Buried in the spectacularly deep new U.S. Religious Landscape Survey are some statistics of great interest to politicos, especially on the three big religion-and-politics questions of 2008.
The God Gap Is Gone — In past elections the most religious voters clearly broke for the Republicans, and Democrats were increasingly seen as hostile to religion. Even now, among those who attend church weekly or more 43% identify as Republicans compared to 40% who call themselves Democrats, and it’s still the case that the more religious you are, the more likely you are to prefer Republicans.
But by a variety of other measures Democrats have pulled even or ahead among the religious:

  • Among those who pray at least daily, 44% call themselves Democrats, 40% favor Republicans.
  • Catholics who attend mass weekly break 46%-35% for Democrats.
  • Of the 10 religious groups Pew studied, only two – Mormons and Evangelicals – still have majority who identify as Republican.

Catholics Trending Democratic — Catholics, the pivotal swing voting bloc that went for Bush in the last election, now clearly leans Democratic.
48% say they’re Democrats compared to 33% who are Republican. Most amazingly, Democrats now have the edge among even the most religious Catholics – the weekly churchgoers and those who pray daily, who support the party by 48%-33%.
Just as important, on the big issues in the campaign, Catholics prefer the Democratic Party approaches:

  • 51% of Catholics say they prefer bigger government, more services (compared to 46% among the population as a whole.).
  • 63% say government should do more to help the poor even if it means “going deeper into debt” compared to 29% who say the government can’t do much more.
  • A stunning 55% of Catholics say “we should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems here at home,” compared to 36% who said we should be active in world affairs.

On the big culture war issues, Catholics seem only marginally influenced by the Church’s positions. While 50% of the population as a whole say homosexuality should be accepted, 58% of Catholics say it should be. A narrow majority (48%-45%) of Catholics believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases.
Part of the explanation: while most Catholics say they have strong views about right and wrong, a paltry 22% say they get their views about morality primarily from religion while 57% say it comes form “practical experience and common sense” – and only 9% of Catholics say religion is the major determinant of their political views.
The Potential Obamagelicals – I’ve been arguing for some time that evangelicals were “in play” for Democrats; this survey provides the sharp outlines of just how many of them are gettable and who these potential Obamagelicals are.
First, the good news for Republicans is that most still call themselves “conservative.” Democrats could easily lose this opportunity. And recent polls show them still clearly preferring McCain.
The bad news for Republicans is that 30% now call themselves “moderate” and 11% say they’re “liberal.” So, if you want to know how many evangelicals are in play the answer is, give or take a few, 41% of them.
The reasons can be seen in the answers to some of the other questions in Pew’s survey. While evangelicals are still more conservative on abortion and homosexuality – far more so than Catholics, for instance – they now swing to the left on a variety of major economic and foreign policy issues.

  • Only 29% of evangelicals believe the country is headed in the right direction.
  • 57% said we should go deeper in debt o to help the poor.
  • 48% say they want bigger government, while 41% want smaller government.
  • 54% want stricter environmental laws.

These polls didn’t measure popularity of Obama or McCain, and in fact the surveys were conducted in May 8-August 13, 2007. (More juicy religion bits from the survey here). But it does show that in terms of the key three religion-and-politics questions, the Democrats have made up huge amounts of ground since 2004.

Reprinted from “Political Perceptions” the Wall Street Journal Online’s center for political analysis.

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