Recent surveys suggest Democrats may be closing the “God gap” credited with helping President Bush win re-election in 2004, according to a recent analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
An article by John C. Green, Senior Fellow in Religion and American Politics, says an analysis of national exit polls in 2004 shows that there is not one, but two, religion gaps.
One, based on religious affiliation, has been recognized for decades as a factor in predicting if a person is more likely to vote for a Democrat or a Republican.
In 2004 a second gap based on frequency of attendance gained attention, as voters who claimed to attend religious services at least once a week–regardless of affiliation–tended to vote more Republican and those termed “less observant” voted more often for Democrats.
Green said there is no simple “religious majority” in the American electorate. That means presidential campaigns must assemble broad coalitions encompassing many religious communities.
While it is too early to be sure, Green said, some recent polls suggest Democrats heading into the 2008 election may be faring better with some religious groups than they did in 2004.
Evangelical Protestants who attend church at least weekly were President Bush’s most solid voting bloc in 2004, accounting for about a third of his total votes on Election Day.
Democratic contender Sen. John Kerry, meanwhile, received strongest support from religiously unaffiliated voters, about 20 percent of his total votes, and did well with other groups, including black Protestants and non-Latino Catholics.
Weekly attending evangelicals supported Bush over Kerry by an 82 percent-to-18 percent margin in 2004. In a January 2007 poll asking people if they would most likely vote for a Republican or Democrat for president in 2008, the group still leaned Republican, but by a smaller margin. Just 64 percent of observant Protestants said they would probably prefer a Republican in 2008, a drop of 18 points from those who voted for Bush in 2004.
Early preferences show that many of the constituencies that backed Bush in 2004 are more likely to support a Democratic candidate in 2008. Less-observant Protestants, who voted 72 percent for Bush three years ago, now are divided 40 percent Republican to 34 percent Democrat.
Sixty-two percent of weekly attending non-Latino Catholics voted for Bush in 2004. Now a majority (52 percent) say they are more likely to vote for a Democrat.
Democrats also lead Republicans among less-observant non-Latino Catholics (55 percent to 27 percent), weekly attending Mainline Protestants (43 percent to 36 percent), less-observant Mainline Protestants (48 percent to 32 percent), weekly attending other faiths (59 percent to 23 percent), less-observant other faiths (69 percent to 12 percent) and unaffiliated (56 percent to 16 percent).
Green said these early preferences “must be viewed with caution,” because it is possible the numbers simply reflect low approval ratings for the president at the time of the surveys and the survey questions did not mention a specific candidate of either party.
“But if the patterns in these early surveys were to translate into votes in the 2008 general election, the Democrats would do better among some groups of religious voters than in 2004,” Green observed. “Whichever candidate prevails, the religion gaps are likely to help explain the outcome.”
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said last year in an editorial that part of the reason for the Democrats’ “God problem” was that the Christian Right successfully ordained the GOP as “God’s Only Party” for 25 years, while stigmatizing Democrats as hostile to people of faith.
But Parham said Democrats also deserved blame, for parroting the “We are people of faith, too” message by politicians who don’t read the Bible or actually go to church.
“Too many so-called faithful Democrats are political consultants without church credentials, politicians without a church attendance record and special-interest advocates who think that claiming to be spiritual validates their faith to those who believe their salvation is in Jesus Christ alone,” Parham said.
Today the Nashville, Tenn.,-based BCE released an educational DVD, “Golden Rule Politics: Reclaiming the Rightful Role of Faith in Politics,” challenging the prevailing cultural myth that either political party is favored by God.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.