John Leo

Like most analysts who say they see no polarization, Samuelson cites America’s great improvement in racial attitudes and increased tolerance for homosexuals. True, but left unsaid is that a fierce and apparently growing majority of Americans oppose gay marriage (up 6 points to 59 percent, according to Pew) and an even larger percentage of the public opposes racial preferences. (Wolfe found that 76 percent of blacks and 83 percent of whites oppose preferences even when the euphemism "priority" is used in the question). These are not random findings but hot-button issues in a continuing war over basic values. If the left keeps using the courts to impose minority opinions on unwilling majorities, conflict will broaden and intensify.

Consider too the growing polarization that pits secularists against religious people. In the 2000 senate race in New York, two-thirds of secularists voted for Hillary Clinton and two thirds of religious people voted for Rick Lazio. This kind of split showed up in House races around the country in 2000, says Louis Bolce, an associate professor of political science at Baruch College in New York City. The Pew study shows that the most religious states vote Republican, the least religious go Democratic.

More and more, religiously committed people tend to vote Republican, largely because of "the increased prominence of secularists within the Democratic party and the party’s resulting antagonism toward traditional values." That’s the judgment of Bolce and his Baruch colleague, Gerald De Maio, in "Our Secularist Democratic Party," an article in the conservative intellectual journal, The Public Interest.

The gap started opening at the 1972 Democratic convention that nominated George McGovern: a third of the white delegates were secular, compared with 5 percent of the general population. By 1992, the year the culture war is said to have broken into the open, 60 percent of first-time white delegates to the Democratic convention were secularists or nominally religious people who said they attend services five times year or less.

The secular-religious gap, larger than the gender and class gaps journalists like to focus on, is simply not on the media radar. Bolce and De Maio think the Republicans became the traditionalist party almost by default -- it had less to do with Republican efforts than the impact of secular progressives on the Democratic party. Many secularists in the Republican party are leaving to vote Democratic. The most intensely religious Democrats are heading the other way. The obvious word for a shift like this is polarization.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

Be the first to read John Leo's column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.