Moral issues are dramatically less important this year than in previous years – even among the most religiously observant voters, according to the 2008 edition of the Twelve Tribes of American Politics.

Just 13% listed social issues first, half the number who did in the summer of 2004. 61% listed the economy first compared to 32% in 2004.

The Twelve Tribes were introduced in 2004 as a collaboration between Beliefnet and John Green of the Bliss Institute at University of Akron, based on the National Surveys of Religion and Politics. The premise: most political reporting acted as if there were two groups – the Religious Right and Everyone Else. So we crafted a new set of groupings, inspired by the twelve tribes of Biblical Israel, but formed around similarities in religious beliefs and practice. (More on the methodology here).

The 2008 Twelve Tribes survey, conducted from June-August, also found:
  • A massive shift among Latino Protestants is what has fueled the hugely important move of Hispanics to the Democratic Party (more).
  • The centrist Tribes – Convertible Catholics, Whitebread Protestants and Moderate Evangelicals – have moved to the left on some social issues but have become more suspicious of government spending programs. Republicans remain strong with these groups (more).
  • Much more.
Click here for the McCain-Obama breakdown, the full survey results, the methodology or Steven Waldman's full analysis.

Percent of voting-age population: 12.9%

Who are they: Highly orthodox white evangelical Protestants: 80% believe the Bible is literally true; 84% report attending worship once a week or more; 53% live in the South.

sarah palin

  • Summer 2004: Conservative: 66%, Moderate: 25%, Liberal: 9%.
  • Summer 2008: Conservative: 71%, Moderate: 23%, Liberal: 5%
  • Summer 2004: Republican: 71%, Independent: 10%, Democratic: 20%.
  • Summer 2008: Republican: 71%, Independent: 11%, Democratic: 18%

Candidate Preference:
  • November 2004: Bush: 88%, Kerry: 12%.
  • Summer 2008: McCain: 71%, Obama: 19%, undecided: 11%
Political trend: Strongly Republican and getting more so each year, the Religious Right is solidly behind McCain, but not to the degree it was behind George W. Bush in ‘04. Last time 88% of the Religious Right voted for Bush, accounting for 26% of his total votes in the election.

What they care about: Compared to other groups, more likely to care about cultural issues (36% compared to 13% nationally) but even they have placed economics as a much higher priority. Now 42% list the economy as the top issue; in 2004, 18% did. The Christian right also sees a big role for religion politics, with three quarters opposing the idea that religion should stay out of politics. At the same time, their conservative positions on the social issues are virtually unchanged since 2004: 83% are pro-life and 86% support only traditional marriage. They also support small government. Half oppose the idea of more government services, with just 19% saying there should be more. And just 41% favor more environmental regulations if it means adverse economic news, a drop from 2004, when more than half favored such regulations. About three quarters still feel the war in Iraq was justified, more than any other group.

Percent of voting-age population: 11.3%

Who are they: Conservative Catholics and conservative mainline Protestants, Latter-day Saints, and other smaller groups. Less orthodox than the Religious Right (37% are biblical literalists) and more theologically diverse. But they are regular churchgoers (Nearly 80% report attending worship service weekly or more often).


mitt romney
  • Summer 2004: Conservative: 50%, Moderate: 41%, Liberal: 10%.
  • Summer 2008: Conservative: 53%, Moderate: 39%, Liberal: 8%
  • Summer 2004: Republican: 54%, Independent: 29%, Democratic: 17%.
  • Summer 2008: Republican: 56%, Independent: 13%, Democratic: 31%

Candidate Preference:
  • November 2004: Bush: 72%, Kerry: 28%.
  • Summer 2008: McCain: 56%, Obama: 25%, undecided: 19%
Political trend: Stable in size, this group is steadily becoming more Republican. 72% voted for Bush, making up 20% of his total vote. Many appear to be waiting for the Arizona senator to close the deal; one in five is undecided.

What they care about: Like the Religious Right, conservative on social issues--75% are pro-life, a significant uptick from four years ago. 65% back traditional marriage, something of a drop from ’04. . But half as many say social issues are most important as said so in 2004. They support churches being active in politics, but not by the overwhelming majority that Christian Right members do. And more than half supporting environmental regulations, even if it means higher prices and job losses.

Percent of voting-age population: 9.2%

Who are they: No, it's not an oxymoron: these white evangelical Protestants hold less orthodox religious beliefs (45% are biblical literalists) and don’t show up in church quite as often as the "religious right" (36% go weekly or more often), but they belong to evangelical churches and regard themselves as born-again Christians. Nearly half live in the South.

rick warren

  • Summer 2004: Conservative: 48%, Moderate: 36%, Liberal: 16%.
  • Summer 2008: Conservative: 38%, Moderate: 48%, Liberal: 14%
  • Summer 2004: Republican: 47%, Independent: 22%, Democratic: 31%.
  • Summer 2008: Republican: 45%, Independent: 18%, Democratic: 37%

Candidate Preference:
  • November 2004: Bush: 64%, Kerry: 36%.
  • Summer 2008: McCain: 47%, Obama: 27%, undecided: 26%
Political Trend: Bill Clinton did well with this group in the 1990s, but Bush bested Gore in 2000 and 2004, when they accounted for11 percent of Bush backers. The selection of Sarah Palin and Obama’s recent emphasis of his strict pro-choice position may have sent more support McCain’s way.

What they care about: Not as concerned about cultural rot as their conservative evangelical brethren, they’re more evenly split into the pro-choice and pro-life camps and are slightly more pro-choice than they were four years ago. But only 10% say social issues are most important in this election, compared to 25% who said that in ’04. They place a greater emphasis on economic issues, with two thirds saying such concerns are most important in this election, a nearly 30 percentage point increase over 2004. But moderate evangelicals are only slightly more inclined than the Christian Right to support more government services. They’re much less inclined to say the Iraq war was justified, though more than half say it was.

Percent of voting-age population: 7.3%


john mccain
Who are they: The core members of the Protestant "mainline" churches-- United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church in the USA, American Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, and so forth--that once dominated the American religious landscape. About one-quarter report regular church attendance and just 24% are biblical literalists; 40% agree that "all the world's great religious are equally true and good."

  • Summer 2004: Conservative: 37%, Moderate: 44%, Liberal: 20%.
  • Summer 2008: Conservative: 41%, Moderate: 43%, Liberal: 16%
  • Summer 2004: Republican: 46%, Independent: 21%, Democratic: 33%.
  • Summer 2008: Republican: 46%, Independent: 15%, Democratic: 39%
Candidate Preference:
  • November 2004: Bush: 58%, Kerry: 42.
  • Summer 2008: McCain: 48%, Obama: 31%, undecided: 21%
Political trend: This group is shrinking in size and becoming more politically moderate and less Republican. But Bush still won them in 2000 and 2004 and McCain is hanging on to them so far, too: just under half say they support him, while around a third back Obama.

What they care about: They don't much like the Republican Party's emphasis on conservative social issues: they're mostly pro-choice and favor civil unions or same-sex marriage. More than half say the church should stay out of politics, a significant upswing since 2004. But what they care most about is economics--68% give top priority to economic matters--and there they tend to be more conservative. They’re pro-environment, but a growing number oppose more environmental regulation if it means higher taxes or job loss. Like the rest of the tribes, they’re placing considerably less emphasis on foreign policy issues than in 2004. A majority say the Iraq war was justified, but nearly half also now say the U.S. should mind its own business in international affairs, a marked increase from four years ago.