Beliefnet
To: Politics and religion editors/reporters

From: Steve Waldman (Beliefnet) & Prof. John Green (University of Akron)

Re: Role of religion in the battleground states

Date: November 1, 2004


We've received many questions about how to parse the religion statistics on Tuesday, so we thought it might be useful to put in one place some thoughts about how to assess the religious dimension of the electorate.

Clean Data--First, there was no good single source of faith breakdowns for the states, so John just compiled a composite dataset for Beliefnet (using four different sources) for each of the battleground states. It gives state population breakdowns for: White Evangelical Protestant, Mainline Protestant, Black Protestant, Latino Protestant, Latino Catholic, non-Latino Catholic, Muslim, other Christian, Jews, Muslims, other non-Christian, unaffiliated, and other. These are estimates, of course, but they are the best estimates around. Here's the snazzy version: http://www.beliefnet.com/story/155/story_15528_1.html

By Tuesday Beliefnet will post the other states as well.

When it comes to religious blocs, in a tight election any number of different religious groups could make a difference--Jews in Florida, Muslims in Michigan, even the Amish in Pennsylvania. But in the big sweep of things, the two that matter most in this election are Evangelical Protestants and Catholic.

Key Things to Know About Evangelicals--Different pollsters are using different definitions of white evangelical Protestants including "Born Again" (Zogby; roughly 30-40% of the electorate), "Religious Right" (2000 exit poll; 12-14% of the electorate), "White Born-Again Protestants" (Pew Center; roughly 22%). While each is valid in its own way, they produce different results, so be careful of inter-poll comparisons. The broadest measure of evangelicals is affiliation with evangelical denominations; by this measure white evangelicals make up about 25% of the adult population, which translates to 50 to 53 million potential voters.

The Bush campaign has made evangelicals a key to their electoral strategy, but it's important to distinguish between turnout and margin.

To give a sense of just how crucial evangelical turnout is, consider this: In 2000, according to exit polls, 14% of the electorate was "religious right." (the unfortunate term used by the exit pollsters). If that had been 15% instead of 14%, that would have meant an additional 829,500 votes for Bush, enough to have made him the popular-vote winner.

Changes in the margin of candidate preferences have less of an impact. In 2000, Bush got 79% of the "religious right" vote, while Gore got 19%. If one percentage point shifted to Bush, so he got 80% and Gore had gotten 18%, that would have resulted in a shift of 147,000 from Gore's column to Bush's. So it would have taken almost a six percentage point increase in Bush's margin to equal the effect of a one percent increase in turnout.

In other words, turnout changes matter more than margin changes.

You've all heard Karl Rove's goal of getting 4 million evangelicals to the polls who didn't vote in 2000. While it is hard to know if the 4 million figure is correct, evangelical turnout was only so-so. Overall, it was 50% compared to the national average of 51% in 2000, though regular church-attending evangelicals did better at 56%. So what the Bush campaign is looking for is above-average turnout from evangelicals across the board.

The battleground states with the largest evangelical populations are: Oregon (27.8%), Iowa (25.4%), Maine (25.7%), Minnesota (25.2%), Colorado (25%), Michigan (25%), Ohio (25%), Florida (24.6%), Washington (24.3%), Wisconsin (22.5%), New Hampshire (22.3%), New Hampshire (22.3%), Pennsylvania (21.5%). If you see Bush taking Oregon, Iowa, Maine or Minnesota, it will likely be because of substantial evangelical turnout.

Key Things to Know About Black Protestants--When people ask, "So where is the religious left?" we sometimes respond: It's called the African-American Protestant churches, who are very religious and very Democratic. Bush got 9% of their vote last time, and some polls have him doing better--perhaps twice as well--in 2004. If this happens, it will be because of Bush's opposition to same-sex marriage and his faith-based initiative. Such an improvement would be devastating to Kerry.

But even so, Kerry needs a big turnout from black Protestants to win the election. This group has typically voted at or below the national average. Again, turnout is as important as margin. Most of the states with the biggest black Protestant populations are Southern and not in play. The battleground and potential upset states with the largest black populations are: Arkansas (15%), Florida (10%), North Carolina (17.8%), New Jersey (10.3%), Florida (10%), Ohio (9.6%), Pennsylvania (8.6%)

Key Things to Know About Catholics --While the most important factor with evangelicals is turnout, with Catholics the margin is just as important and more in question. All season, the Catholic vote and the white Catholic vote have moved around in different polls. Two points of reference:

In 2000, Gore beat Bush among all Catholics 50-46 (including Latinos). Catholics represented 27% of the vote.

In 2000, Bush beat Gore among non-Latino Catholics 52% to 45%. White Catholics represented 25% of the electorate.

Let's say Bush had beaten Gore among non-Latino catholics by slightly slimmer margin--51-46 instead of 52-45. In that case, Bush's total votes would have dropped 262,000, which might well cost him New Hampshire or Ohio.

In other words, if Kerry can reduce Bush's victory margin among non-Latino Catholics by even a point or two, it could make a difference in the outcome in key states.

This phenomenon is compounded by the fact that a list of battleground states reads like a list of states with huge non-Latino Catholic populations: New Hampshire (34%), Wisconsin (29%), New Jersey (28.6), Pennsylvania (26%), Maine (25%), Minnesota (22%), Iowa (21%), Michigan (20.5%), Ohio (18%), Florida (16.3%).

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