84% Democrats: What does that mean?

The UU World ran this article summarizing a recent poll about the political affiliations of various religious groupings in the USA. In brief, it shows that 84% of UU identify as Democrats. Only historic Black denominations are more Democratic.

Who was surprised that UU's were as strongly affiliated with the Democratic Party as this poll shows?

What does it mean?

What one thinks about this probably has a lot to do with what you think the highest value of Unitarian Universalism is.

If you think that inclusion and diversity is the highest value, then the poll is discouraging news. We are not very good at making Republicans welcome in our congregations..

But if you think that living our faith is the highest value, the poll shows our growing maturity as a faith community.

Everybody says that we live in a politically polarized time. That means more than that people of similar political opinions are forming tighter associations with each other. It means that both liberalism and conservatism as becoming clearer, more defined, and more ways of life.

Corey Robin argues that modern conservatism is defined by the defense of local hierarchies of power, such as the power of the father in the traditional family or the owner of a business. Wherever there is a hierarchy, conservatives instinctively try to preserve it against any democratizing influence. Conservatives say they oppose the state, but only when the state is breaking down the many small kingdoms of the world.

This same line of thought shows up in the popular meme that the political differences in the USA all come down to differences in our parenting preferences: the authoritarian parent vs the nurturing parent.

The Republican Party has become the conservative party in our time. The GOP is becoming ideologically conservative; it supports the relationships of domination and subordination in just about any sphere that you can think of.

Unitarian Universalist thinking has been moving quite deliberately in the opposite direction. I think that our commitment to become an "anti-racist, anti-oppressive, multicultural religious movement" has set a moral imperative before us that is radicalizing us. We are increasingly seeing the petty tyrants and small kingdoms of this world, even in our churches and congregations, and opposing them.

You can even say that our vision of covenant as the ideal of all social relationships as being a direct contradiction of conservatism. A covenantal relationship is not one of domination and subordination but one of equality and mutuality.

I may be wrong, but I don't think that the 84% UU identification with the Democratic Party is really based on a commitment to the Party itself. I think it's anti-conservatism at work.

We are growing into the full meaning of our theological commitments. The evidence that we are gathering at one end of the political spectrum in a country polarizing over fundamental differences is a result of, and a sign of, that growth.


  1. Tom, I saw this survey posted on Facebook, and was amused by the reaction of commenters -- some who were surprised by the large 88 percent Democratic figure while others couldn't believe that as many as 14 percent of UUs identified as Republicans (I read a few years ago that the highest elected Unitarian politician was a Republican congresswoman from Connecticut so maybe Republican UUs are the remnant of the moderate GOP wing of the 50s-70s).

    And I think you're right that Unitarians, by and large, sharing a progressive political outlook is not necessarily a problem. While there are legal reasons why churches can't endorse candidates there's nothing wrong in my mind with clergy and congregants taking stands on marriage equality, climate change and economic justice in ways that align with one political party more than another.

    That said, I think that there's a risk that "Living the Faith" can be defined too narrowly resulting in a congregation struggling accommodate theists and non-theists, carnivores and vegans, owners of SUVs and plug-in vehicles etc.? I'm being a bit facetious with those examples, but I do think that congregations develop norms that can have the effect of excluding no matter how much the minister says we have no creed and all are welcome. Also, and I'm not trying to turn this into a Sanders-Clinton debate, but watching your back and forth on Facebook it's clear to me how easily people who agree more than disagree can still have a hard time finding common ground.


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