Back in May, a lot of us Democratic bloggers took note, and heart, from the first in a series of tracking polls of all 50 Governors’ approval ratings by the polling outfit SurveyUSA.The latest SUSA tracking poll, as Chris Bowers of MyDD quickly noted, shows some significant changes, especially in the states affected directly and indirectly by Hurricane Katrina. Indeed, while Katrina has helped push George W. Bush’s approval ratings to their lowest levels ever, the disaster is helping several GOP governors.With the exception of Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana, virtually every Governor with a significant role in Katrina relief or recovery got a tangible bounce. In the following list, the first number is the governor’s approval/disapproval rating in the September 16-18 SUSA tracking, while the second (in parenthesis) is his ratio in the May poll.Haley Barbour (R-MS) 58/39 (37/55)Bob Riley (R-AL) 58/37 (36/52)Rick Perry (R-TX) 49/45 (38/48)Mike Huckabee (R-AR) 58/38 (51/41)Sonny Perdue (R-GA) 61-34 (47/40)Perdue’s Georgia wasn’t hit directly by Katrina, but did suffer some storm and tornado damage; he got a lot of ink for immediately calling the legislature into a special session to approve a gasoline price gougingbill.One Democratic Governor benefitted from an “Ophelia effect:” NC’s Mike Easley, whose approval ratio improved from 52/34 to 64/30.The “Katrina effect” helps three incumbent Republican Governors up in 2008 who were and may still be in some political peril, Rick Perry, Sonny Perdue and especially Bob Riley. The latter faces a primary challenge from “Ten Commandments” Judge Roy Moore, and a potentially tough general election opponent in Lt. Governor Lucy Baxley. (Riley got some more good news today when his predecessor, Don Siegelman, formally announced he was challenging Baxley for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, ensuring an expensive and possibly divisive primary).Barbour’s boost not only gets him out of the political woods in Mississippi (where he doesn’t face re-election until 2007), but also provides some fuel for the previously laughable boomlet of support for the ol’ rascal to run for president in 2008.All these effects are probably temporary, and all these Republican beneficiaries have lots of other problems. Perdue, for example, is presiding over a significant economic slide in a state that has known little but boomtimes for much of the last two decades. In Alabama, Roy Moore’s supporters are going to back him against Riley come hell or high water. And in both these states GOPers remain vulnerable to slow-developing fallout from the Jack Abramoff/Ralph Reed Indian Casino Shakedown Scandal.Outside the Katrina Region, the SUSA tracking polls don’t show a great deal of movement. Among Democrats, Ed Rendell (PA) and Phil Bredesen (TN) have slipped a bit, but both still look like solid bets for re-election. Mark Warner (VA) now has an approval/disapproval ratio well over two-to-one (66/29), which could help his designated successor, Tim Kaine, this November. Christine Gregoire of Washington has climbed from 34/58 in May to 45/49 in September.And the bottom five Governors are all Republicans: Blunt (MO), Fletcher (KY), Schwarzenegger (CA), Murkowski (AK) and Taft (OH). Ah-nold was already in trouble in May, with a ratio of 40/56; now he’s down to 32/65, in polling done about the time he announced his re-election bid.All in all, it’s a timely reminder that national issues cut differently in the states, and that whatever happens with Congress, there’s an enormously important series of pitched battles going on over governorships across the country.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
June 2: Rise of Religious “Nones” a Mixed Blessing for Democrats
Since I’m always standing at the intersection of politics and religion, I’m always interested in fresh data on the subject, and wrote some up at New York:
One of the big predictions in American politics lately, of infinite comfort to embattled progressives, is that the increasing number of religiously non-affiliated Americans, particularly among younger generations, will spur a steady leftward drift. Perhaps that will mean, we are told, that Democrats will be able to build their elusive permanent majority on the grounds of abandoned houses of worship. Or perhaps, some hope, the religious roots of today’s Republican extremism will begin to wither away, allowing American conservatives to resemble their less intemperate distant cousins in other advanced democracies, ending the culture wars.
Both propositions may be true. But it’s a mistake to treat so-called nones as an undifferentiated secularist mass, as Eastern Illinois University political scientist Ryan Burge explains with some fresh data. He notes that “in 2022, 6% of folks were atheists, 6% were agnostics, and another 23% were nothing in particular.” This large bloc of “nothing in particular” voters may lean left, all other things being equal, but they tend to be as uninterested in politics as in religion, making them a less than ideal party constituency. He explains:
“To put this in context, in 2020 there were nearly as many nothing in particulars who said that they voted for Trump as there were atheists who said that they voted for Biden.
“While atheists are the most politically active group in the United States in terms of things like donating money and working for a campaign, the nothing in particulars are on another planet entirely.
“They were half as likely to donate money to a candidate compared to atheists. They were half as likely to put up a political sign. They were less than half as likely to contact a public official.
“This all points to the same conclusion: they don’t vote in high numbers. So, while there may be a whole bunch of nothing in particulars, that may not translate to electoral victories.”
As Burge mentioned, however, there is a “none” constituency that leans much more strongly left and is very engaged politically — indeed, significantly more engaged than the white evangelicals we’re always hearing about. That would be atheists. In a separate piece, he gets into the numbers:
“The group that is most likely to contact a public official? Atheists.
“The group that puts up political signs at the highest rates? Atheists.
“HALF of atheists report giving to a candidate or campaign in the 2020 presidential election cycle.
“The average atheist is about 65% more politically engaged than the average American.”
And as Thomas Edsall points out in a broader New York Times column on demographic voting patterns, atheists really are a solid Democratic constituency, supporting Biden over Trump in 2020 by an incredible 87 to 9 percent margin. It’s worth noting that the less adamant siblings of the emphatically godless, agnostics, also went for Biden by an 80 to 17 percent margin and are more engaged than “nothing in particulars” as well.
So should Democrats target and identify with atheists? It’s risky. Despite the trends, there are still three times as many white evangelicals as atheists in the voting population. And there are a lot more religious folk of different varieties, some of whom have robust Democratic voting minorities or even majorities who probably wouldn’t be too happy with their party showing disdain for religion entirely. There’s also a hunt-where-the-ducks-fly factor: If atheists and agnostics already participate in politics and lean strongly toward Democrats, how much attention do they really need? There’s a reason that politicians, whatever their actual religious beliefs or practices, overwhelmingly report some religious identity. Congress lost its one professed atheist when California representative Pete Stark lost a Democratic primary in 2012; the only professed agnostic in Congress is Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, whose political future isn’t looking great.
It’s a complicated picture. Conservative columnist Ross Douthat argues that American liberalism’s increasing identification with secularism is keeping a lot of conservative Christians from politically expressing their reservations about Donald Trump. And religious people beyond the ranks of conservative faith communities may feel cross-pressured if Democratic politicians begin to reflect the liberal intelligentsia’s general assumption that religion is little more than a reactionary habit rooted in superstition and doomed to eventual extinction.
Perhaps it makes more sense for Democratic atheists and agnostics to spend time educating and mobilizing the “nothing in particular” Americans who already outnumber white evangelicals and ought to be concerned about how they’ll be treated if a Christian-nationalist Gilead arises. Only then can “nones” become the salvation for the Democratic Party.