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Cultural gap: Southern Democrats more conservative

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A wide gap exists between Democratic voters in the South and other Democratic voters on cultural issues such as same-sex “marriage” and the role of religion in the public square, new analysis by the Pew Research Center finds.

The study, released Jan. 30, finds that southern Democrats oppose the legalization of same-sex “marriage” by a margin of 65-26. That stands in contrast to non-southern Democrats, who favor legalization by a 51-42 percent margin.

In addition, Democrats in the South are more likely to say that religion plays an important role in their lives. Fifty-seven percent of southern Democrats but only 38 percent of non-southern Democrats say they frequently use their religious beliefs to make daily decisions.

“Southern Democrats, regardless of their race, are more religious than Democrats elsewhere,” Pew researchers wrote. “And this heavily influences how Southern Democrats view questions relating to religion, politics and policy.”

On other issues, such as the role of government, the social safety net and the re-election of President Bush, Democrats are mostly united in their beliefs. Seventy-seven percent of southern Democrats and 79 percent of other Democrats prefer a Democrat over Bush.

Nevertheless, the poll shows the tightrope Democrat presidential candidates must walk when campaigning nationwide.

“Southern Democrats are more culturally conservative than are Democrats in the rest of the country,” Pew researchers wrote. “The South has been difficult terrain for Democrats since white Southerners began realigning their party preferences in the 1960s and 1970s. The last two Democratic presidents were Southerners, each of whom captured several Southern states.

“But the experience of Tennessean Al Gore, the party’s nominee in 2000, was more typical of the party’s recent past. Gore lost all of the states of the former Confederacy — had he carried even one of them, he would have won the election.”

The poll finds a gap on a wide range of issues, from homosexuality to the use of military strength. Among the poll’s highlights:

— 41 percent of Democrats in the South but only 24 percent of Democrats elsewhere say schools should be able to fire teachers who are known homosexuals.

— 51 percent of Democrats in the South say that politicians use too few expressions of faith; only 33 percent of Democrats outside the South agreed with the statement.

— 57 percent of southern Democrats but only 44 percent of non-southern Democrats say that churches should express their views on political matters.

— 63 of Democrats in the South, compared to 40 percent of Democrats outside the region, say they would not vote for an atheist for president.

— 72 percent of southern Democrats, but only 55 percent of Democrats outside the South, say that religion is very important to them.

— 58 percent of southern Democrats but 46 percent of non-southern Democrats say that the best way to ensure peace is through military strength. But their views on Iraq are nearly identical — 67 percent of southern Democrats and 65 percent of non-Southern Democrats disapprove of Bush’s handling of the situation in Iraq.

The analysis was based on polls conducted between November 2003 and January 2004. For the purpose of the study southern states were the following: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust