Gallup has released an “Early Road Map to the McCain-Obama Matchup” suggesting that, despite John McCain’s anemic religious outreach, and despite Barack Obama’s unprecedented efforts to win over the faithful (at last count, the Obama camp employed three fulltime faith outreach operatives) the Republican/Democrat God Gap in the American electorate has remained more or less unchanged.
McCain enjoys a 19-point cushion among voters who attend religious services weekly. Obama’s ahead by 16 points among those who rarely or never attend church. Among Protestants, McCain’s ahead by ten points. His lead there would be more decisive but for the African American Protestants in that group who overwhelmingly back Obama.
Does all of this mean that religious voting patterns in this country are so deeply entrenched that it doesn’t much matter whether the candidates engage in serious religious outreach or not? God-o-Meter doesn’t think so. It’s evidence: the 2006 elections, when small but significant changes in religious voting patterns, particularly by way of Democratic inroads among regular churchgoers, evangelicals, and Catholics, were key to the party’s victories in Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
The early map from Gallup is a helpful reminder that a year and a half after this race began, the candidates are starting from scratch in the eyes of religious voters. That doesn’t mean those voters’ views won’t change. The last midterm elections are proof that they can.