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'
Another surprising finding: Bush did not dramatically improve his standing among people who go to church weekly or more often.
There was a big increase in the portion of the electorate made up of weekly churchgoers in the South--and yet nationally the figure didn't budge, indicating that regular churchgoers actually played asmaller
role outside the South.
Here again, the pattern was apparent in two decisive battleground states. In 2000, 43% of Ohio voters were people who attended church weekly or more often. In 2004, that percentage actually declined to 40%*--meaning regular churchgoers were, relatively, less important in the close outcome.
The same thing happened on a larger scale in Florida. In 2000, 41% of voter attended services weekly or more often. This year, the portion dropped to 35%.
Nationally, Bush did improve his standing among those who attend worship services monthly instead of weekly (his share of this vote rose from 46% to 50%.)* A possible explanation: contrary to the common stereotype, many religious people, including "born-again" Christians do not attend religious services weekly. It was withthis
group that GOP outreach efforts may have borne the most fruit.
Amusingly, one big improvement in Bush 's performance actually came from those who never go to church. He won 36% of this group compared to 32% last time.*
While it is certainly not the case that Bush rode to office on a wave of atheism and secularism, these patterns reveal the complexity of Bush coalition-it was not just the "religious right."
None of this is to suggest that white church-going evangelicals didn't play a significant role. They were probably particularly important in growing Bush's overall popular vote and in some close swing states. A good example is Iowa where where close to a third of the voters this time were white born again protestants.
Though changes in the wording of exit polls make it difficult to directly compare the evangelical vote this election and last. In addition, the evangelicals who did vote went for Bush by a greater margin-78% rather than 72% in 2000. The improved performance among those evangelicals who voted proved to be just as important as the turnout.
The combination of those two factors-the higher evangelical turnout and the greater margin-meant that Bush did beat his Karl Rove's much publicized target of drawing in four million evangelical voters.