Whatever the reasons for Mitt Romney’s defeat and Barack Obama’s victory, it cannot be faulted on traditional religious voters, who seem to have voted in force.
As predicted in a pre-election Pew polls and elsewhere, traditional Catholics and evangelicals seem to have repeated their 2004 high water of support for the Republican presidential nominee. Exit polls showed that white evangelicals, who were 26 percent of total voters, rehashed their 2004 level of support for George W. Bush, supporting Romney by 79 percent to 21 percent. In 2004 white evangelicals were 23 percent of the electorate, sparking fears of impending theocracy by some on the Left.
Exit polling revealed Protestants and other Christians (including evangelicals and Mainline Protestants of all races plus presumably Eastern Orthodox), who made up 53 percent of the electorate, voted 42 percent for Obama and 57 percent for Romney. A poll more strictly confined to Protestants shows they favored Romney 62 to 37 percent. White Protestant and other Christians, comprising 39 percent of the total, favored Romney 69 to 30 percent. Weekly Protestant church attenders favored Romney 70 percent to 29 percent.
A pre-election Pew poll showed most Catholics supporting Romney. The exit poll showed Catholics, who were 25 percent of the electorate, voting 50 percent for Obama and 48 percent for Romney. But weekly mass attending Catholics supported Romney by 57 to 42 percent. And white Catholics, comprising 18 percent of the total, supported Romney by 59 to 40 percent, a greater percentage than their 2004 support for Bush. Weekly church goers of all churches, who comprised 42 percent of the electorate, supported Romney by 59 to 39 percent.
By contrast, more occasional church attenders, comprising 40 percent of voters, supported Obama by 55 to 43 percent. Those who never attend, comprising 17 percent, supported him by 62 to 34 percent. The 12 percent who report no religious affiliation supported Obama by 70 percent to 26 percent.
Among the activists organizing evangelical voters for Romney this year was former Christian Coalition chief Ralph Reed, who now heads the Faith and Freedom Coalition. They report in their own poll that evangelical support for Romney over McCain increased by 10 percent. They also cite a “swing of 35% in the direction of the GOP” among Catholic weekly church attenders. “Virtually the entire increase in Mitt Romney’s vote compared to John McCain’s in 2008 came because of higher turnout and higher support from evangelical voters,” their pollster surmises.
Reed himself, who convened a post-election D.C. press conference, was more sweeping. “This election was a tale of two cities,” he said. “Evangelicals and faithful Catholics turned out in large numbers and voted overwhelmingly for religious liberty, the sanctity of life and marriage, and limited government.” But he regretted: “Younger voters and minorities turned out in even larger numbers in 2008 and delivered Obama to victory.” Searching for good news, he said many of the young people and minority groups like Hispanics who ensured Obama’s victory are “people of faith” who might respond to conservative appeals.
Some on the Left celebrate that white evangelicals and traditional Catholics were insufficient to deliver victory for Republicans. But evangelical voters increased as a percentage of the electorate. And weekly mass attending Catholics, at 11 percent of voters, remained at the same percentage even as total Catholics were somewhat reduced from 2004.
Despite claims that America is getting more secular, the 2012 exit poll shows the same number of American voters attending church weekly or more as 42 percent. Non-church attenders have increased almost negligibly from 15 to 17 percent. Frustratingly, the exit polls don’t show religious voting patterns for Hispanics, who increased from 8 percent of voters in 2004 to 10 percent today. A pre-election Pew poll showed 39 percent of evangelical Hispanics, who are about 20 percent of total Hispanics, supporting Romney. Seventy-three percent of Hispanic Catholics supported Obama this year. Sixty percent of Hispanic evangelicals supported Bush in 2004. One poll says McCain got only 33 percent in 2008.
Even in an American electorate that remains overwhelmingly religious, with only 12 percent disclaiming any religious affiliation, Obama was able to win by cobbling together the unreligious, Catholics and Protestants less likely to attend church, and overwhelming majorities of Hispanic Catholics and black Protestants. Unlike in 2008, there seems to have been little Obama effort to target evangelicals. But appeals to less observant Catholics to ignore appeals from their bishops to heed church teachings about marriage and abortion, as well as religious liberty, seem to have worked sufficiently.
The reputed “God Gap” between Republicans and Democrats that was highlighted especially in 2004 continues unabated. Democrats get majorities of strongly religious voters only among ethnic minority groups. But religion will remain important to both parties so long as overwhelming majorities of American voters still profess it.
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