Conservatives love ‘Merry Christmas.’ Liberals don’t care.

December 3, 2013

"'Happy Holidays' is what liberals say," according to a mug the National Republican Congressional Committee is selling on its Web site and a T-shirt it had been marketing.

It's a surefire way to rev up the conservative base and raise some cash, even if most liberals have no preference between "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" and the ones that do tend to side with the former. Conservatives, by comparison, display a much stronger preference for "Merry Christmas."

Polling shows the GOP swag misses the mark on liberals. Fewer than one in five liberals (18 percent) preferred hearing secular greetings such as “Happy Holidays” from shops and businesses in a 2012 Pew Research Center poll; at least as many preferred “Merry Christmas” (22 percent), while a whopping 60 percent said it “doesn’t matter.”

But holiday greetings matter much more for conservatives, among whom 60 percent said they prefer “Merry Christmas” vs. just 7 percent for more secular holidays.

The survey underscores how Americans’ views on holiday greetings are split between “Merry Christmas” advocates and those who couldn’t care less. Just 12 percent of the public overall clearly preferred more secular greetings, while the rest split about evenly between “Merry Christmas” (42 percent) and saying it doesn’t matter (46 percent).

A 2005 Post-ABC poll found more unity on the issue of whether businesses and public institutions should secularize holiday greetings. Over seven in 10 said shifting from “Merry Christmas” toward “Happy Holidays” and “season’s greetings” was a change for the worse; 25 percent for the better.

Thus, the NRCC's tack allows them to fire up their own base without alienating everybody else, many of whom have no stated preference.

When it comes to displaying Christmas trees on government property, there has been scant opposition in recent years. Eighty-three percent of Americans said Christmas trees and nativity scenes should be allowed on government property in a 2005 Pew Research poll. There’s less support for displaying only Christmas symbols – just over four in 10 (44 percent) said Christmas-only displays should be allowed.

So Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (D), who reversed course from the last two years Monday when he dubbed the tree at the State House a "Christmas Tree," appears to now be aligned with most Americans.

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Sean Sullivan · December 3, 2013