Timothy Noah chatted online with readers about this article. Read the transcript.
It's four years since I read Frank's book, and I now I can't find my copy, so I'll take Frank's word for it. Any notion Obama acquired that economic disenchantment intensified the white working class' religiosity would be based not on Frank's analysis but on his wisecracks.
Frank challenges many of Bartels' quantitative findings, but his bottom line is that even if Bartels were right on the particulars, he would be wrong to think they undermined his (i.e., Frank's) thesis. "Does a movement have to be growing in order for it to be the subject of a cultural study?" Frank asks. What's the Matter With Kansas, he continues,
does not require or depend upon a majoritarian argument of any kind; it only requires that the cultural formation in question is significant or is somehow worth examining. ...Even if they are a minority, right-wing populists do exist, and some people really do care about culture-war issues. ...After all, the two major parties are coalitions of groups from all walks of life, and the slightest change in the loyalties of these groups is often enough to determine victory or defeat. Success doesn't require a solid majority from each group, just a majority when all the different components are put together.
This introduces a giant fudge factor, but Frank is certainly right that in the 21st century presidential elections can turn on small changes.]