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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

After the Culture War? Shifts and Continuities in the Obama Era and Beyond


Event Recap

In the shadow of the Tea Party movement, angry town hall meetings, and an increasing level of polarization in American politics, John Dombrink spoke about the future of the culture wars at the Boisi Center on February 17.

According to Dombrink, while predictions that Obama’s election would signal a new age of bipartisanship and unity in American politics were off base, certain culture war issues of the early 2000’s will in fact fade in coming years. New conflicts, however, will also arise.

Dombrink discussed four main themes: the broadening and moderating of the role of religion in politics; the drop in importance of certain concerns such as same sex marriage; continued ambivalence surrounding the question of abortion; and the rise of an angry culture war backlash which came out during the town halls of the health care debate.

Regarding religion, Dombrink said that while churchgoers still mostly vote Republican, there has been a change in some evangelicals in recent years, as the focus moves away from hot-button issues like gay marriage, and toward more “common ground” concerns like HIV/AIDS, the environment, and human trafficking.

One thing Dombrink believes will continue to persist is what he calls Americans’ ambivalence on the question of abortion. Abortion is a gray area for most Americans, despite the heated passions on both extremes. Dombrink pointed to polls by the Pew Research Center which indicate that most people believe abortion should be legal in either some or most cases, but have various restrictions. Only around 20% on each side think it should either always be legal or always be illegal.

Finally, Dombrink spoke about the angry backlash toward Obama and the Democrats in 2009, calling it the remnant of past culture war battles that are probably already fought and settled. He quoted Michelle Goldberg, who said the tea parties and the Christian right “[share] a sense of furious dispossession, a conviction that the country that is rightfully theirs has been usurped by sinister cosmopolitan elites.”