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'

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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 with this 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.

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.

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Steven Waldman and John Green
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