It's hard to remember a more blatant appeal to religious prejudice appearing in a presidential campaign than the full-page advertisement placed in yesterday's New York Times by the pro-Kerry group known as MoveOn.org. It took issue with the Gallup poll, which has been finding President Bush in the lead in the presidential campaign. The ad concluded with a nasty personal attack, saying: "Gallup, who is a devout evangelical Christian, has been quoted as calling his polling 'a kind of ministry.' And a few months ago, he said 'the most profound purpose of polls is to see how people are responding to God.' We thought the purpose is to faithfully and factually report public opinion."
Our Josh Gerstein has a story on Page 1 with the reaction of religious Christians and others to this ad. "What if the poll was headed by a devout Jew?" Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League told us. "How would we have felt?" The Gallup Organization itself set the record straight yesterday, noting that the Mr. Gallup who is attacked in the MoveOn.org ad, George Gallup Jr., retired from the Gallup Organization in May. At least one of the quotes in the MoveOn ad was from an appearance by Mr. Gallup at his daughter's seminary graduation - a natural occasion for Mr. Gallup to speak of religion and his work.
Accepting the Democratic nomination, Mr. Kerry said, "In this campaign, we welcome people of faith. America is not us and them. I think of what Ron Reagan said of his father a few weeks ago, and I want to say this to you tonight: I don't wear my own faith on my sleeve. But faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday." If he genuinely welcomes people of faith to his campaign, it is a puzzlement to us that his political allies, like MoveOn.org, would unleash such an unhinged attack on a pollster for his religion.
And the argument is just nuts. MoveOn.org seems, after all, to be suggesting that because Mr. Gallup is a Christian, his polls are biased toward Mr. Bush.
Are we to believe that secular humanist pollsters are biased toward the Democrats? It's tempting to shrug off all this as another nadir in the Democrats' campaign.
But there's more at stake here than partisan advantage. It's a troubling sign of the times that a major political group like MoveOn.org - a group to which both Governor Dean and Vice President Gore have close ties - would be trying to make a campaign issue of a pollster's religion. The MoveOn.org ad included the group's slogan: "Democracy in Action." Well, we suppose it depends on what the definition of democracy is.