Much Hope, Modest Change for Democrats

The Democratic Party made a concerted effort to court religious voters in the 2008 presidential election that pitted Democrat Barack Obama against Republican John McCain. Led by Obama himself and aided by progressive religious activists, the Democrats reached out to numerous religious groups in hopes of narrowing the “God gap,” a media catchphrase for a striking pattern in American politics: the more often Americans go to church or other worship services, the more likely they are to vote Republican.

An analysis of newly released exit poll data by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that Obama succeeded in attracting a larger share of the vote from some religious groups than the 2004 Democratic nominee, John Kerry, had received.  Among white evangelical Protestants, for example, Obama picked up 5 percentage points more support than Kerry (26% vs. 21%). And Obama's gains were particularly large among white evangelical Protestants under the age of 40. He received 33% of their votes, compared with 12% for Kerry four years earlier.

In general, however, the contours of religion and politics were the same in 2008 as in 2004. Religion remained a very strong predictor of voters' choices, and the large gaps in the electorate that had developed along religious lines in earlier elections persisted in 2008. Some of Obama's largest gains, in fact, were among religious groups that already leaned Democratic, such as black Protestants and religiously unaffiliated voters (those who answer “none” when asked about their religious affiliation in exit polls). 

Read the full report Much Hope, Modest Change for Democrats on the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life's Web site.

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