A dubious theory

A dubious theory
  •  emoticon

There are two conclusions you could draw from the recent Pew Research study that found the number of self-identified Republicans who don’t believe in evolution has climbed nine percent since 2009.

The first would be that the theory of evolution must have experienced some significant intellectual discrediting over the last half-decade, justifying a growing skepticism.

But no. In contrast to say, climate change, evolution has actually had a pretty good couple of years. There have been no big scandals in which leading evolutionary scholars were exposed censoring data to fit pre-determined conclusions, nor any embarrassing UN reports stating they have consistently overestimated the strength of their evidence.

You can take or leave climate change skepticism to be sure, but I don’t think anyone would dispute it’s a movement animated by the constant release of new data. Since the global warming thesis claims we’ll be able to observe a particular sort of planetary temperature change over time, it seems perfectly logical for skepticism of that thesis to rise and fall in sync with those predictions actually coming true — and if you’re so inclined, it’s not hard to find persuasive charts and columns and scientists claiming they aren’t.

Human evolution, by contrast, is a “settled” science, in the sense it describes a phenomena that’s basically finished happening — at least in the “did-monkeys-turn-into-humans” context that concerns most people. Darwin died 130 years ago, and as no less an authority than Charles Krauthammer once noted, the “entire structure of modern biology, and every branch of it” has arisen from confirming his findings. Courts in the United States have repeatedly ruled that whatever gaps or ambiguities are present in some aspects of evolution science, the contrary creationist “theory” that man was abracadabra’d into existence, fully-formed, by God, is not science at all, just a blunt religious assertion. Well-meaning folks like Bill Nye can’t even debate creationists without getting soundly blasted for legitimizing the notion that this is even a conversation with “two sides.”

Which leads into the second possible conclusion: the fact that more Republicans are buying into creationism must mean that Republicans are getting more religious.

Actually, no, even that’s too broad. After all, the vast, vast majority of Americans are “religious,” in the sense that around 80% consider themselves Christians, yet only 33% of them accept the creationist premise that human beings “have always existed in their present form.” One has to look at two very particular religious minorities within that 80% — evangelicals, and once-a-week-or-more church-goers — to find the highest rates of evolution-rejection, and oh look, those two groups also represent the two largest factions of the GOP religious base.

There are two possible conclusions you can draw from this, in turn.

The first is the one already gleefully embraced by Democrats and liberals — the idea that the Republicans are a scary gang of religious radicals, whose very raison d’être is the systematic dismantling of gay rights, abortion access, gender equality, and the wall separating church and state in general. A fundamentally theological party with a fundamentalist, theological agenda.

The alternative, less sensationalistic explanation is that the GOP is simply unpopular. Most people just don’t want to vote for them anymore, and those that do are disproportionately drawn from small or eccentric subcultures who aren’t much popular themselves. To be sure, there’s nothing wrong per se with political parties enjoying the support of small and eccentric subcultures — just so long as they’re part of the base, and not the entirety of it.

It’s become relatively uncontroversial to observe that the easiest way for a Republican to win the presidency in 2016 will be for the party to increase its share of the white vote. But this can only be done by luring back some of the Obama whites — which is to say, liberals. Liberal whites hate the cold-hearted, downsize-happy plutocracy — whom they presume Republican economic policies are designed to serve — and the ultra-judgemental anti-gay, anti-abortion dogmatism of fundamentalist Christians — whom they assume are driving the GOP’s social policy agenda. But here we see a vicious cycle: liberal or liberal-leaning whites stop identifying with the Republican Party because they believe it’s too regressive, and their absence, in turn, makes the party even more so.

The obvious liberal advice to the GOP would to simply stop being the things they hate — ie; get more secular and left-wing — and thereby fulfil the longstanding progressive desire for America to be ruled by a robust two-party system in which both parties are the Democrats. Presumably, in such a dream scenario, evangelicals and churchy folk would just be shut out of the political process altogether, with both parties instead vying for the votes of the same, narrow base of liberal good-thinkers.

It’s a plan that’s deeply troublesome not only for spitefully seeking to shrink the scope of democratic participation in a country where over 40% of the population doesn’t vote as it is, but also because of its dubious strategic value for the Republicans. If America is to have two liberal parties, after all, what advantage is there in being the late entrant to a market that already has a trusted, established brand? How many successful product pitches begin by boasting claims of redundancy?

There’s a difference, in short, between trying to pry away some of your opponents’ base and seeking to become them altogether, and there’s a reason why the GOP needs to do the former while avoiding the latter.

For the last century or so, America’s been ruled by a two-party system in which both partisan factions comprise broad coalitions assembled from the various cultures and communities that make up the country’s enormous national population. Historically speaking, those coalitions have been a great deal more ideologically diverse than most right-wingers accept as permissible today — and there’s no reason they couldn’t return to that tradition tomorrow.

The only trouble is after a string of defeats and setbacks, the Republicans face the significant handicap of having to build their coalition outward from a loyalist core whose views are amongst the most extreme and off-putting.

And for now, there’s only one conclusion we can draw from that.


  1. Dryhad

    I think it's going a bit far to suggest that the Republican's best hope is attracting voters who "hate the cold-hearted, downsize-happy plutocracy … and the ultra-judgemental anti-gay, anti-abortion dogmatism of fundamentalist Christians". There's a middle ground somewhere, and it's not becoming a bizarre unity ticket that somehow appeals equally to both bible-thumping plutocrats _and_ bleeding heart socialists. I don't know, maybe I'm missing something, but it seems a false dichotomy to assume that everyone either loves the current appearance of the Republican party or that hate it, and then say in the next breath that they need to become a broad church like they once were. They were a broad church because politics _isn't_ binary, they need to broaden their base but trying to take people who fundamentally hate _everything_ they currently stand for is the wrong way to do that.

  2. Rachael

    Hey, they can appeal to the middle ground that wants Americans to be exposed to more toxic waste, too: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/09/house-su

  3. Rachel

    That's pretty bad timing, given that there's a huge story about a leak at a coal plant built uphill from a water treatment plant in West Virginia. It's less of a free market if these companies can just make the American government pay for their losses whenever they do things wrong.

  4. JJ McCullough

    I don't think that's exactly what I'm saying. I'm simply saying that the Republicans are tainted with the image of being plutocratic and intolerant. This is what the party's own post-Romney post-mortem report had to say. They do, in fact, need to change the minds of some of their present haters.

  5. Dryhad

    They need to change the minds of people who are ambivalent. The 40% who don't vote, for instance. Presenting it in terms of hate vs. love just accepts the premise that caused them to focus disproportionately on a relatively small base in the first place.

  6. Jake_Ackers

    Exactly. There are a ton of self identified conservatives in this country. It's about appealing to a small number of issues than a small base of voters. Everyone loves lower taxes (well most Americans do). Everyone wants border security and less war. Throw a bone to the mommies and daddies and you win. The left need to actually appeal to moderate as liberals are only 20% of the electorate. Thus why Bill Clinton was so successful.

  7. Rachael

    People also love good schools and other social programs, which are paid for by taxes. Just appealing to low taxes is the kind of irresponsible budget-busting we've seen from the GOP for 30 years.

  8. Jake_Ackers

    I am talking about elections not a right/wrong policy. Candidate A says he will lower taxes, Candidate B says he will raise them. Which do you think will win a Rep primary or a general election? Which position will help or hurt? Doesn't matter if you like the policy, doesn't matter if it is right or wrong. At the end of the day, an election is about being the best salesmen.

  9. Rachael

    A will win the Rep primary, because Rep voters care about cutting taxes rather than balancing the budget. General election, well, depends on where the election is. Louisiana voters refuse to raise taxes even to improve their shitty schools, while Massachusetts recently affirmed income tax by popular referendum. And I, as a high-income worker with choice of where to live, choose Massachusetts.

    You leave out *why* Candidate B wants to be raising taxes. No one's going to vote to raise taxes abstractly, but "we need higher taxes to pay for roads/schools/transit/health care"? That can be a winning campaign promise… at least in the states that *have* good roads, schools, transit and health care.

  10. Jake_Ackers

    But not federally, that is the key issue here. JJ is talking about the Republican Party at large not just on a state level. Face it, state level politics is a lot different especially on which state.

  11. Simon

    Well, political opinion will tend to fall on a spectrum, and the Democratic voters the Republicans try to attract will be the most right-wing Democrats, obviously. No "bizarre unity ticket" required, just a little bit of realignment so that the party is once again positioned well to try and capture 50%+1 of the vote.

  12. Dryhad

    Exactly. The Democrat voters they want to attract are not the ones who hate the Republican party, and certainly not the ones who hate _everything_ about the Republican party. Even calling them "liberals" is probably not accurate.

  13. Jake_Ackers

    True Dryhad. Many people who vote Dem are voting anti-Rep because of one overriding issue.

  14. Rachael

    But such overriding issues tend to be core ideology or practice to the Republicans. War on poor people, war on abortion, war on blacks, war on gay rights, war on immigrants.

  15. heartright

    The thing many people [ not me] expected from Obamam but did not deliver.

    Aaaaand… on the other side! The Hillary – who would have fitted in just as well among the Neocons as far as Interventionism is concerned.

  16. Rachael

    "Presumably, in such a dream scenario, evangelicals and churchy folk would just be shut out of the political process altogether"
    "It’s a plan that’s deeply troublesome not only for spitefully seeking to shrink the scope of democratic participation in a country"

    Actually, this liberal's dream scenario includes proportional representation, or even random selection of legislatures, as well as making it easier for everyone to vote, or adding incentives to vote. More multi-party or direct democracy.

    The people actually spitefully seeking to shrink the scope of democratic participation" would be the very Republican party that you defend, that's been explicitly trying to make it harder for Democrats and blacks and poor people to vote, along with unprecedented levels of gerrymandering to fix elections.

    "And for now, there’s only one conclusion we can draw from that."

    Your rambling forgot to include or indicate your actual conclusion.

  17. Kwyjor

    Am I the only one who doesn't quite get this cartoon as presented?

  18. Jake_Ackers

    Some Reps don't believe in evolution. But the Dems keep caricaturing Republicans. Even though Reps have been "evolving politically." The rhetoric is becoming less intense or rather it HAS too if they are to have a chance in 2016.

  19. Jake_Ackers

    I frankly think that poll is irrelevant as least federally. Because it is mostly a state issue. And the global warming thing, similarly. Let's face it. Pollution is the problem. Address that. There are enough trees in the world to deal with CO2. It's the other garbage that is pumped out that cannot be broken down. And the solution is alternative fuels (like algae) not "OMG lets tax people" because it's in line with my political agenda.

    On the evolution front. I suggest people read Francis S. Collins' two books. "The Language of God" and the "The Language of Science and Faith." His two books retries to bridge the gap between religion and science. In short he says you can believe both in God and evolution without having to believe in young earth creationism or intelligent design. Wish people from both sides would read it before they start to yell at each other.

  20. Jake_Ackers

    "There’s a difference, in short, between trying to pry away some of your opponents’ base and seeking to become them altogether, and there’s a reason why the GOP needs to do the former while avoiding the latter."

    In short, stop talking about social issues, which isn't federal.. No war, lower taxes, secure the border and throw a bone to family values. Everyone can get behind that. That's how Reagan won.

  21. Simon

    What's the difference between "family values" and "social issues"?

    And the American public, generally speaking, loves war. It's a winner. But even if the GOP does try to flank the Dems from the left on the issue of war, there's nothing to stop the Dems from setting up camp in the same spot: "I agree with my Republican counterpart on national security questions, so there's nothing to debate there. Now, moving on to other issues…"

    Finally, the country has changed somewhat since Reagan got elected. Trying to appeal to the America of over 30 years ago would probably be a little unwise, imo.

  22. Jake_Ackers

    Family Values is lip service. Social issues is more legislation. Complain about how the gov't is legislating how you raise your kids and what not.

    The American people didn't want to go into Libya nor Syria. National security is not the same as war. And yah there is no way a Dem will out muscle a Rep on national security. Plus when it comes to war, who is the most non interventionist? Obama/Hillary or someone like Rand Paul?

    And I never said to appeal to the America of 30 years ago. I said to get elected you follow the same strategy. Talk little about social issues. Focus on security over war. And favor lower taxes. You only need 50% plus one vote to win. Not even that, depending on the electoral college.

    At the end of the day do you really think conservatives won't sit on their hands and not vote? It happened twice in the least two Presidential elections. Yet they came out in great numbers in 2010. If a Dem is stronger on national security and the Republican is weak, the security oriented conservatives just won't vote. The Huntsmans of the world may appeal to moderate but once he opens his mouth about the carbon tax, he loses a great amount of conservatives. Once the Santorums open their mouths about social issues, they lose all the moderates and independents.

  23. Rachael

    Let's put some words to those lips. Gay marriage: yes or no? Easier immigration or legitimation of current illegal immigrants: yes or no? Ending the racist enforcement of the war on drugs: yes or no?

    " there is no way a Dem will out muscle a Rep on national security"

    9/11 happened on Bush's watch, and he then fucked two wars. A Democrat caught Osama bin Laden.

  24. Dryhad

    The national security thing is cultural and defies logic. Republicans are obviously the best at it, Democrats are obviously the worst. Don't go throwing your "facts" or "evidence" into this.

  25. Jake_Ackers

    Again you only need 50%+1. A Rep can win the primary and the general with a moderate position on those issues. Or rather a speak softly position on those two issues.

    What Dryhad said on national security is pretty much my point. Moreover, no one blames Bush for 9/11 unless they believe in conspiracy theories. And Osama was only caught with the very tools that Obama 08 campaigned against. Public perception overrides a lot. Plus Bush and Obama aren't running. It's Rep versus Dem.

  26. Rachael

    You don't need a Truther conspiracy theory to blame Bush; it's actual fact that Bush ignored or rolled back anti-Al Qaeda warnings from the Clinton administration. Negligence that kills nearly 3000 people is also blameworthy. And then he most definitely fucked up the occupation of Afghanistan and lied our way into invading Iraq for no security-related reason whatsoever.

  27. Jake_Ackers

    Under that logic you can blame Clinton for 9/11 because the Saudis had Osama and Clinton let him go. If Bush lied about Iraq then Obama lied about Bengazhi, and went into Libya "for no security-relation reason whatsover." It's an endless cycle of back and forth blame, which all don't relate to my point.

    At the end of the day you are trying to argue whether Bush or Obama or their polices are right or wrong. Done the right way or not. It's all completely irrelevant to my main point. Which is, that public perception overrides facts and figures. Republicans will always appear to be harder on national security and terrorism. Doesn't matter. I was discussing campaign strategy not political policy.

    As long as the Republican candidate consolidates his/her base without breaking it apart. It's a rather large natural base to begin with. Polls show 40% Con, 40% Mod/Ind and 20% Lib. Give or take depending on the election. A mod-con Rep can easily win an election if he/she doesn't go off the rails and appeals to the broad base like Reagan did. Now the problem is staying on track.

    Again this is campaign strategy not policy. Throw the word Jesus around a few times, keep the talk about abortion to minimum and say you will lower taxes and say you will keep us safe. Acting like a Santorum doesn't work. Rolling over or flip flopping doesn't either. The most successful CANDIDATE especially in the Republican party, is about a balanced approach at rhetoric (getting elected) not balanced approach at policy (which is actually governing). I hope it cleared that up.

  28. Rachael

    Doing all that has lost 5 of the last 6 popular votes for president. Only one the GOP won the votes on involved an actual war. The electoral vote map has been turning against them too. Whites are a shrinking demographic to base a whole party on. So is anti-socialism.

  29. Kristian Svenson

    "and thereby fulfil the longstanding progressive desire for America to be ruled by a robust two-party system in which both parties are the Democrats."

    I chucked at the good joke, but seriously: this progressive's dream is a choice between liberal and conservative, as opposed to the current choice between conservative and theocratic.

  30. JamieLeung

    I also see a different Democrat campaign in 2016, Especially if Hillary Clinton is nominated, The democrats know they lost some favor among the middle, particularly among moderates/independents and obviously conservatives.

    Yes she might be controversial from the far-left wing, the sanders and the warrens, But unlike what the far-left blogs claim, warren won't bash in on the primary, since she respects Hillary. And if warren does somehow wins the nomination i expect a mcgovern like disinterest in 2016 among democrats, when most of the democratic base who is actually composed of moderates then far-left wingers. Won't show up.

    However Hillary's chances will depend on many factors, especially if the GOP nomination race turns into a disaster, whether or not people feel the economy improves by 2016, and whether or not Obama can disarm the NSA issue very quickly this year. Disarming the NSA issue is critical just so republicans can't use the Issue at all by 2016. Remember its still nearly three years away from 2016 since 2014 only started. To help Hillary he will have to end the issue this year and have the two next years cause people to wane their interest on the NSA as well as if americans think he did enough to repent on the issue.

    If all else goes well then at the expense of some far-left votes, then democrats can still win in 2016 by appealing to moderates/independents/centrists/conservatives.

    Also helping is Christie's bridgegate recently, Unlike some pundits i don't see him recovering, its his own Chappaquiddick that prevented Ted Kennedy from gaining ground in his past attempts to run for president. And its going to affect Christie if he runs. Christie claimed that he could appeal to some democrats, however the information that his staff punished a democratic mayor for not supporting his re-election bid. Gives a different narrative.

  31. Jake_Ackers

    Thing is, it seems so stupid that Christie would actually do that. Any executive that would do that is stupid. If Christie proves his innocent, two years is a tight margin, but he could actually benefit from it. As long as he is truly innocent and depending how he plays it.

    And yes Hillary's election is pretty much out of her own hands. If Hillary doesn't win then its one of those moderate Governors, like O'Malley, Governor/Senator Warner or the Montana Governor. Liz Warren will get slammed in the general.

    If its Hillary versus Christie. The NSA issue is nullified because both of them are hawks.

  32. Rachael

    Stupidity hasn't stopped the GOP so far. And the incident is consistent with his personality: he's a bully. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2

  33. Rachel

    I think it's disingenuous to say that most Democrats took the Pew poll as evidence of Republicans becoming more extreme. The data is presented in the article in a way that promotes careful analysis. When they said more Republicans than ever do not believe in evolution, the first question I asked was "Does this change reflect a change in the American population as a whole?" So said the article, it's stayed the same as in 2009.

    I think most people that saw the article thought the change comes from more moderate and libertarian Republicans switching to identifying as independents. I'm not saying I think this is the majority of the change, but I think that Republicans being more extreme could also be a factor. Democrats could also be getting more extreme, irrespective of the truth of evolution, just from deepening trenches in an ideological battleground.

    As a geology student, I would recommend the first ten chapters of Bringing Fossils To Life: An Introduction To Paleobiology for a complete documentation of modern thought on evolution, and the history of thought on evolution, and the full range of debate in the scientific community.

    (not the same person as Rachael)

  34. Jake_Ackers

    Personally I might HAVE to call myself a moderate now. Especially in the Northeast. Conservatives appear to be the Santorums. And Libertarians everyone thinks are nuts.

    On another note, you should register. I keep getting confused which Rachel/Rachael it is, thanks for pointing it out.

  35. Virgil

    We'll…not exactly. Most tea parties consider themselves independent…..and this explains the Republicans winning the majority of independents yet still losing the 2012 election. Additionally, while the Democrats have an advantage over Republicans the conservatives still greatly outnumber the liberals. Therefore the Republicans will continue to appeal to ideological affinity while Democrats will continue to appeal to cultural factors and race.

  36. Jake_Ackers

    Virgil as always a good point. I wonder who actually considers themselves Republicans now. I think by region. If you are in a moderate state you are less likely. If you are in a Republican state or when the Reps are in power then you will.

  37. zaitcev

    I am not quite certain that publshed findings of a poll by Pew may be described as "facts". What did Gallup and Rasmussen say about this topic?

  38. @SideshowJon36

    I'd be interested to know how the question was phrased, and how many Republicans refused to answer. I've never met a Republican who didn't believe in Evolution (although many might say it's an incomplete theory), but I've known plenty who refuse to participate in polls.

  39. Justin Martin

    "I've never met a Republican who didn't believe in Evolution"

    I don't think you've met many Republicans.

    "although many might say it's an incomplete theory"

    All scientific theories are "incomplete" because they are forever adding new evidence. Scientific theories collect thousands of individual facts and data points to complete an over-arching idea for a natural phenomenon.

  40. Pete Zaitcev

    What we have here is a perfect example of condescending liberal dismissing other person's living experience because it contradicts liberal dogma (in this case the myth of science-denying Republicans).