It Wasn't Just (Or Even Mostly) the 'Religious Right'

New Beliefnet Analysis: Catholics and moderately religious voters were just as important as very religious 'Born Agains'

BY: Steven Waldman and John Green

 

Continued from page 1

That success didn't lead to an electoral college landslide for Bush for two reasons. First, a disproportionate share of the surge appears to be in the southern states that he already had locked up.

Second, evangelical turnout was at least partly offset by increased turnout from pro-Kerry groups. Kerry got roughly two million more votes from 18-29-year-olds than Gore did in 2000. He received approximately 1.6 million more votes from African Americans than Gore did. Churchgoers voted in greater numbers-but so did secular voters, and, in fact, nearly everbody else.

There is much we still don't know about the religious vote, and it should be noted that this analysis was based on the very same exit polls that are now being criticized. But it is clear that the Bush victory was not just the result of white, regular church-going, conservative, born-again Protestants.

What's more, it's not yet known

why

Catholics might have shifted to Bush and to what extent "moral values"-whether in general or related to abortion or gay marriage-might have played a role.

What is clear is that the Bush campaign worked assiduously to win the Catholic vote. "If we lose any of the Catholic vote, we lose the election," said Deal Hudson, Bush's Catholic coordinater, said during the campaign. The campaign appointed 50,000 Catholic "team leaders" at the local level, and the president made a point of visiting the Pope (in June 2004) and putting his picture on the campaign website with a headline "Catholics for Bush." Pro-life groups ran TV ads attacking Kerry's support for abortion "in all nine months of pregnancy." Efforts by liberal Catholic groups and the Kerry campaign were puny by comparison.

The findings do potentially affect the internal discussion beginning in Democratic circles over how to win back the White House. Appealing to middle-of-the-road and Hispanic Catholics, as well as moderate protestants, may be the key to crafting a new, winning agenda.

Other factors beyond religion played a major role. Bush's surprising victory among seniors and his increased strength among Hispanics were among the most important.

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