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Religious Groups’ Presidential Candidate Preferences

by Dan Cox and Gregory Smith, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

As the races for the 2008 presidential nominations heat up, two recent surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press make it possible to examine how the candidates in both political parties are faring among a variety of religious groups. The parties’ front-runners, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, sit at or near the top of the list of preferred candidates among a variety of religious groups. Giuliani, though, garners considerably less support from white evangelical Protestants than from white mainline Protestants and white Catholics. These surveys were conducted in September and October, prior to evangelical broadcaster Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Giuliani on Nov. 7.

The Democrats

Overall, the contest for the Democratic nomination has been fairly stable, with Clinton leading her opponents by wide margins in most recent surveys. An aggregation of surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center in September and October finds that Clinton is the clear front-runner among all Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters, with close to half (44%) of this group saying that they would most prefer Clinton to be the nominee in 2008. A quarter prefers Barack Obama, while slightly more than one-in-ten (13%) favor John Edwards.

But support for the three leading candidates varies considerably among certain religious traditions. Support for Clinton crosses religious boundaries, with pluralities of Democrats in every major religious tradition preferring her as the nominee. Meanwhile, Obama and Edwards receive different levels of support depending on voters’ religious affiliation. For instance, Obama does more than twice as well among black Protestants (36% of whom name him as their preferred candidate) than among white Catholics (17% of whom prefer him). Edwards, on the other hand, does poorly among black Protestants (only 5% express support for him) and is supported by only one-in-ten among the religiously unaffiliated. But he does much better among white Catholics, who express slightly more support for Edwards (19%) than for Obama (17%).

Interestingly, Dennis Kucinich, who has only 3% support among all Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters, is the first choice of almost one-in-ten religiously unaffiliated voters, nearly equal to this group’s level of support for Edwards (10%).


The Republicans

In recent Pew surveys, roughly one-third (32%) of all Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say they would prefer to see Rudy Giuliani atop the Republican ticket in 2008. John McCain and Fred Thompson have about equal support among this group (17% and 19%, respectively). One-in-ten Republicans prefer Mitt Romney, with Mike Huckabee generating nearly as much support as Romney in recent surveys. (A separate analysis of the surveys finds that Thompson’s support declined slightly between September and October, while Huckabee’s support rose slightly during the same period.)

Among white evangelicals, however, Giuliani’s level of support (23%) is about equal to Thompson’s (24%) and only slightly higher than McCain’s (19%). One-in-ten white evangelicals express support for Huckabee, with nearly as many (9%) saying they prefer Romney for the GOP nomination.

Giuliani fares better among other religious groups than among white evangelicals. White Catholics, for instance, prefer Giuliani over his competitors by more than a two-to-one margin; among white mainline Protestants, he has a 15-point advantage over Thompson, his closest competitor.


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About the Survey

This analysis is based on the combined results of two recent telephone surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Combined, the two surveys include responses from a nationwide sample of 3,508 adults, 18 years of age or older. The first survey was conducted September 12-16, 2007, among 1,501 adults; the second survey was conducted October 17-23, 2007, among 2,007 adults (including 500 interviews with respondents using cell phones). The Pew Research Center also has done a recent analysis of candidate preferences for the public as a whole.

In both surveys, respondents were asked to pick their first and second choices for the presidential nominations from separate, randomly ordered lists of seven Democrats (Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich and Bill Richardson) and seven Republicans (Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul and Tom Tancredo). The September survey included Sam Brownback and Newt Gingrich in the list of Republicans. This analysis is based on the respondents’ first candidate choice.

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