Bliss Institute-Pew Forum Poll: 2004 Election Marked By Religious Polarization

  • February 03, 2005

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The close 2004 presidential election produced increased polarization between and within religious communities, according to a new poll conducted by The University of Akron's Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.

The Fourth National Survey of Religion and Politics sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life was conducted in November and December 2004.

Titled “The American Religious Landscape and the 2004 Presidential Vote: Increased Polarization,” the poll included 2,730 respondents originally surveyed the previous spring.

The findings of the survey include:

  • Mainline Protestants, considered a strong Republican constituency, divided their votes evenly between President George W. Bush and challenger John Kerry, producing the highest level of support for a Democratic presidential candidate in recent times from that religious group.  
  • Modernist Protestants (78%) and Catholics (69%) strongly supported Kerry, dramatically increasing their votes and turnout for the Democrat (71% and 70%, respectively) over 2000.  
  • The Democratic Party candidate gained ground among voters who were unaffiliated with major religions compared to 2000 (72%), but the turnout of those voters remained unchanged (52%).  
  • The Republican incumbent's biggest gain came among Latino Protestants (63%), who moved from the Democratic column in 2000, to the Republican column in 2004.  
  • Non-Latino Catholics, once a bedrock Democratic constituency, gave a majority of their votes (53%) to the Republican Party incumbent. This gain was due primarily to increased support among traditionalist Catholics, but President Bush also won the crucial swing group of centrist Catholics (55%).  
  • Black Protestants (17%) and Latino Catholics (31%) supported Bush more than in 2000, but remained solidly Democratic.

Foreign policy and economic priorities were far more important to the overall vote than social issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage. However, social issues were more important to Bush's religious constituencies. In contrast, economic issues were more important to Kerry's constituencies.

The nationwide survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. “Both President Bush and Sen. Kerry benefited from strong support among key religious constituencies,” explains Dr. John Green, Bliss Institute director. “Yet there was strong polarization not only between different religions as was common in the past, but also within the major religious traditions, a relatively new phenomenon.

An example of the polarization between religious congregations found in the survey was that evangelical Protestants gave Bush more than three-quarters for their votes, while nearly three-quarters of religion-unaffiliated voters supported Kerry.

An example of the polarization within traditional religious groups was the sharp differences in support for Bush and Kerry among groups of mainline Protestants and Catholics.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life delivers timely, impartial information to national opinion leaders on issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs; it also serves as a neutral venue for discussion of these matters. The Pew Forum is a project of the Pew Research Center.

The University of Akron is the public research university for Northern Ohio. Founded in 1870, it is the only public university in Ohio with a science and engineering program ranked in the top five nationally by U.S. News & World Report. Serving more than 23,000 students, the University offers more than 350 associate, bachelor's, master's, doctoral and law degree programs and 100 certificate programs at its main campus in Akron, its Wayne College branch campus in Orrville, and its sites throughout Medina and Summit counties.

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