That Old-Time Religion
03-11-2009
Some new data confirm what many locals have long suspected, that New England is now the least religious region of the country, at least in terms of participation in the organized denominations. I will leave the broader question of how this relates to human spirituality for others to contemplate. This cultural circumstance is also already well-known to campaigns and the media. And, it exerts a particularly strong influence on the political discourse we typically see among Republican presidential candidates here in New Hampshire, in comparison to the other early primary and caucus states.
 
During the last presidential primary cycle, you could hear Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney speaking in Iowa or South Carolina on any given day (courtesy of the web and cable news), and the discourse would be dominated by abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and gay marriage. Switch to New Hampshire, however, and the same candidates would be focused on taxes, small business, and budget deficits, with virtually no mention (unless pressed) of the conservative social agenda. The same was true for most of the other Republican candidates.
 
I don’t think any of this comes as a surprise to political observers, but my sense is that it has complicated messaging for a Republican Party whose base is increasingly southern and socially conservative. With the web and cable news now tracking a candidate’s every word around the country, the constant juxtaposition of these two narratives (one secular, the other not) has challenged the ability of Republican candidates to provide a coherent message to increasingly divergent audiences. And, when in New Hampshire, it often makes them act as though they are campaigning in a cultural vacuum.  Since Republican political elites don't seem prepared to put the conservative social agenda on the back burner in order to reach a broader (less religious) audience, I don't expect this to change anytime soon.
 
Note: I couldn’t bring myself to title this post, “Losing My Religion.” It’s just too darn obvious, and every other blog on the web has probably used it already, anyway.


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