Can the Democrats Hold the Gains They Made With Faith Voters?

November 6, 2008, 3:12 pm | Posted by

In a country where religion plays a big role in politics, U.S. Democrats have made some big gains with voters of faith.

A number of exit polls have shown that President-elect Barack Obama narrowed the “God gap” that existed when President George W. Bush, a Republican, defeated Democratic challenger John Kerry in 2004.

According to Faith in Public Life, a non-partisan resource center, and Public Religion Research, Obama increased the Democratic share of the tally among all groups categorized by how often they attend church.

The groups noted that he made his biggest gains among voters who attend church more than once a week, “narrowing a 29-point Republican advantage (64 percent – 35 percent) to a 12-point Republican advantage (55 percent – 43 percent). This represents an 8-point increase among a strongly Republican group.”

Other highlights it noted included:

- Obama won monthly attenders 53 percent to 46 percent, while Kerry lost them 49 percent to 51 percent, a 4-point pickup.

- Obama beat Republican rival John McCain soundly among Catholics (55 percent to 44 percent), performing better than Kerry in 2004 and Democrat Al Gore in 2000.

- Among white Catholics, Obama narrowed the Republican advantage from Bush’s 13-

point advantage (56 percent to 43 percent), with McCain holding only a 5-point advantage (52 percent to 47 percent).

- White evangelical Protestants remained the most reliable base for the Republican Party with McCain beating Obama among them 75 percent to 24 percent — falling only slightly short of Bush’s standing with them in 2004. This finding was similar to other exit polls such as CNN’s.

All of this is interesting stuff and highlights, among other things, Obama’s success in wooing religious voters through an outreach program and his own overt gestures of faith.

His small inroads with evangelical voters show that some in this diversifying movement hope he will support their efforts as they broaden their biblical agenda to include the fight against climate change.

His gains elsewhere, such as among Catholics, probably stem from many factors including voter concerns about the economy, which overshadowed almost everything else in the last few weeks of the election.

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Experts Point to Significant Electoral Shifts among the Faithful

November 5, 2008, 7:11 pm | Posted by

Exit poll analysis memo available here.

Audio recording of press conference available here.

The 2008 exit polls reveal a substantial narrowing of the so-called “God Gap” and significant shifts among evangelical and Catholic voters from 2004. Today, religious and polling experts discussed significant changes in religious voting patterns in a conference call with reporters.

“One thing is clear: 2008 was a dramatically different year for religion and politics than 2004,” said Katie Paris, Director of Communications Strategy at Faith in Public Life. “Evangelicals are not monolithic, Catholics are indeed swing voters, and the religious voices on the political scene are no longer just a few.”

“This is a religious rebalancing election,” said Dr. Robert Jones, president of Public Religion Research, who spearheaded the data analysis. “We see Roman Catholics being the very true swing voters — going for Gore, then Bush, and now solidly for Barack Obama, some diversification in the white evangelical vote, and Obama making inroads among all religious attendance groups, with the largest increase among the more than weekly attenders.”

Here are key findings from the Faith in Public Life and Public Religion Research analysis of the exit polls (full analysis memo is available online).

• Obama increased his share among all worship service attendance groups, but he made his greatest gains among voters who attend church more than once per week, narrowing a 29-point GOP advantage in 2004 to a 12-point GOP advantage in 2008.

• Obama won monthly attenders 53- 46, while Kerry lost them 49-51, a 4-point pickup.

• Obama beat McCain soundly among Catholics (55- 44), performing better than Kerry in 2004 and Gore in 2000.

• Among white Catholics, Obama narrowed the Republican advantage from Bush’s 13-point advantage to just 5 points.

• White evangelicals turned out solidly (23% of the vote) and strongly supported McCain (75- 24), but evangelical support for McCain was 5 points lower than support for Bush (79%) in 2004.

• In a number of states (including OH, MO, MI, IN, and NC), white evangelical turnout increased over 2004, but this increase did not favor McCain.

Evangelical and Catholic leaders on the conference call provided a close-up look at how faith and values affected the outcome of the election, including how the broadening faith agenda shaped religious voting behaviors.

“We need to read concern for the economy, as well as health care, the Iraq War, and other issues as having values dimensions,” Dr. David Gushee, professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University said, noting that the exits polls found that the economy was the top issue of concern for all voters. “The broadening of the agenda is partly about [it being] immoral that so many live in poverty, go bankrupt because of lack of healthcare…or that we have been involved in war almost endlessly and violated human rights…More and more evangelicals are seeing that this is worth voting for and praying about. Abortion and gay marriage aren’t the only relevant issues.” As Dr. Steve Schneck, director of the Life Cycle Institute at the Catholic University of America, noted, “The economy is itself a moral and religious issue.”

The leaders also spoke about how many people of faith are approaching politics differently today.

“The religious right has practiced a zero-sum game where somebody else has to lose for us to win,” said Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals. “Our strategy is a common good approach that says we are all in this together, whether it’s the air we breathe or the food we eat. We’re all in this together. That’s our strategy, and we have learned to work with those with whom we disagree.”

“There are cracks occurring in the religious right,” Rev. Cizik added. “The cracks occur because millions of evangelicals are concerned about hyperbolic rhetoric and the partisan attitude that pervades their public speech.” Dr. Schneck said: “There’s always been a hope on the part of the religious right to somehow awaken mainstream Roman Catholics in the United States to join their cause. I think this election suggests that the limits for that alliance have been reached as well.”

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The Election That Is, And Isn’t, About God

November 3, 2008, 3:28 pm | Posted by

It took a generation, but the Democratic Party finally got right with God.

Given the power of the poll in contemporary American politics, you would think someone would have convinced the Democrats years ago that, in a country where more than nine out of 10 voters believe in God, it doesn’t make much sense to leave the Almighty to the other guys. But one of the distinguishing marks of the Democrats over the past quarter-century has been their determination either to avoid uttering God’s name or to stammer while doing so. When it came to keywords such as “Bible” and “family” and “values,” Republicans had that territory pretty much to themselves.

But that was then. Now, even Democrats live in a world where the old wall between private faith and public policy lies in ruins. Ever since Barack Obama, then a little-known state senator from Illinois, stood up at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004 and affirmed that blue staters also “worship an awesome God,” the Democratic Party has been invoking divinity while contending that poverty and global warming and war and human rights are moral issues, too. Republicans are no longer alone in testifying to their personal religious convictions. Yes, Mike Huckabee invoked loaves and fishesand David and Goliath in an effort to convince his followers that even in U.S. politics, miracles can happen and underdogs can win. But Hillary Clinton played that game, too, repeatedly yoking her views on immigration policy to the New Testament’s Good Samaritan story.

Over the past two years, we’ve heard much about the Mormonism of Mitt Romney, the conservative Catholicism of Sam Brownback and the spiritual-warrior Pentecostalism of Sarah Palin. John McCain, who in 2000 had described leaders on the religious right as “agents of intolerance,” returned for this presidential campaign to the Republicans’ Reagan-era playbook, actively recruiting conservative evangelicals, not least by drafting as his running mate a politician so obscure that some suspected her primary qualification for the vice presidency was that she had accepted Jesus as her savior.

But Obama played the God card, too, confessing his sins and proclaiming his faith alongside Clinton and John Edwards in a primary season debate devoted to religion and politics, and parsing biblical passages alongside McCain in a widely hyped television conversation with the purpose-driven pastor Rick Warren. Along the way, Obama told us that his favorite Bible passage is the Sermon on the Mount, repeatedly denied allegations that he is a closet Muslim, and distanced himself from the controversial black-church pastor Jeremiah Wright.

Shifting landscape

When voters go to the polls Tuesday, they will be casting their ballots in a radically new political landscape in which Republicans no longer enjoy a monopoly on God talk. God only knows to whom God speaks, but both major parties now speak familiarly of God. And don’t think voters aren’t listening.

Although white evangelicals continue to prefer McCain over Obama by roughly the same numbers they preferred Bush over Kerry in 2004, other religious groups are drifting Democratic. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll released in October, Roman Catholics, who in 2004 opted narrowly for Bush (52% to 47%), now prefer Obama by a wide margin (59% to 31%).

The strongest evidence for a tectonic shift in America’s religio-political landscape, however, comes from a Faith in Public Life survey published in October. This poll shows an astonishing turnaround among Hispanic Protestants: from 63%-37% for Bush in 2004 to 50%-34% for Obama in 2008.

But the most telling data point comes in another Faith in Public Life survey, published by Public Religion Research: Americans see Obama as more friendly to religion than McCain. While 49% said Obama was “religion-friendly,” only 45% thought that description fit his GOP opponent, who in some moments during this campaign has seemed at least as pained discussing his faith as John Kerry did four years ago.

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Giving Permission For Pro-Life Voters to Vote For Obama

November 2, 2008, 3:33 pm | Posted by

*For, FPL built a coalition of religious leaders who were already dedicated to common ground solutions to reduce abortions to support an ad campaign to raise awareness about this approach. So far, ads have run in 11 states and during the March for Life in Washington, DC.

Religious progressives have really increased the volume on their argument that a Democratic approach could reduce abortions, even though Democrats are pro-choice. (See Doug Kmiec; Matthew25, and a new coalition called

What’s this really about? When i speak to folks in progressive religious world, it’s clear they don’t actually think they’re going to fully convince people that Obama would be better at reducing the number of abortions. After all, this is a rather novel, new argument. Their goal is more limited: to give pro-life voters who are wrestling with an Obama vote “permission” to take the plunge. By raising the idea that there are other ways to reduce abortions besides overturning Roe v. Wade, they make the typical pro-life voter who wants to vote for Obama for other reasons feel less guilty about it.

Evidence that conservatives are worried that this approach might be working: a new email from the Family Research Council entitled, “Abortion Reduction or Pro-life Seduction?” Pointing (accurately) to the fact that Obama supports federal funding for abortion, FRC says , “Americans will get what they pay for-and that is the death of even more innocent, unborn children.”

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U.S. Group Seeks “Third Way” On Abortion

October 31, 2008, 3:35 pm | Posted by

*For, FPL built a coalition of religious leaders who were already dedicated to common ground solutions to reduce abortions to support an ad campaign to raise awareness about this approach. So far, ads have run in 11 states and during the March for Life in Washington, DC.

No single issue in the United States has been as polarizing as abortion. Judging from the rhetoric, the campaigns by partisan groups and the general yelling back and forth it would appear it is a debate that will only be solved by either one side or the other declaring final victory, something that is not likely to happen any time soon.

This past week a new radio ad campaign began in the United States to talk about a “third way.” It is being sponsored by a group called Faith in Public Life, which tries to find common ground for people of faith on a range of issues, including abortion, poverty and immigration.

The ads are intended to get Americans to start thinking about practical ways of reducing abortion, given that the partisan debate of the past 35 years, since Roe vs. Wade, has not changed a thing — and the likelihood of Roe being overturned in the near future is remote. Americans keep having abortions, about 1.2 million a year, and poor women are four times more likely to have an abortion than those more well off.

Katie Paris, a spokeswoman for the group, said they thought the final week of a heated political campaign would be the best time to get their message out. She said both pro-life and pro-choice groups are running ads urging Americans to consider the abortion issue when casting their vote — though they fall short of endorsing a specific candidate.

“It’s the same old debate, same old rhetoric,” she said. “They are all focussed on the legality of abortion and demonizing each other. We believe this new approach is what most people are really interested in. We wanted to put a message out there that would really resonate. It’s trying to get people to think about it differently. We wanted to say it doesn’t have to be like this.”

The ad, which can be heard on, begins by arguing it is “time to stop the political posturing and get serious about protecting life.” It implores those who are pro-life and those who are pro-choice to get past “bumper-sticker rhetoric” and find issues that both sides can agree on to reduce the number of abortions. The web site talks about current bills meant to reduce abortions and quotes Catholic and evangelical supporters of the campaign.

“Even if Roe vs. Wade was overturned today it would not mean that abortions would end,” said Ms. Paris. “The question is: Are there practical things we can do today to start reducing the number of abortions?”

The new ad points out there are still a “tragic 2,400 late-term abortions each year,” but points out that far more babies born never make to their first birthday.

“Late-term abortions come up in the political debates and on talk shows,” said Ms. Paris. “But what nobody is talking about is that 10 times that number of babies die in their first year of life because of inadequate health care. Our infant mortality rate is embarrassing in the United States.”

She said a number of states have programs that have proven successful in reducing abortion and they hope the federal government would mimic the best of these programs and institute them nationally.

“It would also send a message that the government not only values choice but also life,” said Ms. Paris.

Their web site points to two current pieces of federal legislation meant to reduce abortions without calling for it to be illegal. They cover such things as providing for free pre- and post-natal care, making adoptions easier, creating more programs to prevent teen pregnancies and providing educational assistance for pregnant women who want to have their babies.

Ms. Paris said the ads are meant to draw out “pragmatic pro-lifers,” those who are interested in getting results.

“They are really tired of the haggling back and forth. They look at the fact that one in five pregnancies end in abortion in this country and that is too many.”

Two years ago the non-partisan Pew Research Center in Washington found that two out of three Americans support finding a middle ground on abortion. It found 62% of Republicans and 70% of Democrats favoured this approach. And more than six in 10 white evangelicals, often unfairly portrayed as the most strident anti-abortion activists, favoured a compromise.

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