Religiosity Continues to Power Presidential Vote Choice
September 13, 2012
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Following up from Wednesday's post, we didn't see signs
of a rally effect in Wednesday night's interviewing, but
I think the jury will be out on that front until we have
several days of interviewing going through the weekend.
There are (among many others) two competing forces at
work right now in determining public opinion about
Barack Obama and vote choice in the presidential race.
First, the possible impact of the situation in the
Middle East, as I discussed here. Second, the broader
regression to the mean effect -- which basically implies
that there is a tug or pull on results that move away
from what has been established as a mean to come back to
that mean. The mean, or average, in this race has been
for the ballot tests to be roughly even between Obama
and Mitt Romney, and for Obama's job approval to be in
the 40% range. Obama's numbers on both fronts have
pushed up higher above that mean coming out of the
Democratic National Convention. All else being equal, a
natural tendency is for these numbers to come down from
the highs as the impact of the convention fades. It they
don't, that means that Obama has, in essence, redefined
the mean -- which can occur. But as noted, it will be
into next week before we have a solid feel for that.
Meanwhile, on a different front, I continue to be
fascinated by our Gallup data confirming the ongoing
importance of religiousness in voting intentions this
year. If anything, religiosity is becoming more of a
powerful factor in relationship to the presidential vote
than it has been in the past.
This graph displays the Obama over Romney gap based on
our continuing three-week rolling averages (registered
voters) -- among voters split into three groups based on
The religiousness groupings are based on responses to
two questions "Is religion an important part of your
daily life?" and "How often do you attend church,
synagogue, or mosque -- at least once a week, almost
every week, about once a month, seldom, or never?"
The basic power of religiosity to distinguish vote
choice is clear. Highly religious Americans skew
significantly into Romney territory, with a Romney over
Obama gap at the 20-percentage-point or higher level.
Nonreligious Americans are even more predisposed to vote
for Obama over Romney. And those who are moderately
religious are much closer to the overall average, with
no major skew in the direction of either candidate.
Note that the spread between the highly religious and
the nonreligious groups is growing slightly, rather than
narrowing. This means that religiosity is becoming more
of a factor in the presidential race -- to a degree --
that it has been before.
Basically, if you meet a random voter on the street, and
you ask that voter two simple questions about religion,
you can do a pretty good job of guessing that voter's
predicted voting intention. Someone who says that
religion is an important part of their daily life and
who attends religious services weekly or almost weekly
has a much higher probability of being a Romney voter
than another person who says that religion is not an
important part of their daily life and who attends
religious services seldom or never. This latter "person
on the street" has a significant probability of being an
Race And Gender And Religion
Posted by Josh Rosenau
August 17, 2012
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America is a very religious country, and has been for a
long time. Regardless of broad cultural revolutions and
trends in the culture wars, about the same number of
people say religion is "very important" in their lives
today as 35 years ago.
Other measure of religiosity shift, as Gallup points
out. "Self-reported church or synagogue membership has
drifted slowly downward over the past 70 years," they
found in 2007, a year when perception of religion's
influence in society plummeted. Confidence in organized
religion has dropped by a third since the '70s.
But whatever people might think of religion, how much
they think society values religion, how influential they
think a deity might be in the world around them, or how
they take part in religious practices, Americans
consistently believe in God and think religion is
That fact has inspired a lot of fighting over how
advocates of evolution education in particular, and
advocates of a skeptical mindset more broadly, should
deal with religious Americans.
On one hand, there are folks who say that religion is
ubiquitous in the American public, and antagonizing
religious folks by attacking religion just makes it
harder to convey a message about science. On the other
hand, you have people who hold that religion is
antithetical to science and so should be attacked. The
first group generally disputes the claim of an absolute
opposition between science and religion, but that's a
topic for other days.
This question is related to, but tends not to be linked
with, broader discussions about diversity in science and
in skepticism. Skeptical conferences have been getting
better about acknowledging that half of America is
female, and reflecting that diversity in the lists of
speakers, and thinking about how to get a more sexually
representative audience. As a general matter, science
skews male, though that varies by discipline, and the
gender gap is a topic of regular discussion. Skeptical
events and the community of scientists are also notably
white. The skeptical community's response to the racial
differential hasn't been as forceful as it has been with
sex and gender, but there's genuine concern.
It occurs to me that the discussions about race and
gender may not be so distinct from the discussion of
religion. First, because these are all matters of
personal identity, and it isn't unreasonable to evaluate
communities based on their willingness to exclude
certain people based on deep matters of identity.
Second, because religiosity is linked with gender and
with race in complex ways.
It's a common finding in public opinion surveys that
women are far more likely to be religious than men, and
they express that religious identity differently.
A mountain of Gallup survey data attests to the idea
that women are more religious than men, hold their
beliefs more firmly, practice their faith more
consistently, and work more vigorously for the
congregation. In fact, gender-based differences in
responses to religious questions are far more pronounced
than those between any other demographic categories,
such as age, education level, or geographic region. The
tendency toward higher religiosity among women has
manifested over seven decades of scientific polling, and
church membership figures indicate that it probably
existed for many decades prior to the advent of survey
research in the mid-1930s.
Why the difference? Some offer reasons rooted in
evolutionary psychology, others point to differences in
gender socialization, to differences in risk aversion,
and to other social factors. Regardless of the causes,
women are more likely to believe in religious and
spiritual phenomena, to attend religious services, to
belong to religious organizations, to read religious
texts, to see religion as offering answers to problems,
to find religion important in their lives, to be
committed to their religious community, and to be
engaged with their religious community. While male
belief that religion is important has declined over the
last decade, women have found religion more important.
There are, of course, bigger reasons why women often
feel uncomfortable in scientific and skeptical
communities, but I wonder if a perception of religious
intolerance plays some role as well.
Similarly, data from OK Cupid gives an interesting look
at the role religion plays in personal identity in
African American communities. OK Cupid is a free online
dating site, and does the world a great service by
publicly crunching numbers from its enormous database of
demographic data their members; it's not a
representative sample, OK Cupid members tend to be
urban, younger, and of course single. A couple years
ago, they looked at the different language people from
different races used to describe themselves, and found a
surprising difference in the role of religion.
In a random sample of 526,000 profiles, they found that
African Americans were at least twice as likely to
mention religious identities (God, Jesus, church, etc.)
as other racial groups. This effect vastly outstrips
gender differences. One in six profiles from other
races mentioned religion, while 2 in 5 profiles by
African Americans did so. "God-fearing" was among the
most commonly used phrases that shows up distinctly in
African American profiles.
This is important for two reasons. It reflects genuine
differences in religiosity. Gallup finds that 53% of
African Americans consider themselves "very religious,"
compared to 39% of whites and 29% of Asian Americans;
whites are more that twice as likely as African
Americans to identify as non-religious. But the
difference between a poll response and a dating profile
is that the latter shows how people see themselves, and
how they want others to see them. The OK Cupid data
tell us that African Americans aren't just more
religious personally, but that religion plays a greater
role as a social cue in that community. Dating profiles
are all about signaling what sort of person you are and
what sort of person you want to be seen as; OK Cupid
notes that Asian Americans tend to use "I'm simple as
their go-to self-description," compared with "black
men's I am cool and Latinos' I'm a funny guy." The
heavy emphasis on religion suggests that the African
American community sees religion as a measure of
personal virtue to a greater degree than the rest of
American society. And the rest of American society sees
religion as a very important signal of personal virtue!
This year is the first when more than half of American
voters claim they'd vote for an atheist candidate for
Given this, it wouldn't surprise me to find that an
unfortunate (and incorrect) perception of science or
skepticism as anti-religion would play a role in the
gender and racial disparities that both scientists and
skeptics recognize and want to reverse in their
communities. Being more open to religious people might
help skeptics and science advocates more effectively
reach out to underrepresented communities.
Southern Whites Troubled by Romney's Wealth, Religion
By Margot Roosevelt
September 11, 2012
(Reuters) - Sheryl Harris, a voluble 52-year-old with a
Virginia drawl, voted twice for George W. Bush. Raised
Baptist, she is convinced -- despite all evidence to the
contrary -- that President Barack Obama, a practicing
Christian, is Muslim.
So in this year's presidential election, will she
support Mitt Romney? Not a chance.
"Romney's going to help the upper class," said Harris,
who earns $28,000 a year as activities director of a
Lynchburg senior center. "He doesn't know everyday
people, except maybe the person who cleans his house."
She'll vote for Obama, she said: "At least he wasn't
brought up filthy rich."
White lower- and middle-income voters such as Harris are
wild cards in this vituperative presidential campaign.
With only a sliver of the electorate in play nationwide,
they could be a deciding factor in two southern swing
states, Virginia and North Carolina.
Reuters/Ipsos polling data compiled over the past
several months shows that, across the Bible Belt, 38
percent of these voters said they would be less likely
to vote for a candidate who is "very wealthy" than one
who isn't. This is well above the 20 percent who said
they would be less likely to vote for an African-
In Lynchburg, many haven't forgotten Romney's casual
offer to bet Texas Governor Rick Perry $10,000 or his
mention of his wife's "couple of Cadillacs." Virginia
airwaves are saturated with Democratic ads hammering
Romney's Cayman Islands investments and his refusal to
release more than two years of tax returns.
At the Democratic convention last week, Obama mocked the
GOP's "tax breaks for millionaires" as "the same
prescription they've had for the last 30 years."
A former private equity executive with a net worth of
some $250 million, Romney vehemently disputes
insinuations that he has paid less taxes than required
by law. He calls the attacks an effort "to divert
attention from the fact that the president has been a
failure when it comes to reigniting the American
The GOP nominee's lucrative business career, which he
touts far more than his record as governor of
Massachusetts, does resonate with many Southern
conservatives. "I don't like to see the wealthy punished
for their success," said Cory Beaver, 26, as he waited
on customers at a Lynchburg restaurant. "Obama leans
Romney's opposition to gay marriage and his commitment
to reversing the Supreme Court's decision granting women
the right to abortion also gain him more support in the
Bible Belt than in other regions of the country.
WHERE OLD AND NEW SOUTH COLLIDE
Focusing on 11 states from Virginia and North Carolina
to Texas and Oklahoma, the Reuters/Ipsos polling project
canvassed 8,690 people in households with incomes under
$55,000 a year -- just above the U.S. median.
Non-Hispanic whites in this bracket have skewed
Republican for more than three decades, and they prefer
the GOP nominee to Obama by 46 percent to 29 percent.
However, as Romney launches a post-convention ad blitz,
those numbers could signal trouble for his campaign.
Strategists in both parties figure that to offset the
president's expected landslide among an expanding
electorate of blacks and Hispanics -- Obama won 80
percent of minority votes in 2008 -- Romney must garner
more than 60 percent of the white vote overall.
In Virginia, polls show the candidates virtually tied.
The state's 5.9 percent unemployment rate, well below
the 8.1 percent national average, works in Obama's
favor. Overall, 35 percent of the electorate is black,
Hispanic or Asian.
Large swaths of northern Virginia, which includes
Washington, D.C. suburbs, and the Tidewater region, with
its heavy military presence, see the federal government
as more friend than enemy.
In Lynchburg, a city of 76,000 in south central
Virginia, Old and New South collide as downtown's
Victorian gingerbread homes yield to high-tech suburban
factories. On Main Street, a pawnbroker displays racks
of shotguns across from a marble-and-stainless steel
bakery offering creme brulée cupcakes. Several times a
day, Appalachian coal trains, more than 100 cars long,
wind through town.
The city is best known as headquarters of an evangelical
empire: Thomas Road Baptist Church, with 25,000 members,
founded by the late Reverend Jerry Falwell, and its
fast-growing offshoot, Liberty University.
At Liberty's May commencement, Romney, a Mormon, sought
to stake out common ground with fundamentalist
Christians. Without directly mentioning the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as the Mormon church
is formally known, he told the crowd of 34,000: "People
of different faiths, like yours and mine ... can meet in
service, in shared moral convictions about our nation
stemming from a common worldview."
According to Reuters/Ipsos polling data, however, 35
percent of voters overall, and the same proportion of
lower- and middle-income white Bible Belt voters, say
they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is
Many evangelicals who would normally vote Republican say
they view Mormonism as a cult.
Several of those interviewed in Lynchburg were devotees
of the TV series "Big Love" and "Sister Wives," about
polygamous Mormon families. They were unaware that the
Mormon Church long ago renounced polygamy.
"Mormons don't believe like we believe," said Dianna
McCullough, a retired factory worker, as she tossed
salad in a Tree of Life Ministries soup kitchen. "Like
the wives -- Romney's probably got more than one."
Still, she is undecided in the election. "The gay
marriage thing hurts Obama," she said. "It's Adam and
Eve, not Adam and Steve."
The president has said he supports gay marriage, whereas
Romney, in his speech at Liberty, drew his biggest
applause with the line, "Marriage is a relationship
between one man and one woman."
Four years ago, almost a quarter of voters identified
themselves as white Protestant evangelicals in exit
polls. Obama won only a quarter of them. This year, many
passionately want to defeat him.
In a survey conducted this summer by the Pew Research
Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life, almost a
third of Republicans said they believe Obama is Muslim,
compared with 16 percent of independents and 8 percent
of Democrats. The falsehood is a frequent theme of
conservative talk radio.
Still, the challenge for the GOP is to ensure that white
evangelicals, most of whom voted for other candidates in
the primary, are sufficiently enthusiastic about Romney
to make it to the polls.
On a humid evening at the Thomas Road church, the weekly
"Hands Stitching 4 Jesus" group was crocheting teddy
bears for children in Mexico. Middle-school teacher
Stephanie Parrish, 27, was setting up a slide show from
her recent mission to Guatemala with Campus Crusade for
Her thoughts on the presidential election?
"Abortion and gay marriage -- where they stand on
morality, that's big for me," she said.
In 2008, Parrish was a fan of former Arkansas Governor
Mike Huckabee, who was defeated in the GOP primary. She
counts him as a Facebook friend. She has yet to "friend"
Romney, although she plans to vote for him.
"I'm not extremely excited," she confessed. "I'd prefer
not to have a Mormon."
Nonetheless, she added, "Romney seems to align himself
with conservative values."
Among low- and middle-income white Bible Belt voters, 21
percent in the Reuters/Ipsos polling data said they are
uncertain they will vote in the presidential election.
That's not much more than the 17 percent of other
respondents who were uncertain. But in a group that
leans Republican, it could be enough to hurt Romney.
Democratic TV spots in Virginia and other battleground
states portray Romney as outsourcing jobs to China and
Mexico when he was chief executive officer of Bain
Capital -- a charge he calls "deceptive and dishonest."
The GOP nominee's attacks on "big government" as
"hostile and "remote" appeal more strongly to white low-
and median-income Southerners than to the nation as a
whole. The deep cuts in the federal government's
domestic program pushed by his vice-presidential
nominee, Paul Ryan, reinforce the message.
In the Reuters/Ipsos poll, these Bible Belt voters blame
Washington more than Wall Street for the recent
recession by a margin of 30 points. Overall, Americans
blame Washington, too, but by only six points.
"Other than the military, everything that's government-
controlled is screwed up," said William Clarkson, a
retired postman who was rooting for the Lynchburg
Hillcats, the city's minor league baseball team, on a
"Romney took a lot of businesses that were failing and
turned them around," he said, adding: "I don't see big
business as evil. Obama is using class warfare with his
ads about Romney wanting to give tax breaks to
Obama's plan is to extend Bush-era tax cuts for families
with incomes under $250,000 a year, while Romney and
congressional Republicans support an across-the-board
According to the Reuters/Ipsos data, 35 percent of the
white Southern group saw Romney as having a "better
approach" to taxes, while 25 percent thought Obama does.
Paradoxically, the same group agreed by more than 4 to 1
with the statement: "The wealthiest Americans should pay
higher taxes," which is Obama's campaign theme.
The apparent contradiction in public attitudes about tax
policy mirrors widespread confusion over the Affordable
Healthcare Act, which Romney has promised to repeal.
Overall, 54 percent of Americans -- and a decisive 69
percent of white low- and median-income Southerners --
opposed Obamacare, according to the Reuters/Ipsos data.
But when asked about specific parts of the law, the
results largely favored the president.
Both groups opposed the provision that would require
them to buy health insurance. However, by more than 2 to
1, both supported making businesses with more than 50
employees offer insurance and forcing insurance
companies to cover people with preexisting conditions.
Almost two-thirds of both groups supported a central
element of Obamacare: extending Medicaid -- the federal-
state program that covers healthcare for the poor -- to
families earning less than $30,000 a year. Romney and
Ryan seek to cut the growth of Medicaid by capping
federal contributions and shifting responsibility to the
If Obama has fed class resentment with attacks on
Romney's taxes and his mixed record at Bain Capital, the
GOP is tapping into a different strain of white middle-
class rancor -- one directed toward low-income
recipients of government aid.
A Romney ad asserts that "Under Obama's plan, you
wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a
job. They just send you a welfare check." Independent
fact-checkers say the ad distorts the administration's
plan to give states more flexibility on work rules -- a
request that came from Republican governors.
In Lynchburg, however, it resonates with some white
conservatives. At the Modern Barber Shop on Main Street,
where the Ten Commandments are displayed in the window,
a group of retirees chatted about the election on a
"I don't believe in free handouts," said Robert McCanna,
a former accountant. "Obama is pitting blacks against
Retired truck driver Lyle Campbell interjected, "If I
was black, I would get anything I want."
Just up the street, however, Sheryl Harris, the senior
center activities director, sees the election through
the lens of class, not race. "Romney didn't get to the
top of the pile by being a nice guy," she said. "To make
the money he makes you have to step on a lot of people
... Democrats are more interested in helping the lower
and middle classes."
The Plus in Romney's 0 Percent Black Vote Support
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll registered what
had to be a first ever for any candidate in any
presidential election in modern times. The poll put GOP
presidential candidate Mitt Romney's share of the black
vote at zero percent. At first glance that seems about
right. Romney and his VP running mate Paul Ryan have
singlehandedly done what few GOP presidential tickets
have done and that's actively alienate black voters.
Their plans to hack up Medicare, and Medicaid, downsize
Social Security, gut the threadbare corporate and
financial regulations, environmental protections, and
their full throated assault on abortion rights will
wreak untold misery among African-Americans.
Their naked anti-government spending campaign stump
broadsides to largely white suburban, rural and strongly
male crowds further drive the point home that blacks are
not even an after-thought in their drive to snare the
White House. Their campaign approach would be enough to
insure the lowest of single digit support from blacks
even if their opponent isn't a popular, and history
making African-American president. One would have to
hark back to Ronald Reagan in his reelection bid in 1984
to find a GOP president that has ticked off African-
Americans to the extent Romney-Ryan have. Even Reagan,
despite the low intensity warfare he waged against civil
rights organizations and black Democrats, still managed
to get three percent of the black vote.
But there's more to the picture than the goose egg
number that pollsters say Romney-Ryan will get. The
black vote in several ways is very much a part of the
GOP's strategy and tactics to win the White House. GOP
presidents and presidential contenders Nixon, Reagan,
Bush Sr. and especially W. Bush took great pains to give
the appearance that they were not overt racists, and
that naked racism was not part of their appeal. This
included highly orchestrated, stage managed, photo-ops
with black celebrities and sports figures, a handful of
key black pitch men and women on the campaign trail with
them, and in the case of Bush loading up the Republican
convention with a pack of show piece, African-Americans
to provide entertainment and perfunctory speeches. This
time it's is no different. The GOP convention in Tampa
will feature former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice,
former Democratic congressman Artur Davis, and Mia Love,
Mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah as prime time key note
The next tact is to refine the ploy of voter suppression
tactics that the GOP has traditionally employed, in
times past, from felon bans to blatant intimidation of
black and Hispanic voters at polling places. GOP
governors and GOP controlled state legislators did that
by drumming up a maze of rules and regulations from
ending weekend voting to the rash of voter ID
requirements. The aim is the same and that's to damp
down the black vote total all under the guise of
combating voter fraud.
Then there's the subtle racial pander. This is the GOP's
standard use of code words and attack points such as tax
and spend Democrats, out of control, wasteful
government, and welfare freeloaders. This embeds the
notion that minorities, and especially blacks, unfairly
scam the system with the active connivance of Democrats
and at the expense of hard-working, overtaxed blue-
collar and middle class whites. The flip side of this is
to continually finger point civil rights leaders and
Democrats as the perpetual players of the race card
whenever they voice criticism of the racist digs,
taunts, and hectoring of President Obama from many Tea
Party leaders and followers.
Another insidious GOP ploy with its eye on black voters
is to bankroll and promote a handful of visible and
vocal black conservatives to recite all the stock
criticisms of Obama, civil rights leaders, and
Democrats. This creates the deliberate and false
impression that a substantial number of blacks don't
support the Democratic Party despite the polls. Davis,
for instance, plays that role well. In highly touted
interviews and appearances, Davis pounds on the tired
theme that the Democratic Party has betrayed blacks and
that it practices a modern version of plantationism;
that is perennially taking the black vote for granted,
while offering no tangible programs for the black poor.
His tout of Romney and Ryan's emphasis on private sector
growth, school choice, and further shredding welfare, is
supposedly the path to economic well-being and uplift
for blacks. This line will be repeated incessantly by
black GOP pitchmen and women in the run up to November
The GOP's aim is not to add a digit or two to the goose
egg that polls show Romney will get from black voters.
It's to sow seeds of doubt, confusion, and even some
hostility toward Obama among just enough blacks to keep
them from the polls in the must win battle ground
states, present the façade of a color blind party, and
sprinkle it all with racially loaded code terms to
further inflame conservative white voters. This is the
plus GOP banks on among blacks despite Romney's 0
percent black voter support.
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