearing more about those issues. I go through an electoral college analysis in this report, maybe in the interest of time I will suppress that, but I’ll be happy to do Q & A on that.
Here’s my bottom line for the Romney campaign. As has been the case for every single Republican candidate since the founding of the Republican Party, Ohio is a necessary condition of a Republican victory. It is a really striking fact that in the history of the Republican Party since 1856 no Republican has ever been elected President without carrying the State of Ohio, not one. By the way the last Democrat to do so was John Kennedy. So it’s the closest thing we have to a pivotal state. In Romney’s case it’s a necessary condition of victory, but hardly a sufficient condition and that’s the beginning of my Electoral College analysis and we can talk about that more but in the interest of time, I won’t.
And I end with some Rumsfeldian reflections on known unknowns; that is the extent to which this Presidential election, like every presidential election takes place within a framework of contingencies that candidates can to some extent enumerate but to no extent control. And so everything that I say right now or that any of you writes tomorrow about the election is always within a frame of assumptions about contingent events and it’s always important it seems to me to remain open to the possibility that everything we think we now know can be turned upside down by a truly cataclysmic event. I’ll give you an example and I just picked this up this morning. As you probably heard yesterday, Netanyahu declared an early election in Israel. I woke up this morning and he had cancelled those early elections and he had actually broadened his coalition by bringing in an opposition party. So he now and I haven’t had a chance to research this but if that’s correct, Netanyahu has created a national unity government which could, I underscore could, be a prelude to a significant military action. All right, I don’t know that but I think it is interesting that we now have one of the broadest based Israeli governments in history. That’s usually what countries do when they’re girding their loins for battle; that can be a game changer. I have no idea what the game will be after it’s changed but it could be a game changer, so stay tuned, it won’t be dull.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you, thank you Bill, thank you very much.
I have a list of ten people already and David, do you want to jump in first?
DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: That was one of the best presentations on politics I’ve ever heard in my life. I thought that was impressive. Well I have a lot of political questions, but I have one — everyone else will ask with the campaigns — about the first fifth of your presentation which was about the young and the souls of the young.
So it seems to me we have two trends in youth, the youth soul. One is moral individualism which you described, the second is community involvement and a lot of more collective communitarianism. How do those two things fit together? Is there a different relationship between self and society foreseeing in that generation?
DR. GALSTON: Well, how do you square the circle between individualism and communitarianism because my colleague, E.J. Dionne, as you know, David, is about to come out with a book on those two as the two fundamental tropes in American political culture from the beginning and up until the present day and I think you know where he wants to take the argument, that’s where he always wants to take the argument and I have a lot of sympathy for that argument. I’m a not completely defrocked communitarian myself.
Okay, but given this tension, how do you square the circle to the extent that you square the circle; it is with a concept of voluntary community. That is to say: as an individual, you choose the communities that you want to be a part of and you’re the father of at least one young adult, maybe more, so am I and this is really what I see. These are very social people; these are not Leibnitzian monads here. These are people who make more connections than I dreamed of making at that age, but they’re all chosen connections and that’s true of their community involvement as well. It’s the opposite of forming a community by being drafted in World War II. It’s the direct opposite of that kind of involuntary community where you then learn how to make the best of a situation that you didn’t choose to be in. These are young people defining their communities and their communal experiences.
And I see that as far as it goes and we don’t know how far it goes as a very artful way of taking these two impulses towards freedom and towards sociality and putting them together. Is that a deep x-ray of their souls? I don’t know. But it is interesting, isn’t it.
MR. BROOKS: Do you see Kony as an example of that?
DR. GALSTON: I’m sorry?
MR. BROOKS: Temporary enthusiasm of the Kony Phenomenon.
DR. GALSTON: Look, I mean, American culture has given to fads and enthusiasms.
MR. BROOKS: But that was a really young movement.
DR. GALSTON: Yes, I understand and clearly people can be attracted to movements at moments through information technology in a way that wasn’t previously possible.
MR. BROOKS: Are you talking about Facebook as an example?
DR. GALSTON: Well the specific example was the Joseph Kony Lord’s Resistance Army video but Facebook is an excellent of this sort of voluntary sociality. Now, having said that, let me now revise and amend my remarks because there is a classic form of unchosen community—involuntary community—that young adults have transformed into a voluntary community and that is a relationship with their parents. In my generation, and there are a few people around the table who know what I’m talking about, that was a fraught relationship. You didn’t choose your parents obviously and they didn’t choose you either. Both of those have changed to some extent. There’s more choice both ways now oddly. But you dealt with your parents, not necessarily because you chose to but because you had to and if you phoned them it wasn’t necessarily because you wanted to, but because you had to, et cetera.
What is enormously characteristic of this generation is the way that they’ve transformed this unchosen relationship into an affirmative and even voluntary relationship and I know I was stunned by how often my son called us from college. I would go weeks without being in touch with my parents when I was in college and that was not an accident, comrades. I had spent 18 years with them; I had had enough. But these young adults want to spend time with their parents, they want to get advice from their parents, they want to be friends with their parents. This is stunning. And it’s voluntary. For a baby boomer, this is just unthinkable, literally unthinkable.
UNKNOWN SPEAKER: Can I throw you some data on that?
DR. GALSTON: Please.
UNKNOWN SPEAKER: The 1974 Gallup asks 17 year olds “would you be better off running away from home?” and 40 percent said yes.
They asked the following question a few years ago, do you have an excellent or great relationship with your parents and 92 percent said yes. And I don’t believe they actually do have a great relationship but they want to have a great relationship.
DR. GALSTON: And many of them do, many of them do.
MR. BROOKS: That’s because we’re such great parents.
DR. GALSTON: Well to those who don’t ask much is given. Okay, moving right along…
MR. CROMARTIE: Kirsten you’re up, and then Mike Gerson and Paul Edwards.
KIRSTEN POWERS, Fox News: Yeah, that was fantastic, really interesting, I have so many questions, I’ll just follow up with you later on them. One that I’m just wondering about when you were talking about the white Catholics and how it’s affecting the vote I’m sure you know the White House and a lot of Democrats are making the argument that it’s going to be the unmarried women that make such a big difference because of the contraception issue. But it sounds like the downside of what they did may cancel that out. And I’m sort of wondering, how do you compare the effect on the white Catholics versus the unmarried women?
DR. GALSTON: Well the wrong way to do it is to look at the raw numbers. The right way to do it is to look at it through the prism of the Electoral College. And I think the Obama folks may be right as to the raw numbers but they may be picking up those votes in states that they’re already going to win. As I said provocatively but incompletely in my opening remarks, I think that Pennsylvania may turn out to be the single most interesting state in this year’s election. I say that and I think, let me refer you to the data here, on page 18 of the report I present in summary form the guts of a very interesting survey that the Quinnipiac folks did.
I know you didn’t hear of them until maybe a couple of years ago but that’s really good research, particularly on the key states. And they did a side by side of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania and its very revealing. And so on the one hand the basic structure of political attitudes in Pennsylvania is much more favorable to Obama than it is in Florida. I don’t think Obama is going to carry Florida, I really don’t, I don’t see how he does. And Ohio, as usual, is someplace in the middle.
Now the interesting question about Pennsylvania is whether the basic structure of the state will, to some extent, counteract this good attitudinal news. And here’s what I have in mind. If you drill down to Pennsylvania’s demographics you’ll find the following: Number 1, it is the state with one of the oldest populations in the country. I think it’s something like fifth or sixth. The median age of a Pennsylvanian is four full years higher than the median age of a Coloradoan, which is one of the states with the youngest population. So, that’s number one.
Number 2, there are hardly any Hispanics in Pennsylvania, about four percent of the population. And the African-American population in Pennsylvania is below the national average share of the population.
Number 3, Pennsylvanians aren’t from someplace else. Disproportionately, they tend to be born in Pennsylvania and live in Pennsylvania and die in Pennsylvania.
Number 4, you know James Carville famously quipped that Pennsylvania is Pittsburgh and Philadelphia surrounded by Alabama and there’s something to that, something to that in the sense that Pennsylvania between those two big cities is dominated by small towns, many of them old industrial towns or coal towns, disproportionately occupied by more downscale or working class Catholics who are not in the Obama sweet spot, let me put it that way. And I suspect that if you did a really fine-grade survey in Pennsylvania of the impact of the Affordable Care Act on them, you would find that a fair number of them have changed their minds.
Number 5, because Pennsylvanians are older and more traditional, they’re more married and less unmarried. So that the pool of unmarried women in a state to draw on in a state like Pennsylvania is considerably smaller than it is in its polar opposite and I’m using Colorado as sort of the paradigm of the polar opposite. That is the sweet spot state for the new Obama coalition. You know, you have lots of young adults, lots of unmarried people, huge percentage of Hispanics, you know one of the youngest populations in the country, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. If the country were like Colorado, it would be Obama’s forever, except for the Constitution.
MR. CROMARTIE: Mike Gerson.
MICHAEL GERSON, The Washington Post: I completely agree. Your presentation raised so many questions and I’ll just focus on two of them. One of the questions that I won’t focus on is how anyone can believe premarital sex is never wrong. Not that it’s right in some circumstances, but that’s a pretty extraordinary kind of question.
DR. GALSTON: You would think it would be set up to produce a very different answer from what you got, right?
MR. GERSON: That’s what I would think. You know, it’s a pretty extreme wording of the question, but 44 percent of young people think it’s never wrong.
UNKNOWN SPEAKER: I’m interested to see the gender breakdown.
MR. GERSON: Let me raise a few things though.
DR. GALSTON: You think it might be like 88 to 2, is that your conjecture?
MR. GERSON: You mentioned that homosexuality is turning out to be more like race than abortion, which I think is true. But why didn’t abortion turn out to be more like that set of issues? It also relates to the sexual revolution, it relates to a lot of other issues; is that just because it has a human rights element, so maybe it has been more durable because it’s a different form of moral argumentation? I’m just interested in why abortion has resisted that trend in many ways and even defied it.
The second one is, you talk a lot about the fact that Mormonism doesn’t make much difference in the GOP coalition, particularly when you have a Romney-Obama matchup and I think that’s true as well. But you also talked about a growing number of people more secular in orientation who are concerned about the role of religion in public life in a variety of ways. And is Mormonism a part of the problem for them? And are we going to see a backlash, a kind of a criticism of Mormonism not from you know, the conservative pastors of this world but kind of more serious and even bigger backlash from secularists in America in this conflict?
DR. GALSTON: Well, the second question I can answer. The first one I’m not sure I can because everybody in the room is as competent to opine on your first question as I am. But as to the second question, in the wake of the Proposition 8 debate in California which where the anti-gay marriage side was richly financed, I have heard, but there are people in this room who can correct me, by Mormons, there are a fair number of liberals in California and elsewhere who are beginning to make exactly the backlash argument that you attributed to them. So yes, that’s clear.
As a matter of fact, I saw a survey, although I can’t remember which one, that suggested that antipathy to Mormons was actually somewhat more pervasive in the Democratic party than it is in the Republican party for reasons that I believe are related to the gay marriage issue. But I don’t see any evidence that there are people who would have been for Romney but for that are being shifted in their views because the sorts of Democrats who are reacting negatively to the involvement of the Mormon church in the California debate are the sorts of Democrats who would have never voted for Romney anyway. So I see it as an intensifier but not a shifter of attitudes.
With regard to the first question—which is a great question and, as I said, everybody in this room is as competent to address it is as I am—I have to believe that abortion has proved so permanently divisive because it cannot be easily portrayed as pitting principle against atavistic prejudice. It’s more naturally parsed as pitting principle against principle, right? If you remember the famous triad, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, well what do you have? First of all, there isn’t any agreement about life. But then what happens if you have life on one side and liberty and the pursuit of happiness on the other? In other words, this is deep. This is deep and, more to the point, the question “is a slave a person?” has the same form as the question “is a fetus a person or is an embryo a person?” But the metaphysics of that debate are very different, aren’t they? Because the only argument on the negative side in the slave question is an argument from interest or prejudice. But the arguments on the negative side in the case of fetuses or embryos are much subtler—not necessarily rooted in interest or self-interest or prejudice but in genuine differences of moral and metaphysical and religious views.
As you may know, within Judaism, an embryo for the first 40 days is not considered to have any attributes of personhood whatsoever. I remember I went to Princeton at a meeting organized by Robbie George to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Father Neuhaus’ book, Naked Public Square, and I decided to make mischief by presenting not reformed Jewish views on the status of the fetus, but the point of view from the standpoint of Jewish Orthodoxy; Halachic point of view as defined by the most authoritative Rabbis in the Jewish Orthodox tradition. And there were gasps of disbelief and dismay in that room as I presented this. But it’s the truth. I presented it to Leon Kass and that Commission on Bioethics and Leon told me in all seriousness I must not have been talking to the right rabbis. Believe me; I was talking to the right rabbis. There is a big difference between Judaism and what Catholicism now says on that question, although it hasn’t always said the same thing as you know.
And so I think this helps explain why the abortion debate has taken on such a different trajectory over time. But those are just random off the top of the head reflections and I don’t have an easy answer to your question. But if you got the people in this room together for a week and we worked it through we might come up with a good answer.
MR. CROMARTIE: No, but I feel, you said early on that people in the room would have a better answer possibly. I don’t think so. I think we heard a pretty good answer there and it was just off the top of your head. I would love to know what it would be like if it wasn’t just off the top of your head.
DR. GALSTON: It might be worse.
MR. CROMARTIE: One of you said before we began this conference, one of you said that Bill Galston is the smartest Democrat in Washington who’s never been inside the Obama White House. And when I heard that, I’m thinking after this presentation, why? So maybe I can begin, before we go to Paul, Bill, can you tell us why?
DR. GALSTON: Have you been reading my columns?
UNKNOWN SPEAKER: He doesn’t tell them what they want to hear.
MR. CROMARTIE: Right, okay. Well, okay, Paul Edwards and then David.
PAUL EDWARDS, Deseret News: Bill, thanks for a wonderful presentation. I just have a quick bibliographic note and then a question. Thanks for bringing up the irony of this moment where Mormons are represented so well in the Republican Party given the interesting history with the Republicans. The transition, the reconstruction of Utah, I think is an under told story and it really was a reconstructionist model and probably the best historical account of this is a book by Thomas Alexander called, Mormonism in Transition, which chronicles the period from 1890 to about 1930 in the LDS Church and anyway it’s not a perfect book but it’s the best authoritative text on this transition. And I think is actually an important moment in Mormon history. I referred to this yesterday with the seating of Reed Smoot, but a period of important transition where there’s great normalization and reconciliation between sort of this communitarian ethic of the Mormons to a more individualistic ethic in 20th century politics.
The question I have is: Romney will obviously be pushing the case for why we don’t want to rehire the incumbent, but on the issue of whether Romney is an acceptable replacement, given your two-step analysis there, how tempting will it be for Obama or his surrogates to use the argument that Mormonism is bizarre or Mormonism is dangerous, Romney is a Mormon therefore unacceptable? How tempting of that is an argument within the campaign? And if it’s a serious temptation, how effective do you think that would be?
DR. GALSTON: I can’t believe they’d be that stupid. In other words, I think that a frontal attack on Mormonism would be a kamikaze move because it is bound to come across as narrow minded and bigoted and if they try to do it at arm’s length I don’t think anybody will believe that it’s not a coordinated effort. If I made a list of a hundred tactics to use, that would be at the bottom of the list. It’s sort of like having a cyanide capsule in a jail cell or something—when all else fails you bite.
MR. EDWARDS: Thank you.
MR. CROMARTIE: David Paul Kuhn and then Dan Harris.
DAVID PAUL KUHN, Real Clear Politics: So I sing your praise as well; you know I’m a fan.
DR. GALSTON: It’s not obligatory, by the way.
MR. KUHN: No, I need a little disclaimer before I enter into the criticisms. I think Bill knows this—I agree with all his analysis of the last ten years since I’ve been reading Mr. Galston, and I recommend people read the report he did with the Elaine Kamarck in the nineties about many of these issues, presaging many of these issues that Obama maybe didn’t pay attention to and thought he had overcome and came back hard in ‘09. Nonetheless, I’m a little bit skeptical of your view of Pennsylvania. I think that despite the old white demographic point, et cetera, I think Romney needs to watch his investment there and I would not think it’s not as inplay as you do. And if it is inplay and if you’re right and none of us know, and I can argue both case sides, then it remakes the whole map in that if Bill’s right and I’m wrong, the general premise that we all agree on is that, among the must-win states for Romney—which I was just talking to another colleague here about—Virginia, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, these are all states he can’t lose and win the presidency. But if you’re right, and Pennsylvania is in play, then the very strict and narrow path Romney has compared to Obama to get those 270 electoral votes is not nearly as narrow and he has some versatility. I’m not yet as far as you on that, but I do see where you’re coming from.
Moving on, I would say that I think you’re right. Listen, I agree with you about the Mormon factor. To be sure, I looked into this because I thought it was being exaggerated—there were several stories by eminent journalists who were arguing that it might be prohibitive, et cetera. I didn’t think it was and I agree with that. I do think though—and what I don’t see in the horse race numbers like you—I do think it might get baked into those favorable numbers a little bit to at least a degree that it isn’t being at all when everyone talks about Romney’s unfavorables. They talk about the rich man, the stiff man, the gas, et cetera, the effect of the Republican branding on him. I agree I think he picked those unfavorables both for the reason David raised yesterday—that his Mormonism has that 1950s point and the reticence to talk about his faith, et cetera. But I also found that when I looked in the data on this, when I cross-referenced the unfavorable view of Mormonism and favorable views of the candidates back in ‘08 in the Republican field, and there was a strong correlation if you had an unfavorable view of Mormons you had an unfavorable view of Romney. And those people that didn’t have an unfavorable view of Mormons within the Republican primary had a significantly more favorable view of Romney. So I think that it may be baked in these numbers; it’s intangible, ultimately. That’s the point; even if it’s baked into those numbers we’re not seeing the horse race. So it still comes back to your point. I do think there is something there, there’s something to it, but right now we don’t see it in a head to head and I think it’s for the reasons that you began your report with. This is an economy election and the antagonist is mighty in all campaigns, especially presidential campaigns, and the right is rallied against Obama, et cetera.
And, I’m not sure; I was a big skeptic of the impact of the media’s exaggeration of the contraception debate in the opposite way. Its impact on women’s support in the horse race. But I’m also not as sure as you that it’s had a significant impact on the white Catholic vote. I see it, but I know that like the Pew shift from their January polling was within their margin of error, I’m just not sure. I have the numbers, but regardless, there was a shift. And I will also note as you know and everyone here knows since it’s a specialty of this group, that you know, we also have to caveat that we should probably, we don’t have the data for it yet, but we have to separate church attending, weekly church attenders in that when we have enough data. I know you know this and you would agree because as you know, religious Catholics vote like religious Protestants and not like lapsed Catholics when it comes to presidential campaigns. So I’ll stop there, generally I agree with your entire take on the campaign itself.
DR. GALSTON: Well, proceeding in reverse order, the reason that I brought up the white Catholic shift which occurred not from January but from the beginning of March to the middle of April is that it’s well outside the margin of error and was a startling shift for such a short period of time. And look, believe me, I probably mutter in my sleep, “correlation is not causation,” but it is suggestive. It is suggestive that that shift occurred in tandem with the debate. I can’t prove anything.
MR. KUHN: Well let me just say this and I checked it because I wasn’t sure and I wasn’t comfortable. I don’t like debates either because it’s taking one poll that’s questionable in and of itself, but I did look at the Pew number in January over that break of white Catholics and Obama was winning—and the January horse race is so early—but Obama was winning 40 percent of white Catholics and Romney was at 53 percent with white Catholics in January before the debate begins. And in April 5th poll for Pew, it’s significant: 37 to 57, a shift from 40 to 37.
That said, I agree with your premise: it doesn’t help to have an issue that both captures the skepticism independents have of Democrats’ approach to government and also tribalizes Catholics by attacking their own.
DR. GALSTON: Mindful of the long list of people waiting to ask questions, I will take that up off line with you. But with regard to the Mormon factor, yes, I think there’s something there and it’s intangible, but it’s also the case you that you don’t have to be a Mormon to be too rich and stiff. And so I don’t know how to disaggregate the variables—to put it in social science jargon—and I think Romney would have a Romney problem, whatever his faith. And, by the way, I’m not convinced that this is the kind of election where the kind of problem that Romney has is going to be dispositive, that’s a different point.
With regard to Pennsylvania, I’m speculating here; I’m pushing the envelope.
MR. KUHN: Right.
DR. GALSTON: When I first looked at the Quinnipiac data and put Pennsylvania side by side with Ohio and Florida, the first draft of this report was very different. And then I began thinking a little bit, “is there a possibility that the conventional wisdom about Pennsylvania could be disrupted by the events that we’ve been talking about?” So then I looked at the demographics and I tried to construct the opposite case, which I put on the table. And I think, frankly, if it comes down to a choice between your thesis and my thesis, I think you’re more likely to be right than I am, but the fact that there’s any significant probability that I could be right is significant.
MR. KUHN: I agree with that.
DR. GALSTON: Okay.
MR. CROMARTIE: Excellent. Dan Harris is up next, and then Tom and then Michelle and Sally and Claire.
DAN HARRIS, ABC News: There will be no map in my questions.
DR. GALSTON: I don’t promise there will be none in my answers.
MR. HARRIS: That’s fine. I apologize if this is either repetitive or obtuse but I wonder if I could just get you to put a fine point on what you think the biggest faith related stories are in this election. Is it the white Catholics in Pennsylvania? Is it the fact that liberals are more likely to dislike Mormons? For those of us who cover religion or are covering this election, what are the directions we should go in?
And second question, what is it about the Jews and, I guess I should say, us Jews, that makes us more likely to argue against “interest,” to use your term?
DR. GALSTON: How much time do you have? Oh Lord. As to the second question, there was a British couplet from the interwar period that went as follows: “How odd of God to choose the Jews.” And they’re on to something, right? And accounting for the peculiarities of my tribe, I mean, our tribe, I don’t know except that if you look at the Torah and the various commandments that are laid out, the most frequent tag law line, the sort of the nail is, “do this because you remember you were slaves in Egypt.” And that idea of having been defined by disadvantage for so much of history, and oppression, murder, and injustice, and being confined within a community that so restricted the ability of the human beings within that community to be part of the larger community and to fulfill aspirations that might go beyond the narrow confined community, that’s so deep. It’s going to take more than two generations of prosperity in America to expunge that cultural legacy. It’s not clear to me that anything can, frankly. It’s part of the DNA. That’s a description, not an explanation.
But on the other hand, if anybody had predicted, looking at the map of the Middle East 2,000 years ago, that this particular beleaguered tribe would survive in recognizable form when hundreds of others vanished from the face of the earth, well it’s almost enough to make you believe in God, huh?
MR. HARRIS: Just very briefly, I mean, I think there’s also another narrative which is that there are many metrics along which we evaluate ourselves and along which we evaluate our interests. So it could for example be a form of signaling. If there’s a community that invests heavily, for example, in human and cultural capital, then protecting that prestige via signaling could have some value. So it could be, for example, when you look at actually discourse around taxes on the center left, its changed so that steadily its gone from Walter Mondale saying everyone’s taxes should go up to saying that taxes on the top two percent of households should go up, et cetera. So then you have a large number of upper middle income people who don’t necessarily feel as though their taxes will necessarily go up by their advocating policies like the Buffett Rule that target, say 20,000 households in the United States. So I think that it’s a more complicated dynamic. Certainly there is an argument against interest dimension to it. But there’s almost a dimension of, if you’re pursuing competition not along purely position or income lines, it’s also that well, “people like us are people who are thoughtful people who identify with someone like President Obama, then there are these dangerous hedge funders who made their gains through some other means or something along those lines.” So I think that it’s a little bit more complicated in terms of what value you are deriving from the different kinds of signals. While there are certainly people who are saying “I’m literally going to raise my taxes this way,” another strategy is that, “well I want to live in a world in which the qualities that I want to cultivate are privileged and celebrated rather than, for example, mere accumulation.”
DR. GALSTON: Well look, I think you’re right about that and I can pile complexity upon complexity here because political scientists have this conception of what’s called Sociotrophic voting, which means that people are moved by the “how are we doing?” question as much as they are by the “how am I doing question?” And so there is a collective dimension to the evaluation of interest and I obviously put it too narrowly and somewhat cynically, but I got everybody’s attention, didn’t I? But you’re absolutely right.
But back to your first question. I am hard pressed to tell you how to do your business, let me stipulate that. But one way of answering your question is to say, whose behavior in this election could make the difference between victory and defeat for the two candidates?
MR. HARRIS: And will they be doing it for faith reasons?
DR. GALSTON: And will they be doing it for faith reasons and so I’ve picked out—and by the way there are white Catholics in a lot of states other than Pennsylvania—and I’ve picked them out because I think in these particular circumstances they are the swingiest, religiously demarcated group that I can think of.
MR. CROMARTIE: Swingers is a new term.
DR. GALSTON: Yes, I expected when I looked at the Jewish vote for example, to see a significant shift. It may be that Obama will end up with a somewhat smaller share of the Jewish vote this time than he did last time, but his Jewish vote support was sky high the first time. I mean, he’s going to end up with lower support, I think in lots of groups and I don’t think Jews—
REIHAN SALAM, The Daily: Not in and around New York City interestingly. Obama fared quite poorly in 2008 and that’s part of why the Bob Turner flipped. So it’s certainly true that this is broadly true but if you look at the Russian Jews, and a few other discreet—
MR. HARRIS: I know that, but that’s less than 10 to 15 percent—
MR. SALAM: Of them.
MR. HARRIS: Sure, but I mean it was visible.
MR. SALAM: Well of course.
DR. GALSTON: But the only point I’m making, Reihan, is that relative to the 2008 baseline—well the 2008 baseline was variegated. We all know that a) the Orthodox are the last remaining serious American political machine; and b) that a lot of the Rabbis are telling rank and file to vote Republican, and they are; you’re right about that. So I would follow the swing religious voters and for the reasons I stated earlier, although I think there is spreading antipathy to Mormons among liberals, I don’t expect it to make any political difference. But the perplexity of white Catholics who believe strongly in universal healthcare as part of the social justice tradition, but who are now being brought face to face with some of the legal and regulatory consequences of that commitment within this particular circumstance, they’re cross-pressured, that’s the point I’m making and that’s what makes them so interesting right now.
MR. CROMARTIE: I’m going to jump in the queue now. Do you think the Administration knew what they were getting into with the HHS; do you have some inside information?
DR. GALSTON: I have no inside information except enough to know that if they didn’t know they should have known because they were told. And I know some of the people who told them, right. And so I think, my own personal view is that it’s part of a longer narrative where HHS had made some decisions earlier that had very much troubled and even outraged the liberal activist community. And I think the White House felt that they couldn’t afford to do it again and so they decided to tilt this one strongly in the other direction and it blew up in their faces.
MR. CROMARTIE: Which they did not anticipate at all?
DR. GALSTON: At the very least I don’t think they anticipated the extent of the furor that it aroused. I can’t believe that they were so naïve as to believe that it would pass unnoticed.
MR. CROMARTIE: Right, right. Michelle Cottle and then Sally.
MICHELLE COTTLE, Newsweek/Daily Beast: So one of the central narratives of the primary was that Romney had trouble with the base and he needed to reach out to conservatives and he was going to be fine with moderates. But now you’ve turned that on its head so where is that going to leave him when it comes time to say, pick a running mate. Does he still need to worry about the base more or does he need to worry about shrinking that daylight you talked about so that he gets more identified with say Paul Ryan or some other unacceptable Republican figure?
DR. GALSTON: Well the selection of the running mate is going to be inflected by lots of considerations and I think consideration number one will be not taking any chance of having a repeat of 2008, right. So that’s going to be number one, don’t do what John McCain did and don’t take any chance, you know, that that would happen. And therefore, I think he is going to be very, very cautious about picking someone who is seen as perhaps too young, perhaps untested or not tested enough on the national stage. And so I would expect him to try to find someone who is a) safe; b) who can help him govern; c) who will pass the “if anything happens to me can he step into the Oval Office” test; d) as broadly acceptable within the party as possible; and e) if he or she can be helpful in a state that matters, even marginally so much the better.
And so that is the long and winding road that leads me straight to the most conventional choice which is someone like a Rob Portman, right. And I think Romney, for all of the foregoing reasons, is much more likely to go in that direction than to a Rubio or a Jindal or a Kelly Ayotte and certainly not the Governor of New Jersey who has a capacious soul but it is not the soul of a vice president, I think we would all agree.
MS. COTTLE: Just quickly, you said, is there any kind of quirky reason that the moderates have more of a problem or is it just more of an issue of the conservatives hate Obama more?
DR. GALSTON: Well, no, no, no, no. Campaigns have consequences, right. And that’s true for primaries and it’s also true for general elections.
MS. COTTLE: Oh so it is a result of the primaries?
DR. GALSTON: I think that moderates in the Republican party thought that Romney was one of them and, especially after what he did on immigration, they’re not so sure anymore, and they haven’t exactly felt welcomed in their own party for quite some time and the fact that someone who they expected to be welcoming turned out to be at the very least unscrupulous in pursuit of the base—I think that’s fair to say, right, that the effect of the Romney campaign during the primary was that he would do whatever he had to do and say whatever he had to say to make sure that nobody could get to his right on any issue that was hot with the base. And if there’s an exception to that, a significant exception to that, I can’t think of it, but there are people around the table who probably can. But I think that&srquo;s the message that a lot of moderates in the Republican party got.
MS. COTTLE: So he needs to shake the Etch-a-Sketch hard?
DR. GALSTON: Well I’m not saying that, but he does, in my judgment and I say this as an old unrepentant Clintonian, I think he needs one moment where he tells the movement conservatives in his own party you can push me this far but no farther. And whether the speech at Liberty University is the place to do it, I don’t know. But he needs to do it once in a big way and I think that if he’s smart he’ll be able to do it in a way that maximizes the gain and minimizes the cost.
But finesse is not his long strong suit. He’s not a rheostat, he’s more like a switch with two buttons, two settings off and on and that’s complicated for a politician.
MR. CROMARTIE: Sally, you’re next, but if he’s smart, maybe he’ll have you write that speech for him, Bill.
DR. GALSTON: Yeah, well, don’t hold your breath.
MR. CROMARTIE: And then Rich Mouw.
SALLY QUINN, The Washington Post: Obviously I’m always interested in the role that religion plays in campaigns and particularly this campaign. What interests me with this chart here is that you have abortion, birth control and gay marriage down at the very bottom and yet those issues seem to dominate the primaries and actually force Romney to go to the right. Now, this was clearly it was an area to the media and it was great for “On Faith” because our traffic just skyrocketed. Now those issues I suspect are probably not going to be as relevant in the next phase of the campaign but the question is, how important is religion going to be as an issue in this next phase until the election because you still have the Mormon issue and as we have seen 25 percent of the people are suspicious of Mormons.
But then you also have the Obama issue, is he a Christian or is he not a Christian; is he a Muslim and you know the Romney people aren’t going to go at that and as you say the Obama people would be stupid to go after Romney about the Mormons. But there are surrogates who will make little comments. But what does Obama have to do? I know that the Obama people are planning a religion speech and certainly in the last year every word out of his mouth at any prayer breakfast or meeting has been, “Jesus Christ is my personal savior,” even at the lighting of the Christmas tree. So he is clearly aware that that is going to be a major issue and that the idea that people think he’s a Muslim, you can also translate that as he’s black and it’s hard to sort of define the people who think he’s a Muslim and the people who say that because he’s black. So how much of that is racist?
But where does Obama—what direction should he go in? Should he give a speech about, “I’m not a Muslim; Jesus is my personal savior,” and how much do you think religion is going to be an issue in this campaign, although on a much more subtle level?
DR. GALSTON: Look, politics has this in common with faith that it’s often the evidence of things unseen and so I can’t speak to the subterranean currents through which political passions and predilections are going to run in this election.
If Obama is going to give a religion speech, I’m sort of scratching my head as to what its content would be. And it would have to be crafted very carefully so as not to sound defensive and it would be heard and viewed through an intensely political template. I’m not sure that’s a smart idea. If I’d been giving Obama advice in the White House, I would have said, it doesn’t matter what you say, show up at church three or four times a month and make sure that people see that you’re going to church, right. And it’s almost like the famous Eisenhower quotation that, religion is the foundation of the United States and I don’t care which one. And I don’t have the quote firmly in mind but the end of it is pretty close to, I don’t care which one. And I think within a broad range of protestant churches that Obama and Michelle and the kids could have shown up at any one and could even have rotated, right. They didn’t have to be at just one. But there haven’t been a lot of shots of Obama going to church, although more I suspect than shots of Reagan going to church, but he didn’t have anything to prove.
And so I think that, if I may be permitted a political comment, I think that one of the misconceptions of this White House is the mistaken belief in the magic elixir of presidential speech making and I think I know where that comes from. And it works until it doesn’t and it works a lot better when you’re trying to get to be president than when you are for most purposes and especially now when the whole point of the theory of retrospective voting is that you’re no longer painting on a blank canvas. If I were the White House, I would think twice and then again about delivering a major religion speech. I’m not sure what the point is.
But now as to the broader question, how will religion figure in this campaign; I do expect and this is a second answer, a second piece of my answer to Dan, I do think that the interesting issue that’s been put on the table is the issue as to the dimensions of religious liberty. And there’s a lot of activity around that question. And how does religious liberty fit into the proliferation of the modern welfare state, all right. That’s a big deal. And you know there’s that collision between those two tectonic plates on an ongoing basis in a range of circumstances and so I note with interest the number of conferences on religious liberty and its limits that I’ve been invited to in the past four months and I don’t see the pace diminishing. I think that is the thematic issue of this campaign involving religion, the limits of religious liberty if any.
MS. QUINN: Can I just follow up. I mean, the thing is that Obama is going to in the interviews that he gives, he’s going to be asked about his religion, you know, why do people say you’re a Muslim, are you really a Christian, somebody is going to ask him that. And would it not be better for him to head that off by making a speech as you say about the issues of the dimensions of religious liberty.
DR. GALSTON: Well it might be except that he’d have to think that through carefully too because the Administration is on the defensive on question of religious liberty now.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay, Richard Mouw.
DR. RICHARD MOUW, Fuller Theological Seminary: Just a quick follow up on that and another question. But those of us in faith-based higher education worry a lot these days about the fact and I think it is a fact that the Obama Administration hasn’t been able to do much by way of governing so they’re doing a lot by way of regulation.
DR. GALSTON: Correct.
DR. MOUW: In the Department of Education, for example, it’s been more active in recent years in terms of accrediting standards and reacting against for-profit universities and that kind of thing. And so one of the concerns that many in the evangelical and Catholic world, and I’m thinking of the more Christendom college and Ava Maria and the like, one of the things we’re most concerned about is not so much that this administration would support same sex marriage, but that it would impose regulations about nondiscrimination on that particular point tied to say, federal loans, where many of us are very dependent on income, tuition income tied to federal loans and the like. I just want to say that’s an issue that is very active in my part of the world and that is the regulating activity of the Obama Administration; what does that mean for our liberties, not so much in terms of what’s going to happen in the larger culture wars kind of thing?
But my question is a very different question and that is, your very important point about whether this will turn out to be a referendum on the previous term or a choice about the kind of leadership that we want the next time around and you used the word stability, a stable leader for the next time around. About the stability factor and the trustworthiness factor, Romney has the Etch-A-Sketch problem and I’m wondering how important that is. I mean, if he maintains or stabilizes toward the center when he’s been posturing toward the right, how will that affect perceptions of him both on the right and the left and the middle in terms of the Etch-A-Sketch problem.
And at the same time, a lot of people who voted for Obama the last time around are saying that the Obama today isn’t the one we voted for and that has to do with a lot of issues including the use of military power and all the rest where many on the left are concerned about him as well. So, what about the stability factor in all of this? Will that be an issue given the fact that both candidates could be subject to critiques along the lines of stability and trustworthiness?
DR. GALSTON: Well first of all, I took note of your first point because that is an example of what I was talking about in my answer to Sally and that is that the relationship between the legal and regulatory power of the federal government in the 21st century and what is regarded as religious liberty or freedom of association issues and the two are intertwined when you’re talking about institutions in the voluntary sector, that is going to be a constant flash point and it can be managed. And I do note with interest though that the Supreme Court has weighed in in a very important way with the Hosanna-Tabor decision which is, I think, a hugely significant religious liberty decision. And the fact that is was 9-0—how often does that kind of decision on that kind of issue get handled 9-0? That tells me that the courts are prepared to step in and protect educational institutions if it appears the federal government is trying to go too far.
Now, with regard to the second issue, I agree with you and the Romney campaign, I think, has been unusually alert and insightful on picking up on this point because a lot of the representatives of the campaign on television shows and some of the early advertisements have talked not so much about anger but about disappointment. He’s a very nice guy but he’s not the person we thought we were electing. He promised to bring us together and it hasn’t worked out that way. And so this tone—more in sorrow than in anger—I think is a useful way of capturing that important part of the public mood. Because whether you look at the public in general or young adults, one of the dominant responses when they’re given options about how they feel about the Obama administration in general is disappointment. You have between 25 and 30 percent of the American people saying in one way or another in response to questions like that, we’re not angry at him and we don’t think he’s been a failure exactly, but we’re disappointed and given how unhappy Americans are about the degree of political polarization, this huge promissory note that Barack Obama began issuing in 2004 when he first burst onto the national scene has not been redeemed and people are aware of that and that’s a problem for him.
On the other hand, Romney is in danger of coming across as a man without a core and that makes people very uncomfortable. He’s in a position unlike the President where he can define himself by what he says and what he does to some substantial extent. If I were giving advice to the Romney campaign I would tell them that the American people will vote for a variety of perspectives, but they will not vote for someone who seems to have no core and no principles at all. That’s a big problem for him and he ought to address that. And I think he can define who he is as a human being, he can talk more about his personal history, he can talk a lot more about his core convictions, he can talk a lot more about the way his experience has influenced his core convictions and how it influences his presidency but he’s got to do something, I agree with you.
MR. CROMARTIE: Claire, you’re next. And then after Claire, Byron York and then Grant and Tim.
CLAIRE BRINBERG, ABC News: Thank you. I just wanted to get your take on the sort of underlying issues between these sort of parallel kerfuffles we’ve seen in the campaign trail recently. You have Sandra Fluke and Rush Limbaugh with the Obama campaign really seeing an opportunity there and then you have Ann Romney and Hilary Rosen with the Romney campaign really kind of seizing the moment with that too. I’m wondering whether any of those underlying issues are penetrating with women and whether you think those kinds of lines of discussion have any staying power and salience for the campaigns.
And then a quick second question. I wanted to know the reason Joe Biden comments on gay marriage. Do you see that as a real problem for the Administration or is this a more a smaller conversation without much of a longstanding political impact for them?
DR. GALSTON: As to the second question, I do think it poses a problem for the Administration which is not trivial. Because—
MR. CROMARTIE: Remind us what Joe Biden said.
MS. BRINBERG: That Joe Biden basically endorsed gay marriage on Meet the Press and the Administration has been furiously scrambling to say that that’s not what he did and—
DR. GALSTON: And then of course Arne Duncan went on “Morning Joe” and did the same thing and when he was asked why he did it, he said well nobody had ever asked me that question before but I wasn’t going to lie.
MS. BRINBERG: Now that we’ve got the evolving position—
DR. GALSTON: Right and I’ve been monitoring this one closely and the word evolving has become a laugh line, right. And but it’s also, it’s endangering of morphing into a character issue because if you looked at the White House briefing yesterday what you saw was reporters every conceivable way saying to Jay Carney, “come on, everybody in this room thinks he’s heart and soul for gay marriage but doesn’t have the guts to say so” and so the debate among the reporters, is this just about North Carolina or is it about North Carolina and also Virginia, right? And seriously, and if there’s anybody in the room who disagrees with this characterization of the state of the press discourse, please speak up now but that’s what I’m hearing and so the emerging story line is that he’s palming the ace, he’s being too clever by half, he doesn’t have the courage of his own convictions and I think that’s not a great story. Even though I understand I think why he’s doing it and if I were in one of those tactical meetings I might be betwixt and between on the immediate tactical advice.
ROSS DOUTHAT, The New York Times: What immediate tactical advice would you give on the question?
DR. GALSTON: As I said, I view this as a very difficult tactical question and I said, I don’t know, and that’s my answer and I’m sticking to it. But it’s a tough one. And I think—
MR. CROMARTIE: Maybe we’ll do a session on it—
DR. GALSTON: Well now with regard to your first question—
MR. CROMARTIE: —and force you to give an answer.
DR. GALSTON: I don’t see a clear answer but clearly the war on women has been succeeded by the war over the war on women and it will become more and more meta and meta meta. I think that everybody would agree that Limbaugh’s attack was not helpful to the Republican cause, everybody would agree with at least equal fervor that what Hilary Rosen said was not helpful, I mean it was sort of a tea and cookies moment on steroids and so look—on the other hand I view those as being much more tempests in a teapot because at the end of the day I think what’s really going to matter is what comes out of the President’s mouth and what comes out of Mitt Romney’s mouth and how the American people receive that.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay, although we did get to see a little bit more of Mitt Romney’s wife during that time, which a lot of people came away impressed apparently.
DR. GALSTON: Well and for good reason. She is everything he isn’t politically and I’m sure there are some Republicans who are wishing right now that she were the candidate. I mean she’s really a natural. I mean she’s really, really good because when she talks it sounds completely natural, human, spontaneous, warm, unforced and uncalculating.
UNKNOWN SPEAKER: How do you feel about that though?
MR. CROMARTIE: Sounds like a good book blurb. Byron York, you’re next and then Professor Wacker and Tim.
BYRON YORK, Washington Examiner: Could you talk a little bit about race and voting this time around; do you expect black turnout to be at the level it was in ‘08 and the percentage of the black vote to be the level it was for Obama and in any event, what does this mean about the amount of the white vote that Obama can lose and still get re-elected?
DR. GALSTON: My best guess is that the only part of the Obama coalition that will be as organized and enthusiastic this year as it was in 2008 is the African-American piece of that coalition. I do expect turnout among African-Americans to be about where it was. I expect Obama’s share of the African-American vote to be about 95 percent.
But he has lost ground among whites and he is now as every survey indicates, he’s in the danger zone. And one of the big takeaways or one of the big intended takeaways from my report is just that, he’s in the danger zone. He’s in the danger zone if you look at the basic underlying economic variables. He’s in the danger zone if you look at job approval. He’s in the danger zone if you look at his standing on the issues that matter most to the American people as opposed to his overwhelming lead on issues that don’t matter to them very much at all and he’s certainly in the danger zone. He can get away with 41 or 42 percent of the white vote. He cannot get away with—
UNKNOWN SPEAKER: He got 43 in ‘08, was that right; 44 or something?
MR. YORK: It’s 43.
DR. GALSTON: Yeah, but I don’t think that he can get white support under 40 percent and hope to prevail. And one of the problems that he has is a leftover from 2008 and it’s been much written about but I think it’s true. And that is that there is this, what I’ll call unreconstructed zone, let’s call it greater Appalachia (Walter Russell Mead calls them Jacksonians) who didn’t like him during the 2008 primary with Hillary Clinton, who did not support him in the general election. If you look at Ohio, southern Ohio, there are all sorts of counties in southern Ohio that had gone Democratic since 1960 that turned around and I think those problems have intensified somewhat. And I think it’s a complicated phenomenon and simply calling it racism would be too simple but there’s a racial element to it in that portion of the population and so yeah, it’s a problem.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay, Grant Wacker and then Tim Dalrymple.
DR. GRANT WACKER, Duke University: Well just spinning off of your last comment before I get to my question, living in the South, the old South, I know a lot of Democrats who still pray Republican and—
UNKNOWN SPEAKER: Who still what?
DR. WACKER: Who pray Republican; they’re Democrats, registered Democrats, but they pray Republican—I mean they have those mixed feelings. But my question really, Bill, is twofold. It’s one question with maybe two parts. The first is whether you have a sense on the Muslim vote and related to that is what for lack of a better term we’d call immigrant Christians; Koreans, Chinese and Africans. The overall numbers are not great, I don’t think they’re going to swing any election but still for those of us who study American Religion, I’m wondering if you have a sense on how they’re likely to go because on one hand, they’re minority, on the other hand, they tend to be conservative and evangelical.
DR. GALSTON: Well one part of your question is easy.
DR. WACKER: Okay.
DR. GALSTON: That is, I think the Muslim vote will go very strongly for the President. That’s one of about 20 reasons why I think the Romney campaign will be stupid to spend a lot of money in Michigan. With regard to the others, my knowledge set is probably inadequate to the answer but I do know that if you look at immigrant Latinos it makes a big difference whether they’re Catholic or evangelical. Evangelical Latinos are much more inclined to vote Republican than Catholic Latinos are and my best guess is that if you looked at the Asian communities, the particular denominational history and experience would turn out to be quite important. And beyond that, I’d be inventing an answer and I don’t believe in doing that.
MR. CROMARTIE: Tim, you’re the last question of the entire conference. No pressure.
TIMOTHY DALRYMPLE, Patheos.com: Great, before we all wrap up our silver Mac laptops and head back, I greatly enjoyed the presentation. I want to know if you underestimate the importance of some of the social issues. While I personally would agree that the gravest threats, the most important issues right now do have to deal with kind of economic issues broadly speaking and then next I would put foreign policy issues. Nonetheless the social issues have a profound effect on the way in which I vote and I can say within my own family my mother and sister would love to vote Democrat, they agree with Democrats on so many other issues, but can’t get past the abortion issue and kind of the disappearance of pro-life Democrats from the national scene has been difficult for them and I think for a lot of folks.
If I understand it correctly and prior to the 2008 election there was a lot of talk about young evangelicals supporting Obama in greater numbers. From what I understand of the post-vote analysis, a lot of those evangelicals ultimately ended up backing off of Obama partly because of the abortion issue and that’s according to the Barna survey and they’re not my favorite source of data. So I just wonder if you think that you can respond to that and then is it the case that the Romney campaign might have any hope of appealing to say, Hispanic Catholics on social issues as a way of peeling off some of their support for the Obama campaign?
DR. GALSTON: Well first of all I must say I had not noticed until you pointed it out, but this revealed preference of laptops is really quite stunning. As a matter of fact we have one outlier, but aside from that, it’s really quite amazing and makes me think about my own choices in a different brand.
With regard to the broader question, please don’t misunderstand me, I am distinguishing between the statics and the dynamics of the 2012 race and I began by saying, there is a basic structure to the relationship between American religion/social issues and the contemporary American party system. And that basic structure has not changed. And so I am sure that there are many, many people who stumble at the threshold of supporting a Democrat because of the abortion issue. My thesis is only that those, for the most part, are people who have stumbled at that same threshold for quite some time now. So it’s part of the statics, part of the baseline of the 2012 campaign. But if you look then at what’s moving, what is changing, that’s where the four items that I listed early in my talk, I think, are the heart of whatever change there may be. And I’d be the last person to denigrate the importance of moral and religious outlooks in shaping attitudes toward politics. I think they’re profound but the changes and the reflections that have created the contemporary party system have evolved and hardened over the past generation and we are now functioning within that framework that our elders have created, some of us very unhappily I might add. As a matter of fact, I suspect there are a lot of Americans, more than that, I know there are a lot of Americans who are unhappy about this hardening but it is what it is and I don’t expect this election to change it.
MR. CROMARTIE: And that’s why we asked you, Bill, to address this topic because we knew you’d be the best person to do it. Join me in thanking Dr. Galston.
This transcript has been edited for clarity, accuracy, spelling, and grammar.