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%).

Non-Latino Catholics are not really a "voting bloc" because they are so diverse. In this regard, it is useful to think of the split between regular mass-attenders and less-regular attenders. Though data on that probably won't be available for a while, part of the story Tuesday will be whether Bush was able to mobilize more regular mass-attenders to turn out and vote for him.

The Church Attendance Gap

This is from the 2000 exit polls:

Voters who attended religious services more than once a week:
14% of the electorate
62% Bush, 36% Gore

Once a week:
28% of the electorate
56% Bush, 41% Gore

Few times a month:
14% of the electorate
45% Bush, 51% Gore

Few times a year:
28% of the electorate
41% Bush, 55% Gore

14% of the electorate
29% Bush, 62% Gore

Much has been made of the fact that the most religious people support Bush and the least religious support Kerry, which is true. But what this data shows--click here for tidier looking chart: http://www.beliefnet.com/story/155/story_15515_1.html--is that the religious electorate is almost exactly evenly divided. (What else is new?) The folks going to church weekly or more represented 42%. The folks going just a few times a year or never represented 42% of the electorate--with the balance-16%--being found among the people who attend a few times a month.

So in addition to looking at whether Bush can increase his margins among the very religious, it will be interesting to see what happens to that swing group in the middle "a few times a month," which went narrowly for Gore last time.

"Miscellaneous"--Rev. Lovejoy on the Simpsons refers to "Christians, Jews and miscellaneous." Of course in a super-tight election, almost any shift among almost any group could be viewed as decisive. But since we follow the religious world, we tend to focus on that. So in the event of very tight races, keep an eye out for...

Muslims in Michigan (.8) and New Jersey (1.4%). They voted for Bush last time and apparently are voting for Kerry this time.

Jews in Florida (3.9%), Nevada (3.9%), New Jersey (5.6%), Pennsylvania (2.3%). Bush got 19% of the Jewish vote last time. He's made a strong effort to boost that margin.

Latino Catholics vs. Latino Protestants--Latino Protestants tend to be Pentecostal and more conservative. Latino Catholics tend to be more Democratic (except for Cuban-Americans). Battleground states with biggest Latino Protestant populations: Arizona (5.2%), New Mexico (4.8%), Nevada (4.5%), Florida (3.3%), Colorado (3%), New Jersey (2.6%).

States with biggest Latino Catholic populations: New Mexico (30%), Arizona (20%), Florida (9.7%), New Jersey (8.7%).

If you see Kerry upsetting Bush in New Mexico or Arizona, it's probably because of a better-than-expected turnout among Latino Catholics. But note: Hispanic turnout has been abysmal (26%). If Hispanic turnout were to rise to the national average, that would have a dramatic effect on the above-listed states.

Seculars--People without religious affiliation are also an important source of votes. In recent times, Democrats have won majorities of this diverse group. The key question here is also turnout: seculars don't show up at the same place at the same time once a week, and so their turnout is typically below the national average. Indeed, a big turnout of seculars in the swing states could offset some of Bush's anticipated gains among religious conservatives of various sorts. Pivotal states that have large percentages of "unaffiliated" voters include: Washington (25%), Colorado (21%), Oregon (21%), Nevada (20%), New Mexico (18%), New Hampshire (17%), West Virginia (17%) and Arizona (16%).

We will hopefully be reporting on election eve on Beliefnet as we get the religious data from exit polls.

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