The Population That Time and Politicians Forgot
Where I live in South Central Pennsylvania, traffic consists of an Amish buggy or a slurry truck driving 5 mph on a two-lane road with nowhere to pass. Slurry, by the way, is liquid cow manure and stinks to high heaven, which is a convenient description of politics, so I feel my expertise in the area is reinforced daily.
In many rural areas, there is little or no access to the Internet. Sometimes it’s because of how remote the people are geographically, and sometimes because of how socially remote the people are. Whether social or geographic, their alienation is usually a choice, and people are generally not looking for any interference in their lives from those who live in the big city. Given the nature of politics these days with a President who uses Twitter as his pulpit, politicians need to rethink how to connect with these voters.
11% of Americans do not use the Internet. Of that population, 34% are over 65-years-old. You might also know this population as the “Sunday Stalwarts,” otherwise known as serious churchgoers, who make up at 32 percent of the non-Internet using population, according to Pew Research Group.
According to AARP, voters aged 50+ accounted for 45% of all voters in the 2016 election, with Trump getting a slight majority of this demographic’s vote (53%). The fact that Trump won this age group by 11% and the number of US adults without Internet or social media access is 11% makes one wonder where they received the bulk of their information to decide who to vote for.
Remember: this population of voters also happens to be the biggest percentage of those “Sunday Stalwarts.” It doesn’t take a farmer driving a slurry truck to add this equation up.
According to blogger Michael Sherrard, it is the duty, according to God, for preachers to help their parishioners to decide how to cast their votes.
“Pastors, we have failed our people. If it is not our job to instruct the people of God on these things, whose job is it? A politically silent pulpit is one that is catering to the secularist’s agenda.”
He goes on to state that:
“…pastors must equip their people to engage a culture that is becoming increasingly hostile toward Christianity. And so, the pulpit must be political…if you think that society can go to hell as long as people don’t, you’ve fallen for an old trick and you’ve misunderstood the nature of the gospel.”
Rural communities are most likely not to have Internet access or choose to forgo Internet use, mostly for religious reasons, and to have their social lives revolve around school and church activities. Believe me, Friday nights are for high school football, and the whole town is there. And God help you if you plan anything for a Wednesday night; that is church potluck supper night, so no one will come to your event.
According to Pew, rural Americans are more than twice as likely than their urban/suburban counterparts to never use the Internet. This is why the weekly paper still exists and advertises everything from livestock auctions to clean, barely used, wedding dresses for a reasonable $200. It also has an entire section for church services and activities, which would be an excellent resource for politicians who want to reach this population.
With candidates not taking the time to have town hall meetings in such remote areas – the trips are not cost effective – the only access to information about who to vote for is through friends, family, and the preacher… their only guiding light to “instruct the people of God on these things,” if you agree with Mr. Sherrard.
But not all ministers believe it is their job in life to instruct their parishioners on how to vote. Dan Doriani of the Gospel Coalition states in his article, Navigate Politics in the Pulpit:
“First let’s consider how the Bible addresses politics. It doesn’t legislate any political or economic system, nor does it specifically tackle the most burning issues of the day. Rather, it describes the basics: God’s standards for leaders, especially kings and elders, and the disposition believers have toward them.”
Dr. Alison Dagnes, Professor of Political Science at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania is the author of Politics on Demand: The Effects of 24-Hour News On American Politics. On the topic of the modern political media system and rural America, she says,
“churches and clergy should be apolitical, because we have entwined faith and issues and politics too closely. As a result, the essence of religion, which should be bringing people together, too frequently focuses on wedge issues that break us apart.
“Additionally, it is illegal to advocate from the pulpit. Churches are categorized by the federal government as 501(c)3 groups, which are charitable nonprofits and by law, are tax exempt, so they cannot act politically.”
Despite pulpit politics being illegal, it does happen. Whether from the pulpit or during coffee hour, the influence of the religions in our country becomes embedded in the American voter’s psyche just about every Sunday morning. Yet, this can also be said of social media, and there is an argument that the influence from both sources is very similar and very effective.
However costly or ineffective town halls are, politicians need to find a way to connect with the population of people who simply don’t use the Internet for whatever reason. If there are ministers who refuse to use the pulpit for a political agenda and some who believe it is their (illegal) divine duty, what are politicians to do if elections continue to be so close? The 11% who are unplugged and attend church every Sunday are votes politicians cannot continue to ignore.
One can only conclude that both sides of the aisle better grab a horse and a buggy or hitch a ride on a slurry truck right out to the old town halls and Wednesday night pot luck suppers across America, and start shaking hands and kissing babies like the old days.