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  • Ohioblog: A Swing State Journal

    Sunday, September 12, 2004

    The Sunday School of Akron (and Ohio) politics 

    This seems an appropriate Sunday topic for Ohioblog:

    Akron grew up a church community, its religious fervor one part borrowed Southern fundamentalism, another part imported European Catholicism, Byzantine Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. If there seemed to be a rubber shop on every corner in the early decades of the 20th century, there really was a church on the next.

    As workers drove north toward economic hope, particularly up Route 21 from West Virginia and into the heart of Summit County, they brought with them a need not only to make a better living but also to make a better life.

    In writing Wheels of Fortune: The Story of Rubber in Akron, David Giffels and I found that of those who came ``some were Baptist, some were Pentecostal, some were `shouting Methodists','' but regardless of donomination almost everyone agreed with the Rev. Dallas F. Billington who found Akron to be ``the wickedest place this side of hell.''

    The city didn't remain that. Billington (Akron Baptist Temple), Rex Humbard, Ernest Angley and Knute Larson's predecessors at The Chapel, the priests in dozens of parishes and others helped to instill in the community a religious soul that remains stout to this day. If issues of faith were the single or even prime criterion for choosing a president on Nov. 2, Akron and surely Summit County would belong to Republican George W. Bush.

    President Bush is a man of faith, a born again Christian who, unlike his opponent, John Kerry, wears his faith on his sleeve. Americans like that, according to the Fourth National Survey of Relgion and Politics conducted by University of Akron political scientist John C. Green for the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

    ``Some 68 percent of Americans say it is important to hve a president with strong relgious beliefs,'' Green points out in his summary of the study conducted with 4,000 randomly selected Americans during the spring of 2004.

    So a presidential candidate, particularly when in Akron, should trot out their faith, as President Bush often does his faith-based initiatives? Not necessarily. Green says the candidates are ``might be walking a fine line,'' because 47 percent of Americans also ``believe organized religious groups should stay out of politics.''

    The point is, religion in politics is complicated and ever changing. Green, who is director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, found not only a realignment among three major relgious traditions of Evangelical Christians, Mainline Protestants and white Roman Catholics but also among the traditionalists, modernists and centrists within those groups.

    If Evangelical Protestants lean Republican more heavily (up from 48 percent Republican, 32 percent Democrat in 1992 to 56 percent Republican, 27 percent Democrat this year), Democrats have made inroads among Mainline Protestants. Within the sub-groups, traditionalist in each of the groups are more likely to say their religious beliefs shape their political thinking.

    Will it be enough to turn Summit County Republican red? Don't bet on it. Since 1964, Summit County has been one of the more reliable counties for the Democrats. The suburbs don't offset the city yet and Akron's still a working person's city, with Don Plusquellic one of the strongest Democratic mayors in the nation.

    Religion still counts in Akron, but it isn't the only thing that counts on the first Tuesday of November in presidential election years.

    - Steve Love

    posted by Ohioblog: A Swing State Journal at 1:10 PM

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