Monday, August 14, 2006

Basic Differences in Democrat and Republican Views

Utah’s premier pollster, Dan Jones (who is a proud Democrat), gives a laundry list of reasons (here) that Utah leans so heavily Republican. He says that the Democrat desire to set some arbitrary date for leaving Iraq without a serious exit strategy “doesn’t work.” Jones suggests that Utahns in general are very solid supporters of a strong national defense policy.

Jones says that most Utahns haven’t been able to identify with a national level Democrat for a long time. He says that Utah Mormons “feel that Democrat policies are counter to church positions.” He suggests that Ronald Reagan’s immense popularity with Utahns still carries clout to this day. He also thinks President Bush’s two new Supreme Court justices are very popular with Utahns.

But it seems to me that Jones is merely whacking at the leaves of the matter rather going to the root. There is something that underlies everything that Jones discusses. I think that much of it is exposed in Michael Barone’s analysis of Senator Joe Lieberman’s (D-CT) primary election defeat. Barone essentially says that the vast majority Republicans believe in American exceptionalism—“the idea that this is a special and specially good country”—while Democrats increasingly do not.

Barone cites a 2004 poll that concluded that two-thirds of all voters believed strongly in American exceptionalism. But, when you look at how they voted, 80% of Bush voters were strong on this point, while only slightly over 50% of Kerry voters supported it. Joe Lieberman is an unabashed believer in American exceptionalism, while many of his party’s voters believe in transnaitonalism—the concept that “our country is no better than any other, and in many ways it's a whole lot worse.” Barone suggests that this sentiment goes far deeper than the war in Iraq.

One of Barone’s greatest strengths is his ability to connect the dots and understand the importance of demographic data. He says that the data show a marked shift in the Democratic Party over the past four decades, “from the lunch-bucket working class” to the “professional class … living a life in which they are insulated from adversity, [and so] feel free to imagine that America cannot be threatened by implacable enemies.” Barone shows how Lieberman was supported by the same kind of people that supported John F. Kennedy, while his opponent was supported by the same kind of people that supported Richard Nixon.

While Utah has lots of Mormons, state demography is shifting so that a steadily decreasing percentage of the populace is Mormon. Still, Mormons make up the largest single voting bloc in the state. While there is diversity in Mormon voting patterns, it is important to note that Mormon theology (even scripture and statements by leaders) is supportive of American exceptionalism.

However, Mormons weren’t always supportive of the United States. When they first came to the Salt Lake Valley, they thought they were leaving behind the U.S. and the persecutions they had endured under democratic governments. Then Mormons had a six-decade-long dispute with the rest of the U.S. over the practice of polygamy and religious control of public life. Once again, they felt oppressed by a democratic government.

Over the last century, through two world wars and a Cold War, Mormons in the U.S. became generally very patriotic and supportive of the American experiment. It would appear that this sentiment runs very strong among Utah Mormons, and it would be interesting to see the results for Utah of the 2004 poll cited by Barone to see if my supposition is valid.

Jones notes that Utahns were not always strongly Republican. The pendulum has swung back and forth. At times the parties have been somewhat evenly split. In the 1930s Utah became solidly Democratic. But, as Barone notes, back in those days, both parties were very strong supporters of American exceptionalism. Barone clearly believes that the two parties are increasingly being defined by their stance on this one issue.

While Barone notes a shift away from American exceptionalism among Democrats, what he fails to make clear is how the general populace is moving on this issue. For my part, I would be interested to know how the general Utah populace is moving on it. This dynamic will apparently have a lot to say about who wins and loses elections and which stances the Republican Party takes in the years to come.


Scott Hinrichs said...

Wow, it surely took serious dedication to type such a long and rambling message, especially given its multiple redundancies. It certainly took serious dedication for me to read it. Let no one say that Netroots folks aren't passionate.

Michael Barone discussed the emergence of the blogosphere as a significant political power here. He has a somewhat different take on what the blogosphere means for politics. He says, "The left blogosphere has moved the Democrats off to the left, and the right blogosphere has undermined the credibility of the Republicans' adversaries in Old Media. Both changes help Bush and the Republicans."

The cyberspace crowd certainly are the new kids on the block in politics, but their impact is debatable. It all comes down to the abilities to raise funds and to get out votes. Right now, much of this depends on people that are passionate about it. But there is a logical limit to the number of people that can maintain passion about political issues. The number of political blogs peaked over 18 months ago, as did overall readership of political blogs. As the cyberspace medium matures, look for much of its political side to be subsumed into more traditional business-type models, causing it to lose some of its vibrancy.

The blogosphere has newfound political power, and that is causing some headiness in certain circles. But this passionate crowd overestimates its ability to appeal to broader America. Their passion pulls the political parties further away from the moderate center, where significant numbers of votes reside.

Perhaps this will lead to near permanent obstruction and deadlock in national politics. Some would be happy with that, as they think Congress is generally messing up whenever it acts. Perhaps it will give voters a more stark choice. Some would be happy with that. But that could also lead to opportunities for new parties to gain power. Whatever impact this new dynamic has, it will be interesting to see its effect.

JD Hayes said...

Although not a Utahan by birth, I have noticed that there is almost a rebellous vote in Utah: do the opposite of whatever the Mormons might do.

Mormon's who know their Church history and understand the Book of Mormon and D&D, know that this is indeed a promised land. But we also know that unrighteousness can lead to captivity.

Anonymous said...

I encourage you to read "A City on a Hill" by Michael Signer at

In it he argues that we need to replace exceptionalism with exemplarism. This progressive moral concept is something that I think Utahns could support.

Here are some excerpts:

We see a messianic strain of exceptionalism powerfully realized in the presidency of George W. Bush. His constant, post—September 11 injunction that the United States should democratize the world at gunpoint posits an America not only above, but apart from, the world. His exceptionalism frames the United States as an exception to the world, rather than as an exceptional–meaning excellent–nation within it. This ideology of separateness undermines our ability to translate our uniqueness into global leadership.

Nowhere has the vulgar exceptionalism of the Bush Administration been more devastating than on world public opinion about the United States. In his latest book, Überpower, German journalist Josef Joffe notes an emergent anti-Americanism in the world that bears striking and unsettling similarities to anti-Semitism, including thinking the United States is at the head of a great conspiracy, responsible for all the evil in the world.

States still matter–and among them, prestige and leadership still have weight, especially now that most of the world lives in democracies. But it is no longer only states that are important–the opinions and actions of their citizens matter as well.

Today, it is simply impossible for any country, even one as powerful as the United States, to ignore or neglect its interconnections with other nations, not because we want to win a global "popularity contest," as the President said in Coral Gables, nor because we need the world’s permission to act, as he implied Kerry believed. Rather, because today’s economic, information, political, and cultural networks are so inextricably intertwined, the threats we face–endemic poverty, epidemic disease, environmental destruction, or global terrorism–demand both multilateral solutions as well as solutions that require the enthusiastic and energetic participation of billions of ordinary people around the globe.

As the world’s superpower, we must fully engage in the world, actively leading and shaping it, if we are to improve it. And we must do so in a way that recognizes the interdependence of the current age.

Think of the quarterback of a football team. More celebrated than his teammates, he leads by his own example of excellence in the sport and is rewarded with the willing followership of his teammates. They follow, but they are woven with him into the fabric of the team. He cannot win without them, and he must constantly earn their help through admiration and respect, rather than awe and fear. When he succeeds, he collects more garlands (admiration, money, authority) than they do. He leads by example, but it’s the team that wins the game, not the quarterback. And he grows stronger, through the collective success of others.

The United States is still the "quarterback" of the global community–or, in the words of Bill Clinton, the "indispensable nation"–and it is in the American interest to remain in that position.

Ronald Reagan’s expression of America’s exceptionalizm is borrowed from John Winthrop’s "City Upon a Hill" speech, delivered in 1630 aboard the Arabella as it made its way from England to Massachusetts. A closer reading of Winthrop, however, shows that he believed the esteem of other nations is crucial. Winthrop also said in that speech:

If we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and byword through the world, we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God and all professors for God’s sake; we shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into Curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whether we are going.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Todd, Signer's commentary is interesting, but is seems to be merely fancy posturing for the position John Kerry defined in the 2004 presidential campaign as basically giving certain other countries veto power over any action America might take. While we do live in a global community, this is not a winning strategy. It reminds me of Aesop's fable about the man, the boy, and the donkey. You try to make everyone happy, and end up making no one happy. While we want to foster healthy alliances and be good global citizens, we ultimately must do what we believe to be in our country's best interest.

Coltakashi, some might disagree with the tone of your rhetoric, but you make some very strong points about why Utahns today vote overwhelmingly Republican.

It seems to me that for many people of faith, party choice comes down to three main points: social conservatism, fiscal conservatism, and national security.

The social conservatism of the GOP beats the secularism of the Democrats, as explained by Coltakashi. While many are turned off by the GOP's recent move away from fiscal conservatism, the fact is that the Democrats have much less legitimacy on this issue. The Democrats have demonstrated a poor track record on defense since the 60s. Many people of faith understand that their freedom to worship as they wish is only availble if our country can properly defend itself to ensure that right, so they are strong on national defense. While the GOP has its share of appeasers, and there have been some serious missteps in Iraq by the current administration, the GOP has a stronger track record on national defense.

So, I think that for many people of faith, the GOP beats the Democrats in all three of these important areas. The GOP doesn't align with all of these people's desires and beliefs, and in many ways it disappoints them, but it ranks higher on the issues that are most important to them.