Thursday, August 23, 2007

Religion and the Presidential Vote


The Pew Research Center has released a very interesting analysis of voting patterns in the last Presidential election. In addition to the well known differences between religious groups, the analysis notes that even among adherents to the same faith, support for the Republican candidate grew with the frequency of worship attendance:

An analysis of national exit polls from 2004 shows there is not one but two religion gaps -- one based on religious affiliation and the other based on frequency of attendance at worship services. Recent surveys by the Pew Research Center provide evidence that both of these religion gaps are at work as the public evaluates the candidates for the 2008 presidential race. The surveys also indicate that the Democrats may be doing better than they did in 2004 among some religious groups.

. . .

Voters who report attending religious services at least once a week -- regardless of religious affiliation -- tend to vote more Republican. Those who say they attend religious services less often (termed "less observant" for the purpose of this analysis) tend to vote more Democratic.

In the 2004 presidential election, exit polling by the National Election Pool found that religious affiliation and frequency of attendance at worship services had a larger impact than many other, better-known factors, including the "gender gap" between men and women and the "class gap" between the most and least affluent voters.

The difference in the votes of evangelical Protestants and black Protestants is an example of the affiliation gap; 79% of evangelical Protestants voted for President Bush, compared with 14% of black Protestants -- a difference of 65 percentage points. . . . Members of some religious groups, including mainline Protestants, divided their votes more equally between Bush and his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry. But large differences separated mainline Protestants from evangelical Protestants in their support for Bush (a 25-percentage-point gap) and mainline Protestants from black Protestants in their support for Kerry (a 40-point gap).

The religion gap based on attendance, although not as stark as the affiliation gap, is also significant. Within all the major religious traditions surveyed, people who attended religious services at least once a week voted more Republican than did their less-observant counterparts within the same religious affiliation.

Among evangelical Protestants, for example, Bush received support from 82% of those who attended services at least weekly, compared with support from 72% of those who attended services less frequently (a gap of 10 percentage points). Comparing evangelical Protestants' support for Bush with that for Kerry, Bush held a 44-point advantage over Kerry among evangelical Protestants who attended services less than weekly. However, the advantage for Bush increased to 64 points among evangelical Protestants who attended services at least weekly.

The pattern also held true within religious traditions that generally supported Kerry. Among black Protestants, Kerry received greater support from those who attended services less than once a week than from those who attended services weekly or more often (92% vs. 83%, a nine-percentage-point gap). Comparing black Protestants' support for Kerry with that for Bush, Kerry held an 84-point advantage among those who attended services less than weekly. However, the advantage decreased to 66 points among black Protestants who attended services at least once a week.

The gap based on frequency of attendance at worship services also is apparent even within religious traditions that split their votes somewhat more equally between the two candidates. For example, among non-Latino Catholics, Bush received much greater support than did Kerry from those who attended services at least weekly (a 24-point gap), while Bush's support among those who attended services less than once a week was not as overwhelming (a six-point gap).


Interestingly, the analysis also notes that the 2008 Democratic candidates appear to be already attracting more religious support than John Kerry:


There is some preliminary evidence that the affiliation gap again is at work in the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election.


A January 2007 Pew survey, for example, asked people if they would most like to vote for a conservative Republican candidate, a moderate Republican candidate, a moderate Democratic candidate or a liberal Democratic candidate for president in 2008. As in 2004, religious affiliation appears to be an important factor in the responses: Evangelical Protestants were the most likely to back a Republican presidential candidate. Conversely, the lowest level of support for a Republican came from unaffiliated voters and a composite of religious groups -- including black Protestants -- that were too small to break out individually in the Pew survey. Falling in between were mainline Protestants and non-Latino Catholics; their support for a Republican was lower than that of evangelical Protestants but higher than that of the unaffiliated.



The gap based on frequency of attendance at worship services also may be at work. Regardless of affiliation, weekly attenders were more likely to back a Republican candidate than were the less observant. The survey also showed, however, that many of the constituencies that backed Bush in 2004, including less-observant evangelical Protestants, are more likely to support a Democratic candidate in 2008. In addition, the Democrats are attracting even stronger support from religious constituencies that backed Kerry in 2004. For example, 38% of weekly attending non-Latino Catholics voted for Kerry in 2004, but 52% say they would "like to vote" for a Democrat in 2008.



Read it all here. It is interesting that frequency of worship was positively correlated with voting Republican even in denominations that supported Democrats. This may reflect a perceived hostility to faith by the Democrats--a perception that the current crop of Democratic candidates are fighting quite hard to change. this may explain the better numbers for the Democrats in 2008.

6 comments:

The Exterminator said...

So are you suggesting, Chuck, that pandering to the religious vote is a good idea for Democrats? When faith is discussed by a candidate ad nauseam, the implication is that religion will play an active part in his or her administration. I think the Constitution forbids that, at least implicitly. (Remember that the framers went out of their way not to include any religious references in their document. And of course, they explicitly forbade a religious test as a qualification for holding office. Not to mention--oops, I just did--the First Amendment's prohibition of any kind of establishment by the Congress.)

I think, if I've read you correctly all these months, you're in favor of separation of church and state. How can you reconcile that position with a suggestion that Democrats cozy up to those members of the electorate who use religion as a criterion? Voters who cast their ballots based on a religious preference expect something in return.

Chuck Blanchard said...

Exterminator:

I think that the current Democratic candidates are largely displaying respect and understanding of the values and concerns of religious voters. At the same time, the current field of candidates is as liberal (and in some cases even more so) as Kerry on issues like gay rights and abortion. I see nothing wrong with these Democrats showing respect for voters who are religious.

I expect, of course, these Democrats to show the same respect for voters like you that are not religious. To date, I have seen no evidence that any f the leading Democrats have made commitments inconsistent with the Separation of Church and State.

The Exterminator said...

Chuck:

I think from your standpoint it's easy to believe that the current crop of Democrats are merely showing respect to religion, as well as to lack of same. Because of your personal beliefs, I'm not sure you have automatic empathy with non-believers, and I wouldn't expect you to. I know, however, that you'll empathize and sympathize when I point out the following.

I must say that I, as an atheist, am deeply offended every time faith is bandied about in one of their debates or speeches. The implication is that religion is a positive value, and its lack is a negative one. So, no, they don't show me the same respect they show the most outrageously backwards fundamentalists, who think it's just peachy for their god to smite all non-believers.

Now, I happen to think that respect for freedom of thought should overtop faith as a criterion for presidential suitability. But the candidates do not discuss true freedom of thought at all, let alone with the fervor that they use for proclaiming their love for all things biblical.

I'm not asking that a candidate be an atheist. All I'm asking is that he or she say, out loud, and not just as a throw-away, that non-belief is a constitutionally protected alternative to religion, and one that deserves equal tolerance. I would also find it as close to a miracle as I can in my godlessness if one or more candidates actively disavowed the use of religion as a campaigning tactic.

Unfortunately, the only one who seems to have done so is Giuliani -- who, as you and I both know -- is unacceptable for a myriad of other reasons.

Chuck Blanchard said...

Exterminator:

It may not get the same press as the statements about faith, but I know at least one candidate on the Democratic side has actually been careful to make the very points you make. The following comes form a speech to the United Church of Christ assembly--to me it speaks volumes that he would say this to a religious audience:

"So let's rededicate ourselves to a new kind of politics - a politics of conscience. Let's come together - Protestant and Catholic, Muslim and Hindu and Jew, believer and non-believer alike. We're not going to agree on everything, but we can disagree without being disagreeable. We can affirm our faith without endangering the separation of church and state, as long as we understand that when we're in the public square, we have to speak in universal terms that everyone can understand. And if we can do that - if we can embrace a common destiny - then I believe we'll not just help bring about a more hopeful day in America, we'll not just be caring for our own souls, we'll be doing God's work here on Earth. Thank you."

Chuck Blanchard said...

Opps--the speech I quote above was by Barak Obama.

The Exterminator said...

You're still not getting my point, Chuck, which is unlike you. Just place yourself in my seat for a second. I'm going to use the same Obama quote you did, but I'm going to gloss it -- the way I hear it.

So let's rededicate ourselves to a new kind of politics - a politics of conscience. [Sounds great. Having a conscience is not dependent on a god-belief.]

Let's come together - Protestant and Catholic, Muslim and Hindu and Jew, believer and non-believer alike. [A nod to nonbelievers. Yay.]

We're not going to agree on everything, but we can disagree without being disagreeable. [Yup.]

We can affirm our faith without endangering the separation of church and state, as long as we understand that when we're in the public square, we have to speak in universal terms that everyone can understand. [Oops. Notice that he didn't say "universal terms that don't presume one worldview takes precedence over others." No, he wants everyone to understand. Well, I don't understand, at the deepest level, a belief in any supernatural beings. I understand that many people have that belief, and I would defend their right to that belief. But ... ummmm ... I don't understand it.]

And if we can do that - if we can embrace a common destiny - then I believe we'll not just help bring about a more hopeful day in America, we'll not just be caring for our own souls, [what about those of us who don't believe humans have souls?] we'll be doing God's work here on Earth. [In other words, "I'll give lip-service to nonbelievers, but I'm still going to claim to do the work of an entity in whom they don't believe. And I'm going to claim that even they, if they elect me, will be doing such work.]

Chuck, I want a candidate who does humanity's work. I've seen some of "god's work," and I'm not impressed. So let's leave god's work to him, whether he exists or not, and elect someone who thinks that we humans are solely responsible for finding solutions to our earthly problems.