Pew poll shows that voters value candidates’ faith
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a new poll about the presidential candidates’ favorability ratings and popular perceptions of their faith. Pew’s summary leads off by saying that
So far religion is not proving to be a clear-cut positive in the 2008 presidential campaign. The candidates viewed by voters as the least religious among the leading contenders are the current frontrunners for the Democratic and Republican nominations – Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, respectively. On the other hand, the candidate seen as far and away the most religious – Mitt Romney – is handicapped by this perception because of voter concerns about Mormonism.
However, the data show clearly that religious faith is seen as a huge positive for every candidate about whom adequate data was gathered. Consider the attached table.
The report’s introduction doesn’t seem to match its results. Being perceived as religious clearly is a net positive for each candidate, including Romney. While there’s no disputing that Clinton and Giuliani are frontrunners in election polls and in “Godless numbers,” correlation doesn’t even suggest causation here. In fact, there’s a much clearer correlation between their popularity and perceptions that they are religious. Buried far beneath the study’s introduction is this:
Overall views of the presidential candidates are linked with views of their religiosity; those who perceive a candidate as being very religious tend to express the most favorable overall views of each candidate, followed by those who perceive the candidate as being somewhat religious. Those who view candidates as being not too or not at all religious, on the other hand, are much less likely to express favorable views.
Eighty-seven percent of people who view Hillary Clinton as very religious have a favorable impression of her, and only 22 percent of people who view her as not very religious have a favorable impression. Giuliani is viewed favorably by 77 percent of people who see him as very religious, but only by 43 percent of people who see him as lacking faith. In Clinton’s case, faith seems to be among her strongest assets, and perceived lack of faith looks like her greatest weakness. Giuliani too seems to benefit a great deal from perceptions of piety and to be damaged by perceptions of faithlessness. This pattern holds for all other candidates, as well.
A multitude of impressions, values and beliefs contribute to people’s candidate preference. That perceptions of religiosity vs irreligiosity do not perfectly mirror the results of the latest election polls is not an argument against the clear importance of religion to voters. If anything, Clinton and Giuliani succeed in spite of their “godless numbers.” For them and for all candidates studied, a religious image is an unmistakable asset.