WASHINGTON – Religious voters do not simply have the tendency to vote along religious affiliation, but a new survey reveals how members of this group also cast their ballots according to the frequency they attend church.
While it has long been known that white evangelical Protestants tended to vote for Republicans and black Protestants heavily vote for Democrats, a survey analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life on Tuesday found that more avid church goers, regardless of religious affiliation, tended to vote for Republicans.
This second “religion gap,” or the religious differences between Republican and Democratic voters, developed over the last three decades.
Analysis of the 2004 presidential election using the exit polling by the National Election Pool revealed that 79 percent of evangelical Protestants voted for President George W. Bush, compared with 14 percent of black Protestants.
Yet the poll indicated that within the religious affiliation, those who attended religious services at least once a week were more likely to vote Republican.
Bush received 82 percent of the vote from evangelical Protestants who attended service at least once a week, compared to 72 percent of those who did not attend at least once a week.
Meanwhile, the church attendance gap also held true for voters of former Democrat presidential contender John Kerry. The Kerry did better, regardless of religious traditions, among those who attended services less than once a week than those who attended services weekly or more often.
Twenty-eight percent of less-observant evangelical Protestants voted for Kerry, compared to 18 percent of more frequent evangelical church-goers. Among black Protestants, Kerry garnered 92 percent of less frequent attendees compared to 83 percent of weekly attending black Protestants.
The church attendance gap was also seen in religious traditions that normally split their votes more equally between the two political parties.
The impact of attendance at worship service had a larger impact than many other better-known factors, including the “gender gap” between men and women and the “class gap” between most and least affluent voters, according to Pew Forum.
The Pew Forum survey analysis comes at a time when Democratic presidential candidates and the party in general are waking up to the significance of religious voters, who have been mostly untapped by the party. While Republicans are trying to hold onto religious voters, Democrats are wooing away progressive evangelicals.
Despite the push by Democrats to gain the religious vote, however, many Christians say their support will boil down to important issues such as abortion, same-sex unions, and pro-family agendas – issues that tend to place them on the same side as Republicans.