A few days after the 2006 election, the
, " 'God gap' in American politics has narrowed substantially."
By 2006, so went the theory, evangelicals were disgruntled with George W. Bush. All the fundamentalists, charismatics, megachurchers, and Southern Baptists were shifting away from the Republicans. The evangelical church was undergoing some kind of fundamental change, and their votes were there for the Democratic taking.
Oh yeah? Seventy percent of white evangelicals voted Republican in House races in 2006, according to exit polls. Back in 2004—when it was abundantly clear to every angry lefty that the religious right was taking over the country—Republican support among white evangelicals was only four percentage points higher.
There was no shift among churchgoers, despite the hype. White evangelicals voted for Democrats in 2006 in the same percentage as gays and lesbians voted for Republicans, both at about 25 percent.
Reporters wanted there to be a big story in 2006, something besides the Democratic takeover of Congress. But, really, the tale of 2006 wasn't about big changes. Instead, the election was decided by small shifts that reached across the board. Democrats picked up three points, five points, seven points among each of the demographic or geographic subgroups of the American electorate. Gallup found the 2006 vote to be a "rising Democratic tide that lifted support in almost all key subgroups."
The few true independents remaining in the electorate voted Democratic, explained Gary Jacobson at U.C. San Diego. Talking with MSNBC.com, Jacobson said the election was "more of an accumulation of small shifts of a few points that added up to a larger trend. ..." There was no one group that switched allegiance, that realigned from Republican to Democratic. Democrats were a bit more loyal. Republicans a bit less.
Well, maybe Ds were a lot more loyal. In my old hometown of Louisville, Ky., Democrat John Yarmuth beat a five-term incumbent. Louisville has a large black population, and Yarmuth won that vote, but in no greater margins than usual. And he didn't make any broad inroads in Republican parts of town. Yarmuth didn't carry a single precinct where Republicans had a majority of registrants, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal .
Yarmuth won in '06 because white, liberal neighborhoods "got even more liberal," giving the Democrat "astounding" majorities, according to a former chair of the local Republican Party.
Democratic voters got rid of all those with Rs behind their names. Ideology, policy, voting records—none of that mattered. Liberal Iowa Rep. Jim Leach lost. So did liberal Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chaffee. Before 2006, Republicans had held 18 seats in House districts where John Kerry won in 2004. After 2006, Democrats had reduced the number of so-called split districts to eight.
Partisanship in the country didn't begin to break down in 2006. It hardened.
Tomorrow: Democrats like to think that their Senate candidates in Missouri, Virginia, and Montana won in '06 because of a special ability to connect with rural voters. Nice story, but what's the real lesson for Obama from the "Redneck Caucus"?