Religious Vote Data Show Shifts In Obama's Faith-Based Support

11/07/2012 09:40 pm ET | Updated Nov 08, 2012
  • Jaweed Kaleem National Race and Justice Correspondent, Los Angeles Times

Just as President Barack Obama's support varied greatly from state to state on Tuesday, he also did well among certain religious groups and not so well among others in his defeat of Mitt Romney. A Pew Forum analysis of nearly final exit poll data, released on Wednesday, found that Obama won among Catholics, Jews and non-whites across religious traditions, but saw dips in his support among white evangelicals and white Catholics, among others.

"The basic religious contours of the 2012 electorate resemble recent elections -- traditionally Republican groups such as white evangelicals and weekly churchgoers strongly backed Romney, while traditionally Democratic groups such as black Protestants, Hispanic Catholics, Jews and the religiously unaffiliated backed Obama by large margins," said the Pew analysis.

While the broad makeup of religious preferences did not drastically change, there were shifts in support for Obama since 2008. His share of the vote increased among four religious groups identified in exit polling data: Hispanic Catholics (from 72 percent to 75 percent), black Protestants (from 94 percent to 95 percent), non-Protestant black Christians (from 94 percent to 95 percent), and those affiliated with Islam and "other faiths" (from 73 percent to 74 percent).

The president lost support among most religious groups as defined by the exit polls. The biggest drop came in the Jewish vote, which fell 9 points, from 78 percent in 2008 to 69 percent this year. Forty percent of white Catholics supported Obama, compared to 47 percent when he beat Sen. John McCain, and 20 percent of white born-again Christians and evangelicals backed the president, compared to 26 percent the last time.

Romney won the white born-again Christian and evangelical vote handily, with 79 percent nationwide saying they had cast ballots for him.

Yet in one battleground state, Ohio, the president improved his share among white evangelicals by 8 points to 29 percent. The group's slice of Ohio's electorate was 31 percent, nearly the same as in 2008.

The GOP nominee's own faith, Mormonism, was a hot topic during the campaign, and 78 percent of the traditionally Republican Mormon electorate supported their coreligionist. Obama took 21 percent of the Mormon vote, a 3-point increase over the percentage who said they voted for Sen. John Kerry in 2004. That year, President George W. Bush received 80 percent of Mormon votes. (National exit poll data on Mormon voter preferences were not released in 2008.)

The division between people who attend religious services more often and those who attend less often was similar to that of previous elections. "Nearly six-in-ten voters who say they attend religious services at least once a week voted for Romney, while 39 percent backed Obama. Romney received as much support from weekly churchgoers as other Republican candidates have in recent elections," the Pew analysis noted. "More than six-in-ten voters who say they never attend religious services voted for Obama. Voters who say they attend religious services a few times a month or a few times a year also supported Obama over Romney by a 55 percent to 43 percent margin."

Demographically, exit poll results echoed prior surveys in finding a decreasing share of Protestants and white Protestants among the nation's religious population. About 53 percent of voters on Tuesday identified as Protestant, compared to 54 percent in the three prior presidential elections. Some 39 percent were white Protestants, a group that made up 42 percent of voters in the prior two elections.

But white evangelical Protestants increased their slice of the electorate -- from 21 percent in 2004 to 23 percent in 2008 to 24 percent this year.

About one-quarter of 2012 voters were Catholic, a decrease of 2 percent since 2008. About one-fifth of those Catholic voters were Hispanic.

The exit polls showed that Jews made up two percent of the electorate, which is unchanged since 2008. Muslims and people of "other faiths" made up about 7 percent of voters this year, while religiously unaffiliated voters were about 12 percent of the electorate.

"The religiously unaffiliated share of the electorate is unchanged from 2008, even though the religiously unaffiliated share of the adult population has grown significantly over this period," the Pew report noted.

Exit poll results are collected by New Jersey-based Edison Media Research for the National Election Pool, a consortium of ABC, Fox, CNN, NBC, CBS and the Associated Press. National results are based on a sample of 20,000 voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percent.

While a host of questions, including religious identification and views on abortion, were asked in each state, the kind of data on religious voters that's available differ by state. That's because some states do not have enough minority religious group members, such as Mormons and Muslims, to provide statistically significant numbers given the sample size, said Joe Lenski, executive vice president of Edison Research. In addition, Lenski said, the National Election Pool decreased its sample size in 19 states this year -- including several with major populations of conservative Christians, such as Kentucky and Georgia -- and therefore did not have a large enough sample to produce a state-specific breakdown of exit polls for those states.

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