Religion and Minnesota Politics

The relationship between religion and politics should fascinate even the most casual political observer. (In recent weeks religion has become an interesting sidebar in the 6th District US House race—a matter best saved for another blog entry).

Karl Rove—President George W. Bush’s trusted political strategist in the White House—is credited with turning out the religious vote in 2004 to the benefit of not only Bush himself, but also republican candidates generally.

While sweeping statements are sometimes made regarding the fact there is a close association between the Republican Party and those expressing religious faith, by and large most Minnesotans—regardless of partisanship—are indeed ‘god-fearing.’ Nearly four-fifths (78%) of Minnesotans polled in 2003 indicated they “definitely believed” in God, while another 13% indicated they were leaning in that direction (Minnesota Poll, December 2003).

Therefore, although Minnesota tilts toward the blue end of the blue-red political spectrum, the majority of its card-carrying Democrats are indeed ‘true believers’. What may separate Minnesota from the Bible belt is thus not belief in God, but the extent to which belief in God should inform public policy.

But are religious individuals more likely to vote in Minnesota than those that do not identify themselves with the world’s major religions?

A study of several surveys by the Minnesota Poll suggests this might be so. In three surveys conducted from a sample of the general adult population from August 2002 to March 2004, an average of 31% of Minnesotans polled did not identify themselves as Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim (indicating they had no religious preference or labeled themselves as ‘something else’). However, in five surveys conducted of likely voters between September and November 2004, this number dropped to 24%—or a decline of 23%.

While some folks are very passionate about their politics, one doubts they convert in greater numbers to God on Election Day. So—in general—Rove’s strategy is sound in this regard: efforts to turn out voters to a point will increase the proportion of religious voters. The danger for Rove is this: if voter turnout is too large (and Minnesota has the highest in the nation), then that means those motivated to vote will be increasingly coming from the pool of nonbelievers (who are not Rove’s desired demographic).

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