Experts Point to Significant Electoral Shifts among the Faithful
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 â€œGod Gapâ€ 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.
â€œOne thing is clear: 2008 was a dramatically different year for religion and politics than 2004,â€ said Katie Paris, Director of Communications Strategy at Faith in Public Life. â€œEvangelicals are not monolithic, Catholics are indeed swing voters, and the religious voices on the political scene are no longer just a few.â€
â€œThis is a religious rebalancing election,â€ said Dr. Robert Jones, president of Public Religion Research, who spearheaded the data analysis. â€œWe 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.â€
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).
â€¢ 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.
â€¢ Obama won monthly attenders 53- 46, while Kerry lost them 49-51, a 4-point pickup.
â€¢ Obama beat McCain soundly among Catholics (55- 44), performing better than Kerry in 2004 and Gore in 2000.
â€¢ Among white Catholics, Obama narrowed the Republican advantage from Bushâ€™s 13-point advantage to just 5 points.
â€¢ 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.
â€¢ 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.
â€œWe need to read concern for the economy, as well as health care, the Iraq War, and other issues as having values dimensions,â€ 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. â€œThe broadening of the agenda is partly about [it being] immoral that so many live in poverty, go bankrupt because of lack of healthcareâ€¦or that we have been involved in war almost endlessly and violated human rightsâ€¦More and more evangelicals are seeing that this is worth voting for and praying about. Abortion and gay marriage arenâ€™t the only relevant issues.â€ As Dr. Steve Schneck, director of the Life Cycle Institute at the Catholic University of America, noted, â€œThe economy is itself a moral and religious issue.â€
The leaders also spoke about how many people of faith are approaching politics differently today.
â€œThe religious right has practiced a zero-sum game where somebody else has to lose for us to win,â€ said Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals. â€œOur strategy is a common good approach that says we are all in this together, whether itâ€™s the air we breathe or the food we eat. Weâ€™re all in this together. Thatâ€™s our strategy, and we have learned to work with those with whom we disagree.â€
â€œThere are cracks occurring in the religious right,â€ Rev. Cizik added. â€œThe cracks occur because millions of evangelicals are concerned about hyperbolic rhetoric and the partisan attitude that pervades their public speech.â€ Dr. Schneck said: â€œThereâ€™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.â€