God-o-Meter is struck by the number of faith-based storylines the news media appear to have gotten dead wrong this year.
One was the line that Obama was poised to make big gains among white votes, especially evangelicals, who were undergoing a generational shift in their political thinking and reexamining their longstanding allegiance to the GOP. Obama made modest improvements among white evangelicals compared to John Kerry in 2004, but it was nothing historic; white evangelicals backed McCain yesterday by 74-percent.
Another was that evangelical turnout would be dampened by their ambivalence over John McCain and disillusionment with the GOP. Didn’t happen, In fact, white evangelical turnout represented a significantly bigger share of the vote in states like Ohio and Indiana than in 2004.
And now this: remember that storyline about Obama struggling to win Jewish voters, given his support for negotiating with Iran, his past support for the Palestinian cause, the false Muslim rumor campaign, the fact that he wasn’t Hillary Clinton, etc.? Well, he got 82-percent of those votes, compared to 75-percent for Kerry. It turns out the one white religious constituency that Obama made serious inroads in is the one that the news media said he was struggling for.

obamachurch5.jpgFor all the time, money, and effort that Democrats and their liberal allies spent trying to move the faithful into their column–particularly the white faithful–it seems that they have relatively little to show for it, despite Obama’s decisive victory. Yes, Obama narrowed the God Gap. He took 44-percent of weekly churchgoers, compared to 35-percent for John Kerry in 2004.
But most of the narrowing appears to have come at the hands of minority voters, the ones that have historically formed the Democratic party base, rather than the white religious voters that the Obama campaign and its faith-based allies wooed so strenuously.
Among white Catholics, Obama fared only slightly better than Kerry, winning 46-percent compared to 43-percent for the 2004 Democratic nominee. Among white evangelicals, Obama won 25-percent, compared to Kerry’s 21-percent. While these are improvements over the Democratic showing four years ago, it’s important to remember that Bush was an aberration. He formed a special bond with evangelicals and organized an unprecedented religious outreach campaign that targeted white Catholics in a major way.
When seen that way, Obama’s success narrowing the God Gap is more of a return to the traditional levels of support for a Democratic nominee that predated Bush’s standout 2004 performance. It’s difficult to provide hard numerical evidence of that because of the way faith-related questions were asked in exit polls prior to 2004 and because of the way those polls was provided, but religious scholars like John Green of University of Akron say they suspect this was the case.

Responding to GOM’s earlier post wondering whether the religious left would take too much credit for Obama’s gains among the faithful, given that the economy was the primary motivator, Faith in Public Life’s Kristin Williams writes:

Saw your post on our religious vote memo. One point of clarification: though we do think the economy is only one piece of the puzzle, we agree that it’s a top priority for all voters. We pointed out that “Economic issues topped the list of most important issues among all religious groups” in our Faith and American Politics Survey findings and the memo states on pgs. 3-4, “A broader issue agenda also leads religious voters to view economic issues in moral terms. With the economy as the top issue of concern among all religious groups, organizations like Faith in Public Life, Faithful America, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Sojourners have been emphasizing the moral imperatives inherent in economic policy with online actions and ad campaigns.”
Also, the general political conversation these days is “it’s the economy stupid.” From our religion & politics angle, we’re looking to contribute a more nuanced story. Of course the economy is effecting all voters, but this memo is about factors that uniquely influence religious voters, particularly evangelicals and Catholics.

(6:41) Like God-o-Meter was saying earlier, the Democrats’ likely gains among various faith constituencies were probably aided by Democratic/progressive faith outreach, but the economy is the main driver. Early AP exit polls:

Economy most important issue: Six in 10 voters
Family situation gotten worse in last four years: At least four in 10 voters

(6:46) Early evangelical numbers: CNN’s Bill Schneider just reported that McCain won white evangelical voters 72-percent to 26-percent. But that’s not the full story. Obama did much better among white evangelicals among may states, winning Minnesota. And in a handful of states, including all-important Ohio, he narrowed Bush’s evangelical advantage significantly.
(7:00) Beliefnet’s Steve Waldman reports that exit polls show that Obama has narrowed the God Gap substantially:

Bush beat Kerry among weekly church-goers by 61-percent – 39-percent. McCain is beating Obama 54%-44%

(7:38) Yet more evidence of the God Gap between religious conservatives like Sarah Palin and the GOP’s more secular party establishment? Politico reports:

Steve Schmidt, talking to reporters today on McCain’s plane as they made two final stops, offered a revealing non-answer when asked if he was happy with the selection of Sarah Palin.
“You know, we’ll uh, I’m not going to do, there’ll be time for all the post mortems in the race,” Schmidt said.
Asked if he was happy with what she had done for the ticket, Schmidt again deflected the question.
“I think that, you know, I think we’ll know in a few hours what the results are, you know and I, there’ll be a time for all the post mortem parts of it,” Schmidt said. “That’s not this afternoon before the polls close.”
Plainly, Schmidt is trying to be a good soldier in the waning hours of the election. But that he wouldn’t offer even the sparest of phrase for his candidate’s running mate while polls are still open underscores the perception, reinforced by polls, that she hurt more than helped.

(8:02) Could evangelical turnout be up over 2004?
That’d be something, given that 3.5 million more evangelicals turned out that year than in 2000, mostly thanks to Karl Rove’s and the GOP’s unprecedented evangelical get-out-the-vote effort. But Huffington Post reports that Indiana, evangelical turnout is up over 2004, with Obama making modest gains over John Kerry:

42% of voters are white evangelicals, up from 35% in 2004. McCain is getting 68% of their support. Bush captured 77% of the vote in 2004.

Still, that’s a net gain for McCain. Trends like that elsewhere would put an end to the theory that evangelicals are unexcited about McCain. Is there Sarah Palin’s handiwork?
(8:14) Fox News Channel is projecting that state senator Kay Hagan has defeated North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole. The race recently saw Dole airing an ad insinuating that Hagan was “Godless”–and a response ad from Hagan testifying to her faith. More evidence that Dems can talk about faith and win. Makes 2004 seem like ancient history.
(9:00) A handful of sources suggest that the Kay “Godless” Hagan’s defeat of North Carolina U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole was decisive. It wasn’t a squeaker. This was a state that then North Carolina Senator John Edwards couldn’t carry for the Kerry-Edwards ticket in 2004.
(9:12) Nowhere did the white evangelical vote matter more in 2004 than in Ohio. Evangelicals there, who constituted 25-percent broke for George Bush over John Kerry 76-24. And according to CNN’s exit polls, McCain did exceedingly well among Ohio white evangelicals today, winning them 70-29. Bush level, no, but Bush had a very special bond with evangelical voters. This is totally in line with how Republicans have performed with white evangelicals historically.
So much for white evangelicals souring to John McCain. And get this: white evangelicals accounted for a full 30-percent of voters in Ohio today. If McCain loses tonight, as expected, Sarah Palin will doubtless get a lot of blame. But it looks like she did her job in a lot of places: rallying the party’s evangelical base.
(9:30) Exit polls in Indiana: White evangelicals break for McCain 69-30, compared to 2004’s 77-22 break for Bush. An improvement for Democrats, no question. But GOM stresses that comparing 2008 evangelical numbers to 2004 ain’t fair, given Bush’s special bond with those voters.
What really strikes GOM is that evangelical turnout, as high as it was in 2004, is up even higher as a share of the total electorate this year: 43-percent of the electorate in Indiana today, compared to 35-percent in 2004. This blows the theory that evangelicals would stay home this year out of the water. Exactly the opposite has happened.
(10:07) In Ohio, which the networks have called for Obama, the Illinois senator won Catholics 51-47. That’ compared to a 55-44 Ohio Catholic breakdown for Bush in 2004. It’s a small but significant inroad for Obama. That’s what his faith outreach seems to be adding up to: modest but important gains among important faith constituencies–though still losing some of the important ones–that are adding up to narrow victories in places lik the Buckeye State.
(10:15) The media, and GOM, are obsessed with how white evangelicals and white Catholics are voting. Obama is making modest inroads among those groups compared to 2004, though the patterns in those groups line up with the historical patterns that predated 2004. But he’s making much bigger gains among minority voters and those who identify as having no religion. In 2004, “white nones” went to Bush 64 – 36. This time, they broke for Obama 74 – 12. Now that’s an inroad. Yes, Obama is making some gains among the faithful. But it’s the unreligious who really swoon for him.
(10:50) In Pennsylvania, Obama lost Catholics 52 – 48, even though John Kerry narrowly won them in 2004. Obama split Protestants evenly with McCain. So how did he win the Keystone state? Big spikes in the “other religion” and “no religion” categories. That’s as important a story as the (much remarked upon) success of Obama’s religious outreach.
(11:00) Obama wins.