The Myth of the 'God Gulf'

Blue states and red states are more alike than they seem

The Democrats have become the "secular party," the Republicans the party of the religious. So says the current conventional wisdom.

This "God Gulf," in the words of New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, is reflected in polls like this recent one from Pew Center for People and the Press: 64 percent of those who attend church more than once a week intend to vote for President Bush while 66 percent of those who never attend plan to vote for the Democrat - a whopping 32 point gap. Columnist Robert Novak refers to the "highly secularist" nature of the Democratic Party, echoing an article in the Public Interest magazine called "Our Secularist Democratic Party."

But there is no God Gulf. It's a myth. Yes, there are significant differences between the approaches of Democratic and Republican voters on religion, but much political analysis has misstated what's actually going on.

What we have seen is not a faith gap but a church attendance gap. Study after study have indeed showed that those who attend worship services regularly do vote Republican and those who don't, vote Democratic. For instance, the 2000 National Survey of Religion and Politics showed that 51.9 percent percent of Republicans attend weekly compared to just 37.4 percent of Democrats. This attendance gap appears even to have widened as we move toward the 2004 election.


But church attendance is just one aspect of religiosity. When that same poll asked about "prayer outside of worship" the gap shrunk dramatically, with 67 percent of Republicans and 61 percent of Democrats reporting that they pray daily or more often.

Another measure of spirituality is whether people believe in life after death. The percentage of people who do believe that and are Republican: 94 percent. The percentage that are Democratic: 92 percent. Asked the importance of religion in their lives, there was a similar pattern. Among those who said it was very important, the partisan gap was just 45.4 percent to 38 percent, and even that 7-point gap shrunk to almost nothing when you create a broader category of people for whom religion either very or somewhat important.

In other words, most Republicans and most Democrats pray, believe in life after death, and find religion important. The vast majority of people in both parties are, in fact, religious or spiritual.

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Steven Waldman and John Green
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