Religious divides persist heading into fall campaign
Issues at the intersection of religion and politics – including objections to parts of the Affordable Care Act, battles over same-sex marriage laws and a push for new state laws seeking to restrict access to abortions – have been a part of public debate since the 2010 midterm elections.
But when it comes to major religious groups’ preferences at the voting booth, there appears to be more stability than change when compared with recent elections, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.
Among registered voters overall, 47% say that if the congressional elections were being held today, they would vote for (or lean toward) the Democratic Party’s candidate, while 42% would vote for the Republican candidate. (The survey was conducted Aug. 20-24.)
White evangelical Protestants express strong support for Republican candidates, just as they have in recent elections. Two-thirds of registered voters who are white evangelical Protestants in the new survey say they would vote Republican (67%), compared to 22% who would vote for a Democrat.
On the other side of the partisan divide, black Protestants and religiously unaffiliated voters lean heavily Democratic. Nearly nine-in-ten black Protestants say they would vote for the Democratic congressional candidate in their district. And among people who don’t identify with any religion, 62% say they would vote for the Democratic candidate while just 22% say they would vote for the Republican congressional candidate in their district.
Compared with white evangelicals on the one hand and black Protestants and religious “nones” on the other, white mainline Protestants and Catholics are more evenly divided. Among mainline Protestants, 52% say they would vote for the Republican candidate in their district if the election were held today, while 39% say they would vote for the Democratic candidate. About half of Catholics (49%) say they would vote for a Republican if the election were today, while four-in-ten (41%) prefer a Democrat.
These patterns mirror broad trends seen in several surveys leading up to the last midterm elections, in 2010. White evangelical Protestants also leaned heavily Republican, while religiously unaffiliated voters and black Protestants expressed strong support for Democrats. White mainline Protestants and Catholics, as they are now, were more evenly divided – although both groups ultimately supported Republican candidates over Democrats, helping the GOP make major gains in the 2010 midterms.
Michael Lipka is an editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.