Howard Dean and the Democratic National Committee are not happy with the exit polling method conducted by The National Election Pool. Dean thinks there's a built in bias, if you will, when it comes to polling how Democrats of faith vote. He wants to know why is the faith questions always asked of Republicans, not Democrats? Here's part of his letter below:
Your exit polls all but ignored the role of religion in Saturday's Democratic primary in South Carolina. In the Republican primary, you not only asked about attendance but also voters' religious affiliation, if they were born-again or evangelical Christians and if their religion made a difference in their presidential vote. This disparity occurred despite the fact that exit polls showed that more people who attend religious services once a week or more voted in the Democratic primary than in the Republican primary. [CNN 1/26/08]
Democrats are also people of faith. As a "big tent" party we embrace and represent people from a number of faith traditions. The religious diversity of our party reflects the rich diversity of our nation-and this includes those who don't identify with a religious tradition.
At most, Democrats so far have been asked which religion they identify with and how often they go to church. In Iowa and Michigan, Democrats weren't asked about religion at all. And this bias in polling questions has in turn shaped news coverage, making it appear that one party has a monopoly on religion in this race. A group of Evangelical leaders organized by the group Faith in Public Life wrote to you, objecting to this discrimination saying it "pigeonholes Evangelicals and reinforces the false idea that Evangelicals are beholden to one political party." Your response to this group --"that we have limited real estate on our questionnaires" - is insufficient.
So far, exit polls, media reports and the pundits have largely missed the story because they're using an outdated script which leaves the impression that religion and faith matter only to Republicans. As the presidential race turns to the 23 states and territories holding contests on February 5, I call on you to accurately depict our political process and honor the religious diversity of our country by including Democrats when asking about faith, values and religion.
You know what? The good doctor has a point. To say one party has the corner on faith is simply not true. Exit polls should reflect both parties' views on faith. The DNC and Groups like Faith in Public Life are working hard to change this misconception and should be applauded for it.
The deeper issue here is about stereotypes. Just like Democrats have been stereotyped as people who couldn't care less about faith related issues, "the far right" has been stereotyped too. Those on the far right that believe passionately in abortion or traditional marriage aren't religious kooks, just like those on the secular left shouldn't be thought of as "godless secularists." Are there exceptions on both sides? Sure, but dialogue to bring both sides closer together is a good thing and exit polls that reflect both parties faith values should be welcomed.