The Corner

Salience and Condescension

Two big email-generators the past couple of days were my remarks about Evangelicals. First there was my saying that:

Catholics like Catholic candidates, atheists would go nuts for an atheist candidate (if they could get one), blacks are awfully well-disposed to black candidates, an Asian-American candidate would do real well with Asian-Americans, a female candidate would get masses of votes from women, and a vegan candidate would sweep the vegans.

Then there was my challenge in response to one of Ramesh’s readers declaring himself (the reader) an evangelical Christian who is “used to attacks from the likes of Stuttaford and Derb.” My response was:

Could someone please direct me to any post, column, or broadcast in which I have attacked evangelical Christians?

To the first: It is a question of salience. How much does a candidate’s Catholicity (say) matter to Catholic voters? The answer of course is: a lot to some, not much to others, and not at all to many. In the aggregate, I’d guess it’s at a moderate level of salience—a couple of million votes nationwide. The salience of a candidate’s femaleness to female voters is probably less that that; the salience of a candidate’s blackness to black voters, more. Even with blackness, though—which I think most people would identify as the biggest salience of all—it’s not a factor that swamps all else. Polls have been showing black voters pretty evenly divided between Clinton and Obama. (The salience of a candidate’s vegan-ness (veganicity?) to vegan voters is, I’ll admit, probably pretty un-sweepish—a few ten thousand votes nationwide, perhaps.)

So, now: How salient, for Evangelical voters, is the fact of a candidate’s being Evangelical? Hugely salient, is my impression, probably more salient that a candidate’s blackness to black voters. This isn’t surprising: Evangelical Christianity is a tremendous, life-changing commitment. With that kind of emotional investment, you’d be strongly attracted to a candidate who gets it. But that’s impressionistic, and I’d be glad to hear other opinions.

On my challenge, there have been almost no serious takers. Thirty or forty readers have emailed in to grumble about my having been mean to Evangelicals, but only two have come up with something I actually said, and it was the same thing in both cases—my notorious “metro-cons” column. Well, I just read it again, and I can only say that if you found it offensive to Evangelicals, you are missing the point by a couple of parsecs.

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