Some of the nation’s leading journalists gathered in Key West, Fla., in December 2008 for the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life’s biannual Faith Angle Conference on religion, politics and public life to look at the impact of religious voters in the 2008 election.
John Green, a senior fellow in religion and American politics at the Pew Forum, discussed how a small change overall in voting behavior among religious groups had a big impact at the ballot box. Green said that the Democrats and Barack Obama made their largest gains among minority religious groups but that Obama made only modest gains among white Christian groups. Although these shifts were enough to put Obama in the White House, they did not change the overall structure of the faith-based vote compared with 2004.
Anna Greenberg, senior vice president for Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, said that Obama’s faith was the main religious narrative of the campaign. But that debate wasn’t necessarily about religion itself, she said, but a stand-in for a conversation about Obama – who he was, where he came from, what values he represented. Another ongoing theme was whether Obama could win votes among the more-conservative religious groups. Greenberg cited polling data showing that younger evangelicals were more likely to support Obama than older evangelicals and that the under-30 set was more progressive on the issues of climate change and gay marriage.
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Effect of religion on voting
Where race was a factor
Changes between 2008 and 2004
Why was the change so modest?
Religious narrative of 2008: Obama’s faith
Winning the Jewish vote
Obama’s gains with younger evangelicals
Evangelicals’ impact on ballot initiatives
Q&A with journalists
MICHAEL CROMARTIE: Ladies and gentlemen, we’re delighted to have with us this morning two people I know you already know. When it comes to political science and political voting behavior, and the demographics of religious believers and how they voted, we couldn’t have two better people to tell us about the 2008 election than John Green and Anna Greenberg. So we’re delighted to have them here. John, thank you so much for coming. Professor Green.
JOHN GREEN: Thank you very much, Michael. Thanks for having me back; it’s wonderful to be back at Key West to talk about this subject. And it’s a special pleasure to share this program with my colleague, Anna Greenberg. I’m sure many of you know her. Among the community of pollsters, she is one of the most astute and one who actually understands religion. We’re going to have a division of labor: I’m going to do an overview of the 2008 election and different religious groups, and then Anna’s going to look at particular groups and issues that were important in the campaign.
So without further ado, let’s get into it. I’m going to try to do something that I almost never do; I’m going to try to use a PowerPoint presentation. I once remarked in front of my graduate students that I was a recovering Luddite, and they said, what’s this recovering business? (Laughter) Probably your computers will start going down instantly because I’m in the room. But we’re going to try to make this work.
As you all know, a lot of the data from the 2008 election – the exit polls and other post-election surveys – are not yet available, so as of today, we can’t look at a lot of the details of how religious groups voted. So I thought I would take advantage of the vast resources at the Pew Research Center. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press typically does a survey the weekend before the election, and then they do one right after the election. I combined those two surveys into a single data set.* So we have people right before they voted and right after they voted, giving us 3,000 to 4,000 respondents to work with. Among other things, these combined surveys allow us to look at some small religious groups, which were quite interesting in 2008. It also allows us to look at some other questions that are not asked in the exit polls. Yet another advantage is that, because our colleagues at the Pew Research Center do these kinds of surveys regularly, we can compare 2008 to a similar combination of pre-election and post-election surveys conducted in 2004.
I’ll be happy to talk at length about the technical details of combining these surveys, but it’s important to remind everyone that all surveys – whether they’re exit polls, the surveys from the Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum, or the work done by Anna Greenberg and her colleagues – all surveys are simply estimates of public opinion. So there is some variation from one survey to another. At several points, I’ll note some of the differences between these results and the results of other surveys, such as the national exit polls. The differences are not huge, but they’re interesting nonetheless. In your packets you have a copy of the Pew Forum’s report of the exit polls with regard to religion. It’s called “How the Faithful Voted,” and I’ll make some reference to that as well.
So, how did the faith factor operate in 2008? There are three points worth making. First is that the basic structure of faith-based politics in the United States was very similar in 2008 and 2004. There was remarkably little change. The change was quite important, of course, but the basic structure was very similar. Second, the Democrats and Barack Obama made their largest gains among various religious “minorities” – groups that can be described as minorities either in ethnic, racial or religious terms – and we’ll look at some of those groups in just a moment. Third, the Democrats made only modest gains among white Christian groups, and we’ll talk about that in a little bit of detail too.
Before we get into the numbers, though, it’s worth just spending a moment talking about the different pieces of the structure of faith-based politics in the United States, a structure that’s been in operation for more than 20 years. There was a lot of speculation this year that this structure would change. In fact, it didn’t change very much, but it may change in the future. There are three basic pieces to this structure. Religious affiliation – the religious communities to which people belong – is a very important part of the structure of faith-based politics. As in the past, religious affiliation is very closely linked to ethnicity and race. It is worth spending a moment on this linkage in the form of “ethno-religious” groups.
Ethno-religious groups have been important in American politics from the beginning of the republic and some examples are well-known, such as Irish Catholics, Scottish Presbyterians and German Jews. Some of those groups are still important today, but new groups have come on the scene. Thus we have a new version of an old story, with new ethno-religious groups such as Mexican Catholics, Korean Presbyterians and Arab Muslims, where religious affiliation, ethnicity and race are very closely tied together.
But in recent times, religiosity – typically measured in these surveys by frequency of worship attendance – has created new groups within religious affiliations. So whereas once we could talk about “the white Catholic vote,” which was really the European Catholic vote, we really can’t do that anymore because there are huge differences between regular mass-attending and less-observant Roman Catholics. We’ll see some examples of this pattern in the structure.
The effect of religiosity is the strongest in white Christian groups, but you can see it in almost every religious group. When we get the full 2008 exit poll data, one of the things that will be really fun to do – or at least I think it would be fun to do – Other people do other things for fun, but I think it would be fun to look and see if these differences by religious attendance show up in all the different groups. In 2004, they did. There wasn’t a single religious group where there weren’t political differences by worship attendance. But the really big differences are among white Christian groups. Anyway, we can define the basic structure of faith-based politics with affiliation, ethnicity/race and attendance.
Let’s look at what the structure looked like in 2008. This picture is a bar graph that lists the key religious groups in order of the Democratic vote – the blue bars are the vote for Obama; the red bars are the vote for McCain. The most Democratic group is at the top of the graph and the least Democratic group, or the most Republican group, is at the bottom. One can see the structure of the faith-based vote at a glance. This picture provides a sense of how polarized American religion was, even in 2008. There were strong Democratic groups, and there were strong Republican groups.
The next bar graph is for 2004, and it is worth comparing it to 2008. Note how similar the 2008 and 2004 graphs are. Now there actually are some differences, of course, but the basic structure was largely intact. What this similarity says to me as a political scientist is that these differences based on religious affiliation and attendance are very deeply embedded in American politics.
Let’s just look at some of the key groups in 2008. Toward the top of the chart, virtually all of the strong Obama groups have this character of being minorities in one form or another. Of course, the first group, black Protestants, has been a strong Democratic group for a long time. In these data they voted nearly 100 percent for Obama. Of course, part of the black Protestants’ story in 2008 was not just the Democratic margin but the higher turnout, so this is a very important group for Obama. But if you go down the graph, you see Jews, and then a composite group of “Hispanic and other minority Catholics” – this group includes other racial categories such as Asians and individuals of mixed race. It’s interesting because this group was very Democratic in 2008. In the past they’ve tended to be Democratic, but they’ve moved in a more Democratic direction.
Next is the composite category of “Other (non-Christian) faith” – that’s the combination of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and other non-Christian groups. This category was also a very Democratic group in 2008.
Then we come to another very Democratic group: seculars. These are people without a religious affiliation and who gave us no indication that they had any kind of religious belief or behavior. If we skip down a little farther, we come to a related group: the unaffiliated believers. These are people who tell us they don’t have a religious affiliation but show some indication of having religious beliefs and behaviors. They were also a strongly Democratic group, but notice how different they are from the pure seculars, who were even more Democratic.
Then finally we come to a white Christian category, the less-observant white Catholics. These people reported attending worship less than once a week. This group has tended to vote Democratic in the past, but in 2008 they were even more Democratic, though not like the religious minorities. It’s worth looking down the graph and noting how different this group was from Catholics who reported attending mass once a week or more – the less-observant were markedly more Democratic. This difference is a good example of the impact of worship attendance on the vote.
Then we come to a minority group that was more evenly divided. In these data, the composite group of “Hispanic and other minority Protestants” nearly broke evenly between McCain and Obama. But, as some of you may remember, in 2004 Hispanic Protestants voted Republican. So this was a very important shift into the Democratic column in 2008.
Next we get into the groups that voted, on balance, Republican – near the bottom of the chart. Less-observant white mainline Protestants voted for McCain by a slight majority, while weekly attending white mainline Protestants backed McCain by a larger majority. Weekly attending white Catholics also voted Republican, by a still larger majority. And then at the very bottom of the chart are white evangelical Protestants, where both the less-observant and weekly attenders voted solidly Republican. But note that the weekly attenders were markedly more Republican. Indeed, weekly attending white evangelical Protestants were the strongest Republican group in 2008, as in 2004.
This picture provides a sense of how affiliation, including ethnicity and race, and attendance mattered at the ballot box.
During the campaign, there was much talk about how race might matter at the polls. Many people worried that race might undermine the Obama campaign. While those worries didn’t materialize, these graphs suggest that race had an impact at the ballot box in a profound way. Racial and ethnic minorities voted more Democratic, and whites voted more Republican in 2008. This pattern is not entirely new – as one can see in the 2004 graph – but these patterns were much sharper in 2008.
Now a lot of the minority groups that I’ve identified are small. For instance, the category of “Hispanic and other minority Protestants” made up about 4 percent of the 2008 electorate. That’s about twice the size of the Jewish community. So 4 percent of the electorate’s not a trivial group, given the enormous diversity of American religion. And if you add up all these small ethno-religious groups, they account for a significant bloc of voters.
One of the reasons that I wanted to highlight this pattern is that there is constant talk about the effect of immigration in the United States and the fact that the United States is becoming much more diverse in ethnic and racial terms. But oftentimes we don’t see an example of the practical impact of this new diversity – and these graphs provide a good example. I think these patterns had some special things to do with Barack Obama, but nonetheless, it does show how increased diversity can ultimately matter at the ballot box. It’s interesting that all these minority groups lined up on the same side politically in 2008, whereas in 2004 they didn’t. Maybe they will line up on the same side in future elections, but maybe they will divide up between the major political parties once again.
Let’s move on and talk a little bit about some of the changes between 2004 and 2008. Overall, the biggest changes in the Democratic vote came among the religious minorities, including Hispanic Catholics, Hispanic Protestants, and other minority Catholics and Protestants. There were some changes among black Protestants, but of course, that group was so Democratic to begin with, there wasn’t a lot of movement that could occur. Obama also made gains among Jews, the “other faiths” category and the composite categories of “Hispanics and other minorities” among Catholics and Protestants.
A lot of attention was focused in the campaign on the large, white Christian groups – evangelical and mainline Protestants and Catholics – and these data show some interesting stories. To begin with, there was essentially no change in the vote of regular worship-attending white evangelical Protestants, the core of what sometimes is called “the religious right” – one of the strongest Republican voting groups. I don’t think the Obama campaign had any expectation that they would make inroads in this group, but there were quite a few commentators who thought that that might happen.
There was, however, some change in the evangelical community, and it occurred mostly among less-observant evangelical Protestants. In these data, the gains were just a couple of percentage points, but in the exit polls, it was 4 or 5 percentage points. The differences there may have to do with sampling and the margin of error in these surveys.
CROMARTIE: John, define what is a less-observant evangelical?
GREEN: Those are people who say that they attend less often than once a week. So those include people who never go to church – or tell us they never go to church – and people who go once a year, twice a month – everything less than weekly.
CROMARTIE: Then they’re not evangelical.
GREEN: Michael and I have this argument every time. They’re evangelical by affiliation, Michael.
CROMARTIE: Okay, okay.
GREEN: Among mainline Protestants there was an interesting pattern. In the exit polls, there was essentially no change among white mainline Protestants. But the data presented here suggest that there were some changes within this large religious community. For instance, Obama may have made some gains among regular worship-attending mainline Protestants. Of course, Barack Obama was himself a mainline Protestant for many years, a member of the United Church of Christ. And it may very well be that a lot of the efforts to mobilize the religious vote paid off in that particular community. However, these data show essentially no change among the less-observant mainline Protestants, who were evenly divided. This group was where one might have expected bigger Democratic gains, so there may have been contradictory political currents among mainline Protestants. One may see slightly different patterns depending on how precisely one measures religiosity in the Protestant mainline.
In the exit polls, white Catholics stayed on the Republican side of the ledger, and the most observant Catholics moved in a Republican direction by a few percentage points. These data suggest there’s a bit of a polarization among white Catholics, with the regular mass-attenders moving more Republican than they were in 2004, but the less-regular mass-attenders moving more Democratic. Again, these internal political currents may reflect the kinds of mobilization that was going on in the Catholic community on both sides of an issue like abortion. As with mainline Protestants, slightly different results may appear depending on how precisely religion is measured among white Catholics.
Looking at the Republican side, George W. Bush generally did better than John McCain in many religious groups. But where McCain had his biggest problem was among religious minorities of various kinds. One of the unappreciated aspects of Bush’s victory in 2004 was how well he did among Democratic religious constituencies. In a classic, coalition-building fashion, he added votes even in strongly Democratic religious groups. John McCain was unable to do that.
The question that I get asked all the time is, why were the changes in these religious groups so modest? Given the focus in the campaign on religion and the efforts to mobilize religious groups, why was there so little change? There are a couple of ways to answer this question.
First is that it’s important to remember that, in terms of the overall vote, the change between 2004 and 2008 actually wasn’t that large. John Kerry got approximately 49 percent of the two-party vote in 2004, and Barack Obama got about 53 percent of the two-party vote in 2008. So there’s a shift of roughly 4 percentage points. Now it was a shift that made a huge difference in terms of the outcome, of course, and a shift that made many states that were not ordinarily competitive into battlegrounds. Barack Obama won a solid victory, particularly compared with the 2000 presidential election. But it shouldn’t surprise us that changes were not that large within many religious groups because there just wasn’t that much overall change.
Another thing to remember is that many religious groups are strongly partisan these days. They’re deeply embedded into the party coalitions, with each party having strong religious constituencies, and some groups in the middle and up for grabs. We know that partisanship is a very strong predictor of the vote. So in the short run, many religious groups have only a limited capacity to move one way or another unless their partisanship changes. And, as many of you know, between 2000 and 2004 there were some changes in partisanship. The Republican brand name took a big hit and that influenced the vote of religious groups as well.
The impact of partisanship can be seen in the following graph. Here some of the smaller religious groups were combined for ease of presentation, and they are arrayed from the group that voted least for Obama (weekly attending white evangelical Protestants) to the group that voted most for Obama (black Protestants). The solid line shows the Obama vote, and it rises steadily across the chart. But the dashed line is the interesting one: It’s the percentage of each of these groups that identified as Democrats. Note that the solid and dashed lines are basically the same line. So part of what was going on in 2008 is that the campaigns were mobilizing their partisans, and even though this wasn’t the kind of base-mobilization election that 2004 was, partisanship still mattered a great deal.
Partisanship develops very slowly over time. It took about 30 years to get the faith-based structure we’re talking about, so maybe it’s not surprising that it didn’t go away in a single election. But of course, over the next 30 years or so, we may see some important changes, and we may look back to this election and see some of the modest alterations as the beginnings of important trends. So the embeddedness of these religious communities in the party coalitions may be part of what explains the 2008 results.
A final explanation for the modest change in 2008 may be the patterns of faith-based mobilization by the campaigns. In 2008 as in 2004, the People & the Press asked survey respondents about campaign contacts within their congregations. Questions included: “Did your pastor recommend that you vote a particular way? Were there voter guides or other information in your church before the election? Was there information on issues – ballot issues or just issues in general?” The levels of reported contacts were down in 2008 for most of the religious communities – an interesting pattern given the focus of the campaigns. So there was just less political information within most congregations. Interestingly, the least decline in reported contacts was for religious minorities that strongly backed Obama. And among white Christian groups, weekly worship-attenders still reported higher contact rates, and these were the groups that by and large stuck with the Republicans and voted for McCain.
Other evidence from the People & the Press survey suggests that Republican religious constituencies received on balance more campaign contacts outside of their congregation from McCain, while Democratic constituencies received on balance more contacts from Obama. Taken together, these measures of campaign contact strongly suggest that Democrats and Republicans carefully targeted religious constituencies that were most likely to vote for their candidate. Of course, that’s what campaigns do, right? They targeted their resources along the structure of faith-based politics, so maybe it’s not surprising that there was very modest change.
Let’s consider a couple more things, and then I’ll let Anna explain what this all means. The People & the Press asked their post-election survey respondents how “happy” they were with the results of the presidential election. As one might expect, the Democratic religious constituencies were quite happy that Obama won in 2008 and unhappy that Bush won in 2004. And likewise, the Republican religious constituencies tended to be unhappy that Obama won but happy with the Bush victory. These patterns are not terribly surprising, but it is worth noting that they closely resemble the underlying structure of faith-based politics we saw in the graphs we looked at before. This suggests that these religious divisions are deep-seated and persist after the presidential campaigns are over.
But there’s another question that the Pew Research Center asks regularly that is, in some ways, even more interesting: the likelihood of presidential success. Right after the election, respondents are asked: “Do you think the newly elected president will be successful in his first term?” The results are shown in a final bar chart, where the red bars represent the percentage of each group that thought Bush was going to be successful in office, back in 2004, and the blue bars the percentage that thought Obama will be successful in 2008. The chart highlights the 50 percent line because I think it’s instructive.
Results for Bush based on interviews with 62 black Protestants, 71 minority Christians and 95 weekly attending white mainline Protestants. Results for Obama based on interviews with 95 members of non-Christian faiths. All other results based on interviews with at least 100 respondents.
Look at the blue bars. Every religious category has a majority that thinks that Obama will be successful in his first term. That’s interesting because it suggests that President Obama has an opening, even with religious groups that didn’t vote for him. Now, looking at the red bars, compare that with what happened in 2004. Notice that many of the Democratic groups didn’t think that Bush was going to have a successful second term. Maybe they were onto something, given the decline of Bush’s approval after the 2004 election.
This chart does suggest that there may have been a bit of a change between 2004 and 2008. So behind the modest shift in the voting behavior of religious groups, there may be a larger change lurking. And these possibilities may have to do with how successful President Obama and his Democratic colleagues actually turn out to be in office. Campaigns are important things to voters, but they’re not nearly as important as the performance of the government itself.
Thank you very much.
CROMARTIE: Thank you, John. Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, Anna Greenberg’s bio is in your packet, so I won’t read it to you.
ANNA GREENBERG: Good morning. First of all, I just want to thank Mike and Luis and everybody from the Pew Forum for what I hope is my first of many invitations to Key West. I also want to thank E.J., who I think is at least partially responsible for inviting me, and he’s always incredibly supportive of everything I do and very important to me. I think John provided an excellent overview of the role, at least in terms of religious groups, of religion in this election. Actually, it was sort of challenging when I saw his presentation because I thought, now what am I going to talk about? And it’s also challenging because in a lot of ways, as John pointed out, the overall structure wasn’t really that different between 2008 and 2004. The differences were important and they changed government and have huge consequences for what happens in the future, but just looking narrowly at the political behavior of religious groups, the differences weren’t that big.
I decided that I wanted to focus more on looking at individual groups, but also, what the religious narrative was and how it played out in this election. So starting with what I think was the dominant religious narrative in 2008, the question of Barack Obama’s faith – the Pew Forum did an excellent analysis of the coverage of religion in the election. Their analysis showed what I think we all know instinctively in our gut, that the main religious narrative of this election was about Barack Obama’s faith. That came out in a lot of different ways: the question of whether or not he was a Muslim or a Christian, his middle name, etc., but also the Jeremiah Wright conversation, which started during the primaries and extended throughout. Even though John McCain didn’t advertise on Jeremiah Wright, other groups did, and certainly it was part of the discussion.
I think that the whole question of Barack Obama’s faith and his affiliation raised lots of questions for lots of voters. It wasn’t necessarily a debate about religion itself, but it was a stand-in for a conversation about Barack Obama. Who is he? Where does he come from, as John McCain said. What values does he represent? Is he patriotic? There’s a whole set of questions around this question of his affiliation – of his faith – and that’s on the more negative side. On the more positive side, would he have the ability to reach out and would he be able to make inroads among white evangelicals? Would he be able to be a unifier? Could he bring people together? Could he reach across religious lines and break down some of the trends that John was showing us?
He actually had a very significant religious outreach program, as most of you know – certainly significant relative to what Democrats have done in the past. John Kerry had a religious outreach program – Mara Vanderslice, who many of you probably know, was a part of that. It was bigger in the Obama campaign; there were actually staff. It wasn’t just one person, which I think it was for the Kerry campaign. Obama’s religious outreach certainly was not as extensive as the kind of religious outreach that Rove and Bush did in 2002 and 2004, but certainly more extensive than what Democrats had done in the past.
So what’s interesting about all of this is that, first of all, it’s very hard for Democratic candidates to escape stereotypes about their religiosity. In a survey I did with Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly and the United Nations Foundation, we asked the question: Which candidate do you think is more religious? I think we all know, objectively, that Barack Obama was the more religious candidate. And actually most of the Democrats – if you look at Hillary Clinton – were more religious than John McCain. What’s interesting is that we asked this question in September, so this was well after conversations about belonging to the Trinity Church for 20 years. It’s after Saddleback, so it’s after a whole lot of conversation about Barack Obama and his religious affiliation, his religious participation.
It’s not by a huge margin, but it’s actually beyond the margin of error – 32 percent think that McCain was the most religious candidate, 28 percent Barack Obama, another third didn’t know. So it’s very hard for Democrats ever to be perceived as the more religious. And if you look at this by partisanship, what’s really interesting is that only 46 percent of Democrats said that Barack Obama was the more religious candidate. So even among Democrats, the stereotypes about Democrats and religion are pretty strong.
The Pew Research Center asked: What faith do you think Barack Obama is? Do you happen to know what religion Barack Obama is? And 57 percent said he was Christian, 12 percent thought he was Muslim, and the rest – I want to know who that 1 percent who think he’s Jewish is – I don’t understand what that’s about. (Laughter.) Twenty-five percent didn’t know. Some refused to answer the question. Among the people who thought that Barack Obama was a Muslim, there were an equal number of Democrats and Republicans; this was not necessarily a partisan issue.
This is something that, as someone who is a Democratic pollster and has worked very hard on this campaign – at least for the independent expenditure world – we spent a lot of time trying to figure out. We did a lot of focus groups with people who had voted for Hillary Clinton in the primary but were not voting for Barack Obama in the general and with people who called themselves Democrats but weren’t sure what they were going to do or were voting for McCain. They all ended up being sort of the same – it’s not very many of them – but they all ended up being sort of the same people.
In these focus groups, this whole conversation about whether or not Barack Obama was a Muslim was a very big piece of it. Now people aren’t necessarily rational when they have these conversations, so in the same sentence they would say: “I think he’s a Muslim” and “I can’t believe he belonged to that church for 20 years.” You’re trying to figure out how they can reconcile those two pieces of information – that he’s both a Muslim and a member of this radical Christian church. It was my belief that this whole question of whether or not he was a Muslim, on its face, was an issue for some people but also was a stand-in for race.
One of the things we also spent a lot of time trying to figure out was how this whole so-called Bradley effect – I’m so glad that conversation is over; I never want to have it again – but we took it seriously. When it was clear that Obama was going to be the nominee, as early as February in my view, we started doing some real research on this whole question of, how do you measure the impact of race?
It turns out if you just ask directly – this isn’t surprising – does Barack Obama’s race matter to you? – that’s not a very good way to measure it. In fact, what you found was that for people who said that it did, they were more likely to vote for Obama. They were younger; it was a positive. But there were other kinds of questions that could be a stand-in for race, and one of them was this idea that Barack Obama was too close to extremists. Actually, that ended up being a pretty powerful predictor. Lots of other things predict how you’re going to vote, including partisanship and church attendance, but that kind of question in terms of the race issue – and you can word it lots of different ways – was actually a predictor of how people were going to vote.
On that question it was about a third Democrats, a third Republicans and a third independents; it wasn’t correlated with partisanship. There were clearly a bunch of white Democratic voters for whom this whole question of race/Muslim/extremist – however you want to ask it – Who is he? Where does he come from? What are his values? – was important. You had some people in these focus groups who thought he was literally like a Manchurian candidate, that he was going to get elected and then get into office and reveal himself as a Muslim and take over the country.
Now just to make the point, keeping in mind that half of these folks are Democrats, among people who thought that Obama was a Muslim, 51 percent would vote for McCain, 37 percent would vote for Obama, and among people who thought that Obama was a Christian, the numbers are flipped – 52 percent would vote for Obama, 39 percent would vote for McCain.
One of the groups for whom this whole question of Barack Obama as a Muslim – whether or not he’s a Muslim but also extending to other questions around Israel and Palestinians and things he might have said about the Palestinians, etc. – was very important to Jewish voters. I’ve done a fair amount of work on Jewish voters, though it’s not easy to do because Jews are such a small percentage of the population and of the electorate that getting a big enough sample size to actually look at Jewish voters is really difficult. But going into the Democratic Convention, I was on a panel that the National Jewish Democratic Council put on at the convention, and there were three different sources of data. There was the J Street survey, which was an Internet survey of Jewish voters; there was Gallup, which wasn’t actually a separate survey of Jewish voters – they do so much polling that they basically aggregate their surveys and pull out the Jewish interviews; and then we had our own internal databases, where I had about 1,500 Jews.
Looking at all three sources of data going into the convention, it was pretty clear that Barack Obama was pretty seriously underperforming among Jewish voters. This trend line from Gallup shows you that in the summer, he’s getting 62, 61 percent – depending on the poll, anywhere between 60 and 65 percent of the Jewish vote, which seems very high obviously. If you look at other base Democratic voters like union members, Democrats get about 65 percent of union voters. If you look at Hispanics, Obama got about 67 percent of Hispanics. So that seems like a high number. But looking at Jewish voters relative to – certainly since Clinton – Democrats get around 80 percent – 78, 80 percent – of the Jewish vote. So that kind of number is actually pretty low. Now it doesn’t really matter nationally, that difference between what previous candidates have gotten and what Obama was getting, but it actually mattered a lot in Florida.
I did a statewide poll in Florida later in the – after the convention. I can’t remember when I did it; it might have been September. I did not believe that Obama was going to win Florida, certainly not at the beginning of the year. But as more and more polls were coming out showing the race was competitive in Florida, we did our own poll – a couple polls – in Florida, and if you looked at what was happening in Florida, not surprisingly, Obama was doing very well in places like Miami, and he was very competitive in the I-4 corridor, which includes Tampa and Orlando. That’s always considered kind of the swing area of Florida, and he was actually tied with McCain, which was a very good result. But he was really underperforming in Broward County, Dade County, West Palm – the Jewish parts of Florida.
What you could see was that if you looked at partisanship, a very Democratic area, and there was – I can’t remember – it might have been a 20-point gap between the percentage who were calling themselves Democrats and the percentage who were voting for Obama. Now my grandmother and grandfather retired to Ft. Lauderdale. I’ve spent a lot of time in those condos in Broward County, and I know what those folks are like. And of course, there was “The Great Schlep” and that sort of thing. Did everyone see the Sarah Silverman video, “The Great Schlep?” I mean, nothing really happened. I don’t think lots of Jews went down to Florida to convince their grandparents to vote for Obama, but it was funny. It was very Jewish.
But, anyway, so what was really fascinating about this was at this meeting at the Democratic Convention, it was like a mob of angry, Jewish state legislators from Florida, who were really angry at the Obama campaign because they felt like, we’re going into these condos and we got nothing. We have to convince these old Jewish voters that Obama’s okay, that he’s not a Muslim, that he’s not going to favor the Palestinians in some way and not support Israel. If you looked at the data that I had, it was really clear that the issue was with older Jews, which was not surprising; all of Obama’s issues were with older voters, older white voters. Jews aren’t different – radically different – in some ways than other voters; they’re the same groups.
But this obviously mattered a great deal in Florida. I don’t know exactly what the Obama campaign did. I think some of it was Sarah Palin; I think some of it was the debates. There were a variety of things that happened independent of the Obama campaign, though my understanding is that they put significant resources into outreach in this part of Florida. But what you can see nationally with the Gallup data is that over time Obama went from 62, 61 percent of the Jewish vote to 74 percent by the end of the election. And if you look at the exit polls, Obama got 78 percent of Jewish voters, which is exactly where other – that’s actually slightly better than Kerry did and it’s about where Gore and Clinton were.
I think if you look at the polls going into Election Day and then you look at the exit polls, Obama still really underperformed – the one group where Obama really did worse than Kerry was with older white voters. If you look toward the end, particularly post-debates, which I think were enormously reassuring to voters who had concerns about him and who he was and all the questions that McCain asked, you started to see a slight movement. In fact, Obama lost ground with older white voters after the Democratic Convention. Even though he got a slight bump, he lost ground with them. Then post-Palin, McCain was just a disaster. I think that Kerry in the battleground got about 48 percent of white seniors, and Obama was at about 32 percent for most of the campaign.
Older white voters started moving, but when you look at the exit polls, he actually didn’t do very well with older white voters, and what I don’t know is, was that movement real? Was there a pull back on Election Day? If there was a Bradley effect, maybe it was just with that group. But the point is, Jewish voters are the one group where he actually – and the campaign in any event – was successful, I think, in overcoming some of these doubts about him. Again, I think it had to do with a lot of things, including Sarah Palin, but nevertheless, I was actually pretty shocked at how well Obama did with Jews at the end, given all the trouble throughout the campaign. It was really evident in states like Florida that he did so well among Jewish voters.
So the other narrative in this election was, can Obama make inroads with more-conservative religious groups? He poured resources into that in his campaign. People had anecdotal evidence that young evangelicals might be more favorable to Obama than older. Even during the Republican primaries and the discussion of Mike Huckabee, there was this whole idea of the younger evangelical who has a more diverse set of political concerns and is more progressive on a whole set of issues. So when I did this poll for Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, we did an over-sample of younger evangelicals and the survey itself – it’s worth talking about this for just a second because it’s really, actually, pretty difficult to poll younger voters.
I think that most of the national tracking polls underestimated what the – if you look at most of the national tracking polls, they had Obama at about 60 percent among under-30s, and he actually got 66 percent. And we, through Democracy Corps, did youth research throughout the election and we did multi-mode studies, so we had a certain proportion of the interviews coming from random digit dial traditional landline, a certain percentage from cell phone, a certain percentage from Internet – and we had 65 percent going into Election Day.
So what we did with this poll was the same kind of multi-mode study. We had a certain number of interviews that came from random digit dial, a certain percentage from Internet – we didn’t do the cell phone for a variety of reasons. We had, I think, the first real sample of young evangelicals – again, a lot of anecdotal evidence or discussion about it – and what we found was that, in fact, it was true that younger white evangelicals were more likely to support Obama than older white evangelicals, though I was on a panel with GOP political strategist David Winston last week and he said, well, you know, when they get older, they’ll vote more Republican because people when they get older, they tend to vote more Republican. And I said maybe, but the reason why people do that is they tend to get married and start going to church and these folks already go to church, so I don’t know what’s going to happen. The kinds of changes that are supposed to – you get married, you have children, you pay taxes – for younger evangelicals, they’ve already done a lot of the things that make you more conservative when you get older.
I’m actually as interested in where they are on issues, and you see that they are more progressive on the environment, climate change, etc., more progressive on gay marriage – I’m going to show you those numbers – but not on abortion. This is probably a side-conversation; it’s not really about the election. In a lot of ways, these issues – gay marriage and abortion – didn’t really play much of a role except in certain places. But I just think it’s interesting that you see all kinds of changes on gay rights issues and not on abortion. That’s true in the electorate as a whole so that you’ve seen people become much more liberal on gay marriage, but not on abortion. And that’s true among evangelicals also. So as you see real movement or real changes among younger evangelicals on all these other issues, you don’t see it on abortion.
John already made this point, but just to show you overall with white evangelicals – this is exit poll data – Obama did slightly better than Kerry at 24 percent compared to 21 percent. And actually, one question I had for you, John, was, do you think that perhaps this change is due to younger evangelicals?
Now just to explain what these data are, they are from the Religion & Ethics poll. However, I also aggregated all of the youth polls and looked at the exit polls, and the number comes out the same. So even though this is from September, the 30 percent number is true across all three data sets that I looked at, so I feel pretty confident that Obama got 30 percent of younger – this is under 30 – white evangelicals. So about 8 points better. The thing to note is, still, it’s a very Republican group. Let’s not get carried away here. I mean, 62 percent voted for McCain, and maybe even higher. But 30 percent for Obama, so 8 points higher.
But what’s much more dramatic is the Republican brand among younger evangelicals. To measure favorability, we do something called a feeling thermometer, where you have to rate your feelings toward candidates, organizations or groups on a 0-to-100 scale. Anything above 50 is warm and anything below 50 is cool.
What you can see here is, if you look at the white evangelicals over 30 and at George Bush, which is that second column in, 57 percent positive, 29 percent negative. And you know what Bush’s numbers are overall, so it’s radically different. But look at where the younger ones are; he’s got net negative ratings, 39 percent warm, 48 percent cool. You see a similar sort of pattern, though it’s not as bad, on the Republican Party – plus-45 positive rating, 64 percent warm, among older white evangelicals and only a net plus-5 positive rating for the Republican Party among younger evangelicals. So Obama gets 30 percent, but the Republican brand itself is really challenged among this group. I think this is going to be one of the more interesting things to track as this group gets older and becomes a bigger and bigger part of the white evangelical group in the electorate. How does the Republican Party – it has to rehabilitate itself for everyone – but older evangelicals are still pretty positive, but not true of younger.
Then you can see, looking at a variety of issues, the differences between older and younger evangelicals. Again, we don’t know if, when younger evangelicals age they’ll get more conservative, but I was really struck by this slide, which is a question on gay marriage. What I would point out is that a majority of younger white evangelicals favor some kind of legal recognition of same-sex couples. So 26 percent say the right to marry, which I think is a very high number, and 32 percent say that they should be offered the same protections and benefits of marriage. Overall, 58 percent of younger white evangelicals think there should be some kind of legal recognition of marriage between same-sex couples. If you look at the older evangelicals, you can see that it’s pretty dramatically different – 9 percent for actual marriage, 37 percent for some kind of civil union.
If you look at the question of Iraq, again, the younger evangelicals are still different from other young people, but there is a slight majority for reducing the troops as opposed to staying the course, and that’s different from older evangelicals. If you look at the question of global warming, the differences aren’t huge, but still, the younger evangelicals are more likely to believe that global warming is kind of imminent and we need to do something about it and take action now as opposed to a long-term threat that we can do something about later. But then, on this question of abortion, there’s literally no difference between older and younger evangelicals. We asked a lot of different kinds of abortion questions in this survey – this poll was mainly on religion and America’s role in the world – so global gag rule, same. We asked favorability toward pro-life, pro-choice groups, same. Every single way you asked the abortion question, you had the younger and the older – and in fact, in some cases the younger being more conservative than older evangelicals on abortion.
I think that the younger evangelicals versus the white evangelical set is going to be very interesting long-term. I wanted to end on one final discussion of where I think religion played an interesting role in this election, and that’s ballot initiatives. In general, gay marriage and abortion – not very big issues in this election nationally, and that often happens when you have elections dominated by the economy and the war in Iraq in 2006. These kinds of issues tend to be less important to people. They tend to be less important anyway, but they tend to be even more diminished. But there were some pretty important ballot questions, particularly Prop 8 in California, which I’ve actually spent some time doing research on and which we can talk about during Q & A.
I’m throwing this out here, but I don’t know what to make of it yet, so I’m just going to throw it out here as a kind of interesting, potentially provocative idea, but I don’t have an explanation. It looks like, if you look at the different states where there were abortion and gay marriage initiatives, that evangelicals were key to the passage of gay marriage bans but not sufficient to pass the abortion restrictions. I don’t know why, exactly, but I’m just going to show you because I think it’s interesting. If you look at Prop 8, which is the gay marriage ban in California, white evangelicals– only 17 percent of the electorate in California – but 81 percent voted “yes.” Everybody else was a slight majority for the “no” vote. Obviously that’s gotten into a lot of discussion of African-Americans and other things we can talk about – Hispanics – and that’s all part of the story. But the evangelical piece is key here, and the Mormon church and others did a huge amount of organizing work in the evangelical community around Prop 8.
If you look at Florida and the gay marriage ban, this is actually the only place where a majority of the non-white evangelicals voted in favor of the gay marriage ban. But 81 percent, and it’s 25 percent of the electorate in Florida, voted for the gay marriage ban. Arkansas, it wasn’t gay marriage – it was an adoption measure – and it’s a lower number, 65 percent. First of all, adoption’s a different issue than marriage, but also you can see that 56 percent of the electorate in Arkansas call themselves “born again.” So you can have a lower number at 65 percent and still have an overwhelming victory for the ban. A majority of non-evangelicals in Arkansas voted against the gay adoption ban.
But then when you compare the abortion ballot questions, especially in California, to the gay marriage ones, it’s kind of interesting – all the gay marriage ones passed and all the abortion ones failed. So, again, I’m not entirely sure what that’s about, but it’s interesting to think about. But if you look at the abortion limits– and the abortion limit in California was parental notification, which is actually something that gets pretty high levels of agreement with everybody. A majority of people, if you ask them a whole series of restrictions on abortion, a majority of people favor parental notification. So it’s interesting that you have about a 10-point drop in the number of evangelicals voting “yes” on parental notification compared with the gay marriage ban – and obviously a much larger majority of non-evangelicals voting “no” on abortion limits.
South Dakota was a redo of the one that failed two years ago, and it changed some of the language that was responsible. If you remember, a couple of years ago, the main argument against that and the reason it failed was there was no exception for health of the mother, and so they changed the language, but it still failed in South Dakota. Again, a smaller percentage of evangelicals, compared with the gay marriage bans – 64 percent – and a very big majority of the non-evangelicals voting against it. And then in Colorado, again, you have evangelicals supporting it, but a stronger majority against it.
I think it’s something to investigate, both on the question of organizing and what were the differences in how evangelicals organized around these gay marriage bans in these different states, especially California, relative to the abortion bans, but also why there was a lower level of support among evangelicals on the abortion limitation measures than there was on the gay marriage bans. Again, I don’t really have an answer for it, but I think it would be interesting to dig into that and think about it. So I’ll stop there.
LAUREN GREEN, FOX NEWS: Can you help with a question I had about the age group on the less-observant evangelical Protestants? Was that a young group that mainly supported Obama in this group, less-observant evangelical Protestants?
JOHN GREEN: Yes, younger people in all religious traditions tend to be less observant, and less-observant groups tend to have a much higher percentage of younger people. And younger evangelicals, as Anna indicated, did vote more for Obama. So part of what’s going on with the less-observant is an age factor because older people tend to be more observant in all religious communities. So, yes, the evangelical youth vote was part of this pattern, for sure.
LAUREN GREEN: Anna, I just wanted to talk about the Jewish vote because I had talked to a rabbi, Marvin Heier, from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and he had been expressing some concern about what this means – it was earlier in the election – it would be a query about how the Jewish vote would go. Even though it didn’t make a big difference in the outcome of the election, it was still an interesting factor. So what really made the difference at the end for the Jewish vote that they got such high numbers?
GREENBERG: I don’t really know for sure because, like I said, it’s just really hard to do research among Jewish voters. We should do some focus groups in Broward County now among older Jews and find out. But I have to imagine that part of it was Sarah Palin. If you look at Jewish voters and the difference between Jews and non-Jews, the whole question of separation of church and state, the role of the “religious right” in politics, this is something that is incredibly important to Jewish voters – arguably, more important than Israel and other issues like that. And so I think that Sarah Palin, even though she didn’t talk a huge amount about her faith and her views on social issues, the fact that when they announced her nomination and she talked about the fact that she carried her baby to term and didn’t have an abortion even though he had Down’s, that was a very, very strong signal to people that she was socially conservative.
In fact, I did focus groups the night of her speech at the convention, and she really didn’t talk very much about social issues, but every single person who came into that group knew that she was very socially conservative. So I think that that was part of it for Jewish voters, and then I think the debates. What you saw coming out of the three debates was that Barack Obama was enormously reassuring to people who had the kinds of questions Republicans were trying to raise about him. Who is he? What are his values? Where does he come from? That’s when you started to see some – not huge – but some movement among older white voters – older white Democrats. I think, probably, both those things were a part of it, but I don’t know for sure.
JOHN GREEN: Let me just add something from Ohio, which has a large Jewish population, particularly in the Cleveland area. I think the description that Anna gave is very accurate, but I think something else was going on as well, and that is, many Jews are Democrats. And once they became reassured that some of these problems that had been raised about Barack Obama were not going to be serious, they went back to their partisanship. Many surveys show Jews voting very strongly Democratic, and some surveys show them voting even more strongly than they did in 2004. If you think about it, there were a whole series of issues that would have moved Democrats to be strong Democrats in this particular election.
What I noticed in Cleveland was that there was a reassurance issue, and once the Jewish community became reassured, they could support Obama. Many of them didn’t – at least that I interviewed – didn’t even believe he was necessarily going to be excellent on their issues; he was just going to be all right and that was enough for all these other concerns to come into play.
CARL CANNON, READER’S DIGEST: I have a question for the moderator; is that a legitimate thing?
CROMARTIE: It depends on what your question is.
CANNON: You made an observation when John was talking about evangelicals. Did I understand you to say that Ronald Reagan was not an evangelical Christian in your definition, Michael? I realize we haven’t really defined our terms. Maybe I don’t know what an evangelical is, but you said – maybe you were kidding – that people who didn’t go to church every week could not be considered evangelical.
CROMARTIE: No, I accept John’s very astute reply to me, which was on self-identification, right?
GREEN: Yeah, that’s right.
CANNON: In all seriousness, isn’t that how we’ve been defining it all this time, the last seven years?
CROMARTIE: Self-identified, yeah.
CANNON: So then my real question is, John, how many self-identified evangelicals do not go to church regularly?
CROMARTIE: John knows I’m making a doctrinal point, but he’s making a very astute political point.
GREEN: In most general surveys, something like 60 percent of evangelicals are regular worship-attenders. That would mean that roughly 40 percent – and it varies from survey to survey – are less observant. Now many of the less-observant go to worship often, just not every week. So there are much higher levels of worship attendance in the evangelical community than in some other religious communities.
CANNON: And is there any difference, then, in voting patterns between evangelicals who go regularly and evangelicals who don’t that’s significant that we ought to be thinking about?
GREEN: Oh, yes, there’s a double effect here. Regular worship-attending evangelicals are much more likely to turn out, but that’s true in many religious communities. Regular mass-attending Catholics are much more likely to actually go and cast a ballot than the less-observant Catholics. But on top of that, they’re much more Republican. So you typically get 80 to 85 percent of regular worship-attending white evangelicals voting Republican. The less-observant tend to be less Republican.
KIRSTEN POWERS, THE NEW YORK POST: My question actually was, I think, already answered about the younger evangelicals. I think, Anna, you said that you thought it was sort of an interesting thing to watch with the young evangelicals. Do you think that this group – even if it’s still a very small group, we know it’s more than it was in the past – do you think this was just about Obama, that they just loved Obama because he was this phenomenon, or do you think there’s something going on with them separately, in terms of their belief system, that would lead them to vote Democratic if they were reached out to?
GREENBERG: I tend to think it’s the latter, in part, because in other measures in the survey I didn’t show, there were a lot of questions around doctrine and being ecumenical and accepting people of other faiths. And on all of those different kinds of measures, you see younger evangelicals looking more ecumenical, a little more – I don’t want to say open-minded, but more accepting. I showed you the other issues like climate change and gay marriage. There’s a whole range of issues where they look more progressive than people who are older than them.
Actually, one thing that would be interesting to do, if there is a big enough sample size, is to go back to the 2006 mid-terms because Democrats got 60 percent of the under-30 vote. Do you know if the sample sizes, John, would be big enough to look at younger evangelicals in that to see if there was also that difference? Because if there was, then that would suggest that there’s something bigger going on than just Obama, but that’s my gut.
GREEN: I would tend to agree with that. I think generational change happens all the time on a very steady basis, but there are points in time when generational change has a big effect on a particular religious community. Evangelicals are going through one of those changes right now. It’s happening in religious terms; it’s happening in social terms; and it’s happening in political terms. Now that doesn’t mean that evangelicals will cease to be distinctive, but they may be distinctive in a different way than they have been in the past. The best examples of this, of course, are in the leadership of the evangelical community, where you have the Rick Warrens, for instance, and the Richard Ciziks, who represent a different approach – not a radical break with the evangelical tradition, but just a different approach.
You see that new approach in public affairs, and it covers a wide range of values and issues. But it’s happening in the public as well. Rick Warren’s a good example of this trend, partly because he represents this change at the leadership level, but partly because he’s an enormously astute guy and he recognizes that these changes are going on, especially among younger evangelicals.
POWERS: My other question would be – and I don’t even know if you know this answer – do you know if there was a geographic component to this? Was this an urban – like, New York City – or what do younger evangelicals in the South think? Or do you have any idea of that, if that’s a pattern?
GREENBERG: I read somewhere that if you look at it state by state – and it makes perfect sense because you have to look at it where the Obama campaign was really organizing – that his inroads with evangelicals were bigger in states like Colorado. It would make some sense that the places where the campaign was really active and on TV and doing stuff, that you would see that. But I don’t know for sure. You could look at the exit polls state by state and look at the share of the evangelical vote. I don’t know if the sample sizes were big enough to break it down at the state level by age.
GREEN: The sample sizes probably aren’t big enough to do religion and age simultaneously, but there really are these state-level and regional-level effects. I think a lot of it might have to do with the mobilization efforts, but there have always been some regional differences among evangelicals. Midwestern evangelicals, for instance, are different from Southern evangelicals on a number of these issues. And Western evangelicals are different too, so there is a regional pattern. I don’t know what it would look like if it’s rural-urban-suburban – that would be a really interesting thing to know.
E.J. DIONNE, THE WASHINGTON POST: First of all, thanks to two of my favorite people for this presentation. I can’t resist asking Anna, who were those 37 percent who thought Obama was Muslim and were for him, since they can’t all be Muslim? (Laughter.) I had a couple of questions. Broadly, what I’d like both of you to do is to speculate forward on whether you think this election suggested that there could be further changes particularly in the religious behavior patterns or whether, in fact, this is more a confirmation of existing trends and change will take place within the limits of those trends? And this follows from Anna’s point because this election looks to me an awful lot like a continuation of the patterns of 2006, and I’d just love for you to talk about that.
And specifically to John, this is not exit poll data; this is your own data. If there’s any way you can compare what you’re seeing here to what you know from the exit polls. Are there any differences? And, you’ve kind of answered this, in the case of evangelicals, it was very striking that Kerry, according to your numbers, did better among weekly attending white Catholics. I’m curious what you know about the exit polls on that. That would appear also to be a product of age, but I’m curious what’s going on in those numbers?
GREEN: Anna, do you want to go first?
GREENBERG: Sure. I think, at least in the short run, that if Obama does some things that he’s at least previewed somewhat in the campaign, that he will help neutralize the effective wedge issues. So, for example, the faith-based initiative, if there’s some real effort around that. I think there’s going to be a very strong push around prevention, in terms of abortion. You’ve got the DeLauro-Ryan bill in the House, but you’ve also got some choice groups that are supportive of that. Obviously Obama’s been very supportive of it.
You also have the way he talks about education and talks about how parents have to turn off the television. There’s enormous concern among everyone actually, not just conservatives, about this question of cultural pollution and what kids are exposed to. I think that both rhetorically and even legislatively, if some of those things happen, he helps neutralize the effectiveness of some of these wedge issues – these values issues – and that he continues to do well among some of the groups that are swing in this area. He made progress among white Catholics, and I could imagine Democrats and him making even more progress among white Catholics.
I think, in some of the more-conservative swing religious groups, he could neutralize what’s been – in rural areas, for example – he did much better in rural areas than Kerry did. He cut the Republican lead in rural areas in half. Kerry lost rural battleground by 15 points, and Obama lost them by 7. So really big, and that’s an area obviously where these social issues are enormously important. But on the question of white evangelicals, especially the most observant, it’s hard to imagine because of the endurance of the abortion issue – that is the pillar.
And you can see movement around gay marriage and other things, but abortion is the one issue where I don’t think you’re going to see real – there’s nothing that Democrats or the Obama administration could do to reassure the evangelical community on that issue. So I think it’s neutralizing the wedge issues and continuing strength among these more swing, conservative religious groups. But I don’t see a potential of a lot of short-term shifts among the most religiously conservative groups like white evangelicals.
GREEN: I guess the way I would answer that is very similar to Anna. What we saw in this election were two strong tendencies; one was that the basic structure of faith-based politics remained largely intact. Within that structure though, there was a change within the stability. One way to look at that change – and it was happening in 2006, and we see it in 2008 as well – is that the Democrats were maximizing the parts of the structure that favored them by doing better among religious minorities, the less-observant and non-religious groups– and by reducing the Republican margins in some Republican religious groups. So that’s change within the context of the overall structure.
If you think back to 2004, which was a very close election, even modest changes in the structure might have put John Kerry in the White House. And this year, McCain needed a lot more help if he was going to end up winning the election, but even so, the biggest Democratic gains were when they went with the structure, in other words, targeted and mobilized the easiest voters to reach. I suspect that in the next couple of elections, we’ll see those two things continue. The basic structure will remain intact, but there may be this trend within the structure. Now if that trend within the structure went on long enough, it would alter the structure, but it could take a couple of elections to do that. One could imagine an Obama presidency being very successful and giving him and the Democrats opportunities to talk to religious groups that, on balance, don’t support them and over time change their views.
The reason I think this way is that if you go back to the origins of the structure – remember, there was a lot written in the 1970s and 1980s about the switch of white evangelicals to the Republican Party. But it actually took a number of elections for that to happen. You could see it coming, but it took a while to materialize. The 2008 “trend within the structure” may bear fruit a couple of elections down the road. For the next couple of elections, I think that’s where we’ll begin the analysis, with the current structure, and then we’ll see what kinds of changes are occurring.
There certainly was a lot of effort in this campaign – really on both sides, but the Democratic effort attracted more attention because it was new, something that was novel – a real effort to try to expand the religious coalition. The effects were fairly modest, but it could have been even larger. So I think E.J.’s point about 2008 as a continuation of 2006 is valid. Of course, 2006 was a congressional election and this is a presidential election. Still, I think there’s something going on within the structure – not yet enough to change it, but enough to change election outcomes.
Or, as one of my colleagues put it, what did Barack Obama do? He made the structure of faith-based politics work for him. I think that’s probably a pretty good description. Would he have liked it to have worked even better for him? I think he would have, but it was a pretty good win anyway. E.J., it will be really interesting to get the exit polls and to be able to look at these things very, very carefully.
CROMARTIE: When will they be available?
GREEN: They’ll be available early in the new year; I think about February or March. Our colleagues at the National Election Pool are really very good, and one of the things I most admire about them is they’re entirely transparent. They give their data away, so we’re all going to be able to look at that with a lot of care. One of the things that I want to look at carefully is one of the places where we saw disjunction between the Pew Research Center data we’re looking at here and the initial exit poll data. This may be just differences in sampling. We’ll have to set them side by side. The place where the biggest difference occurred was in the white Catholic community, and that’s just fascinating to me because the exit polls showed overall a shift toward the Democrats of about 4 percentage points, which is about what the overall shift was, so I think that’s pretty important.
The Pew Research Center data and some other surveys show more polarization in the Catholic community. In this survey there was a more modest move toward the Democrats, but it was all among the less-observant Catholics, and that movement was offset in these data with the more-observant Catholics actually becoming a little more Republican. But let me just ask, David Kuhn, you looked at the exit polls –
DAVID KUHN, THE POLITICO: We do know – because, E.J., you asked about weekly attending white Catholics, right? Now obviously like John – and I guess Anna’s had more success – I worked with the data I could get – all of it I’m not supposed to have. But we do know that the weekly attending number, Christian and Protestant, for whites did not go up. Obama won 29 percent; Kerry won 29 percent; Gore won 29 percent. The stubbornness of that exact number struck me because although I would agree that the Obama campaign – those involved in outreach – emphasized that they did not expect large gains with what is actually the largest bloc of the Republican coalition and the most dedicated religiously, they did make a clear effort. I think going to Saddleback was evidence that they believed they could make inroads with this bloc.
So if he actually made gains with white weekly attending Catholics, then he would have had to actually have done worse with white weekly attending Protestants, just by deduction. This gets to another question for you two – but I can wait for my time – whether, when you have these gains with other non-weekly attending white groups – in other words, less-religious white groups – I guess I wonder if you think that that’s more the political environment than necessarily the religiosity or religion variable. But I guess we can, of course, get to that in a little bit.
GREENBERG: I think that’s right. Depending on what data you believe, it does look like they made a little bit of a gain – three points. So I think there was the hope, but I was always skeptical about that. I do think you have to think about it in terms of trends, and I was thinking about this when we were talking about younger evangelicals. There was a lot of discussion of the youth vote in this election and how important it was and how big it was going to be. But if you look over time, what you’ve seen is a slow and steady movement toward the Democratic Party among younger voters. So the only group Kerry won was under-30s, at 55 percent; 60 percent voted Democratic in 2006; 66 percent for Obama. Obviously getting 66 percent also had something to do with him and the organization, but it’s still building on a trend.
I think that John made this point as well. If you look at this compared with 2006, some of the movement you saw on white Catholics also happened in 2006, movement in rural. So some of this movement is building over time, and it’s not just a reaction to the issues in this campaign. I think it was enhanced by the fact that – we’ve mainly talked about Obama, but let’s talk about McCain. This is somebody who did not have the kind of personal connection that George Bush did with the evangelical community – uncomfortable clearly. Even at Saddleback, where I think people thought he did pretty well, he seemed to me to look kind of physically uncomfortable in that forum in talking about his faith. I think that some of these trends were exacerbated by the different approaches – or enhanced or however you want to put it – by the approach of the campaign. But generally, I agree that it’s building upon trends.
DIONNE: Thirty-second hypothesis just to add to this and ask you about. There was a very big difference in the openness of whites outside the South to Obama versus Southern whites, where he ran 10 or 15 points behind among Southern whites compared to the rest of the country. And obviously, a lot of white evangelicals are Southerners. I’m curious if any of you have looked at these numbers – South, non-South – because I suspect that we’re going to see some difference there and that the added fact of Southern strengthens the Republican loyalty. But I’m curious if you share that view.
GREEN: Let me address David’s question and then I’ll come back to that because I think it’s a good point. These less-observant groups are more open to environmental influences. Of course, one way to think about religion, or in fact any cultural factor, is that it’s part of the screen through which people react to the events of the day. One of the reasons the economy is so powerful as a measure in elections is because it changes a lot. We have good economic times, bad economic times. Cultural values change much, much more slowly. The way I often think about it is religion and culture are kind of the bedrock, and the economic and foreign policy issues are kind of like the water that runs over the bedrock. People who are less involved in cultural institutions, including worship attendance, are more open to those influences, right? And so part of what happens in a lot of elections and probably in this one too is that the less-observant are simply more influenced by the economy – so you’re on to something.
That’s one of the reasons that worship attendance is such a powerful measure. And even though it has its limitations, it identifies groups of people who are in some sense more insulated from the general environmental factors. They’re not completely insulated, of course, but more insulated than the less-observant. That’s one of the reasons that we use worship attendance all the time, because it’s such a powerful measure, although, of course, it has its limitations. If you look at some of the Pew Forum data, particularly the religious landscape study, you can see this in great detail. You’ve got different kinds of people. Some of the less-observant people are just not very religious, right? Some of them are simply nominal in their religious affiliation, but some of them are actually quite religious. They just have very liberal theology, where worship attendance is not seen as a bad thing but it’s not seen as an imperative, the way it would be seen by more-traditional people.
In these less-observant groups, we conflate those two groups. It might be, for instance, that we have two less-observant Catholics. One of them might have voted for Obama because Catholicism is not very important to them and the economy is awful. Another one might have said Sen. Obama’s comments about health care fit with Catholic social teachings, and I’m a liberal Catholic and so I really need to vote for this guy, even though I have some reservations on his stand on abortion. So we might have two different things happening within those groups, so that just gets to the limitations.
GREENBERG: Hey John, we should also note that people over-report. You’ve got people who might be in that category of less-observant versus secular but actually are secular because we know that by probably 20 points, people over-report their worship attendance like they over-report voting and having a library card and all that kind of stuff.
GREEN: Right. So we have over-reporting of attendance and over-reporting of voting. I was once giving a talk on this in Akron, and this lady came up to me and said: I want you to tell me about the “lying Republicans.” And I said, well, I don’t know – which lying Republicans are you talking about? She said, the people who fib about their vote and fib about their worship attendance. (Laughter.) So I said, well, this is all measurement error.
But to get to E.J.’s point, there are regional differences, and Obama did do better, the exit polls show, in some Midwestern states with white evangelicals.
KUHN: Can I just say one thing on E.J.’s question because I think since there are a lot of prominent reporters in this room – I don’t want to pick on The New York Times story that was about the South loss. We all know this story – the cover story after the election. They looked at their demographic map, for those of you who didn’t read it, and they pointed out what we all saw, that the white numbers went down in the deep South states compared with even what Kerry earned. It’s hard to get beyond an explanation of race in that way.
But I just think one missing factor here that kind of answers E.J.’s point and uses Pew Research Center’s data is that the Pew Research Center found in their typology that half of social conservatives live in the South. And I do think – though clearly those numbers on whites in the deep South, I think, do evoke racial issues – I do think a missing analysis on the South very often is the social conservative component. Clearly the answer to E.J.’s question in some sense is that there was likely, since half of social conservatives live in the South, there’s this conflation of all these variables to some extent.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY, NPR: Just a very quick question and a longer one. Do we have any idea how many evangelicals stayed home? Because you heard a lot about that beforehand.
GREENBERG: My understanding is the turnout was the same as it was in 2004.
GREENBERG: There wasn’t a drop-off.
GREEN: Nationally it was the same, and actually the exit poll data suggests that white evangelicals were a little larger portion of the electorate than they were in 2004. Well, their turnout was the same or maybe it was even a little higher; turnout is hard to calculate from surveys. But it could be that other groups didn’t vote. In some places like Ohio, there’s some evidence that some white voters voted in lower numbers – not evangelicals, but some other white voters. And if you go look at county-by-county data in Ohio and in some other states, some of those counties that were heavily for Bush in 2004 had lower turnout, particularly lower votes for McCain.
GREENBERG: Right. Overall, there were many fewer Republicans in the electorate. Now that could be a combination of people staying home or also calling themselves independent.
HAGERTY: The other question is, you kept hearing about how disaffected the evangelicals were before McCain picked Palin, and I’m wondering about whether the Palin choice kind of interrupted a trend that might be going on with evangelicals in the Republican Party. I’ve heard a lot of especially younger evangelicals, but others, being somewhat disaffected with the Republican Party, feeling that they shouldn’t be beholden to it, as captured by it anymore. And I’m wondering if the strong showing that McCain got among evangelicals was kind of unnaturally strong because of the Palin pick. Do you have any polls, for example, before he picked Palin that might indicate whether evangelicals were moving a little bit more away from the Republican Party and then came back because of Palin?
GREENBERG: I looked at white evangelicals in the spring, before Palin, and they were 75 percent for McCain. I didn’t see any evidence of erosion among evangelicals.
GREEN: What we did see some evidence of with the Pew Research Center data was a lack of enthusiasm for McCain personally.
CROMARTIE: Enthusiasm gap.
GREEN: There was an enthusiasm gap. And it’s pretty clear to me that – and I think there’s a lot of poll evidence on this – that Sarah Palin helped close the enthusiasm gap.
HAGERTY: Right. And that would translate to turnout, right?
GREEN: Right, yeah.
GREENBERG: Which is different than the share of the vote.
GREENBERG: One of the things that throughout the election was really interesting and that shifted around Palin was, if you did regression analysis, how you felt about Obama was a much stronger predictor of the vote than how you felt about McCain. So in other words, there were a lot of people voting for McCain who didn’t like him, whereas if you didn’t like Obama, you were not voting for him. What happened with Sarah Palin was that after her nomination, you started to see the feelings about the Republican ticket be a stronger predictor of how people were voting. Then, ultimately what happened was that the Sarah Palin favorability variable in and of itself became a predictor in a bad way. It’s hard to imagine. Biden’s thermometer never predicted anything, but as an individual, she became very polarizing.
GREEN: But you’re on to something, Barbara, and Anna pointed out that there is a certain disaffection with the Republican Party in the evangelical community. It’s particularly strong among young evangelicals. I think it may have something to do with George Bush. It may have something to do with the perception that’s shared by many people, not just by young evangelicals, that the Republican Party didn’t manage the government well, whether it’s the congressional Republicans or the administration. And then there is, particularly among younger evangelicals but you see it in older ones as well, a kind of fatigue with the hard-edged cultural politics. It doesn’t mean that evangelicals have become more liberal on many of the cultural issues. In fact, on some issues like abortion, they haven’t changed at all. But there is a kind of dislike of that style of politics.
In the annual trend survey of the Pew Forum in the summer, we saw for the first time in many years a dip in the number of people who thought that religious people should express their opinions in politics. It was a small change, but it reversed itself. Prior to that, we’d always had a majority saying they should be involved. And in that data it was reversed and a majority said they shouldn’t be involved, and some of the falloff was among social conservatives and evangelicals. So the issues haven’t changed that much but their application to politics has. And we heard a lot about that. In some ways, although he’s not an evangelical, Doug Kmiec was a good example of that, basically saying that he was tired of that kind of politics because it wasn’t producing results. Has Doug Kmiec changed his view on abortion? I don’t think so, but how he connected his views to politics changed.
DIONNE: Could I just toss out for 10 seconds new data that basically confirms the intuition of the panel? Thanks to CNN’s excellent website, I found some numbers on the regional difference among white evangelicals. So this is all-vote among white evangelicals – or born-again. In Mississippi, 94 percent for McCain; Louisiana, 93 percent; Alabama, 92 percent. By contrast, white born-agains in Colorado, 76 percent for McCain; California, 70 percent; Iowa, 65 percent; Minnesota, 64 percent; Michigan, 63 percent. So you clearly have an independent white evangelical effect, but a 20-to-30 point swing between the South and the rest of the country. So there are two things going on here.
MATTHEW CONTINETTI, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: A few questions about those without faith, the seculars. Am I right in thinking that they’re one of the fastest-growing groups in the electorate? Who are they? I’d imagine that their educational profile is a little bit higher than the medium voter, but are they located in any regions of the country? Are they concentrated? Also, we talked a lot about age splits. Is this a younger voting group? The seculars – could you give us a profile?
GREEN: At the Pew Forum we have argued among ourselves extensively about what language to use. Probably the most general term is unaffiliated. The unaffiliated are a growing group. Remember, rapid growth among religious groups is actually pretty slow growth over time. But if you go back 20 years ago, there were many fewer unaffiliated people than there are now. Polls routinely show 15 percent of the population as being unaffiliated. So this is a large group; it’s a growing group. There’s no reason to believe that the trend will stop anytime soon. So it’s going to continue to grow. And it’s interesting because, in some ways, they’re the counterpoint to white evangelicals, who have also been growing at the same sort of steady rate.
But the unaffiliated are quite diverse. In my presentation I differentiated between the pure seculars and the unaffiliated believers. The swelling ranks of the unaffiliated come from the fact that more people are fully secular: atheists, agnostics or people completely uninterested in religion. But then there’s a growing group of people who are just not involved in organized religion. They may pray; they may believe in God; they may even attend worship. But they don’t belong to organized religion.
There are demographic differences here as well. The unaffiliated tend to be younger, and that’s a trend that we’ve seen since we’ve had polling, that young people tend to be less involved in religion. But this generation, young people today, are particularly uninvolved. But there are older seculars as well. Some of the unaffiliated are highly educated people who maybe have followed a common narrative that we hear about seculars, that their high level of education has led them away from faith. But there are lots of unaffiliated people who are poorly educated and maybe because of an absence of personal resources or communal resources are not involved in organized religion. So there’s a lot of variation in that group, and the group is very important. Like many religious groups, one has to take into account the internal diversity of the group.
GREENBERG: Two things I would say about that. In some research I did a couple years ago on younger people, if you looked at the unaffiliated group, it was also heavily Hispanic and Asian-American. If you look at second-generation, third-generation, their ties – well, first of all, say Asian, there’s incredible religious diversity in Asia, so whether somebody comes from Korea or China or Vietnam actually makes a difference. But still, as there’s kind of quote-unquote “assimilation” and intermarriage – the rates of Hispanic and Asian-Americans marrying whites are very high – it’s much lower with African-Americans. So I think you have to look at those kinds of patterns in ethnic and racial diversity in this country, and I think it contributes to it. The other thing is that it is true that the secular and unaffiliated are different from each other, and some of it is about life cycle.
People who are younger who are unaffiliated, some percentage of them end up becoming affiliated when they have children. That’s a big driver of becoming religious again. Not being affiliated but believing in God means politically you may behave differently because you’re not in a religious institution. There’s really good work done by Sidney Verba of Harvard University and others around the role that churches and religious institutions play in mobilizing people into politics. My dissertation was actually on this also, on the kind of information that people get in church and how it shapes world views. So if you are unaffiliated but believe in God, you’re still being exposed – or not exposed, I should say – to very different things. And so you might have someone say, I believe in God and I go to church every week, and another person say, I believe in God and I don’t go. Because of the social networks they’re in and the kind of information that they’re exposed to, they’ll behave very differently politically.
GREEN: Just one more comment. The unaffiliated have a big implication in elections because the unaffiliated are much harder to mobilize than people who are affiliated in one way or another. If you’re a Democrat, you can find the local black Protestant church, but where do you find the unaffiliated? I don’t know.
CROMARTIE: Here on Duvall Street.
GREENBERG: The unaffiliated are less likely to do everything. The unaffiliated group tends to be more disconnected socially, so they’re a little more adrift. It’s not just religious institutions; it’s all kinds of organizations, the ways that people organize through their social networks.
CROMARTIE: John, say how big they are.
GREEN: The unaffiliated population’s about – Anna, please chime in; you do more surveys than I do – but it’s about 15 percent of the adult population.
GREENBERG: That’s including people who are atheist and –
CONTINETTI: And that’s an increase from –
GREENBERG: Yes. It’s growing, for sure.
CROMARTIE: That’s an increase. Speed of light?
GREEN: Well, 20 years ago a common number would have been 8 percent unaffiliated. So it’s basically doubled in 20 years. Depends on which survey you look at. Sometimes questions are not asked the same way over time, so you don’t know if the group really grew or if we just asked the question differently.
KUHN: John pointed out to me after the election in 2006 that not only is this group growing, but as he noted, it’s increasingly and consistently becoming more Democratic, which is one of the more interesting aspects of the religion gap that is often under-discussed.
CROMARTIE: Right, yes.
CATHY GROSSMAN, USA TODAY: You can get trend data from the General Social Survey. You can also get it from Barry Kosmin with the American Religious Identification Survey, which is taken every 8-10 years, so you’ve got data going from 1990 to 2001, when it went from 8 to 14 percent.
JACQUI SALMON, THE WASHINGTON POST: A question for Anna and then a quick question for both of you. Anna, you said that 12 percent of the people you polled thought Obama was Muslim, and then you said that you thought that maybe this was a stand-in for race, and I was curious what you meant.
GREENBERG: I mean this is more from qualitative research and all the focus groups I did over the course of the election than quantitative. One of the things that was hard to figure out was, what is the impact of race? And so I started looking at things that people used as reasons why they were not voting for Obama – people who were Democrats or independents who should have been leaning toward Obama. One of the measures we had early on, which changed over time, was a generic question: Do you want to vote for a Democrat or a Republican for president? And then you’d ask, Obama or McCain? And there was a 10-point gap between those two questions, and there was a chunk of white older Democrats who were not voting for Obama – that was a big proportion of that gap.
So doing focus groups among those kinds of voters, and no one obviously talked about race directly – well, some did – but there were things about him being foreign, being a Muslim, his father being from Kenya. There was a whole set of things people talked about, which in my view seemed to be at least a stand-in for saying, I don’t want to vote for someone black.
SALMON: Sort of a euphemism?
SALMON: I don’t want to vote for a black man, is what they were saying.
GREENBERG: But these were, in their view, legitimate reasons.
GREENBERG: I’m not going to vote for a Muslim. And when I say legitimate, I mean in terms of the social dynamic of research. People are very unlikely to say, I won’t vote for him because he’s black, but they can say, I won’t vote for him because he’s a Muslim. Being anti-Muslim is extremely socially acceptable.
GREENBERG: Unfortunately, yes.
SALMON: Last quick question. What about the impact of the increasing use of cell phones? I’ve heard a lot of conflicting information on that. Do you think it impacted the results this year?
GREENBERG: I think so.
CROMARTIE: You mean the survey results?
GREENBERG: I think so. The Pew Research Center’s done a lot of – Scott Keeter’s done a lot of good work on this, so you should go to their site and look at his research. But I think it only has an impact with people who are younger. So I believe – and I think that most of the data bears this out – that we were probably underestimating what percentage of people under 30 were going to vote for Obama because of the cell phone issue, and it was particularly a problem with people under 25. It’s mainly because of sample size we look at under-30, but if you look at under-25, it’s actually different than people 25-to-30 in terms of cell phones. So you had Gallup and the Pew Research Center and some others starting to add cell phone sample as part of their research to try to account for it. But I do think it’s expensive. It’s like $80 per completed interview to do a cell phone interview. A lot of our surveys are 20 minutes. You can’t do a 20 minute –
There are much lower levels of cooperation. People get really angry when you call them on their cell phone and ask them to do an interview. You can only call when you think people have free minutes because you can’t call people and have them actually have to pay for the call. And then people are like driving their car when they answer the phone or whatever, so it’s just much harder to get a complete out of it. And then, just in general, completion rates are lower with people who are younger. They’re less interested in politics; they’re less interested in taking surveys than older people are. All these things conspire, and so it makes about $80 an interview. So it’s very expensive to do it.
RICHARD STARR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Are any of these texting or is it all voice?
GREENBERG: Right now they’re all live interviews. There’s a little bit of a problem because – this is going to get complicated, kind of in the weeds – but you are not allowed to use predictive dialers to call cell phones. Do you know what a predictive dialer is? You know when your phone rings and you get that pause and then someone comes on? They’re using a predictive dialer, and it actually saves a lot of money because you don’t have a person dialing and then listening and waiting and then hanging up and dialing. You have a machine that’s automatically calling, and the minute a live voice picks up, it connects you to an interviewer. So that actually helps you save a lot of money when you’re doing research.
You are not allowed to do predictive dialing with cell phones. You’re not allowed to sell anything on cell phones. However, survey research is different. So part of the problem with doing text stuff and that kind of automated stuff is that if you’re using automated ways of calling people, you’re not allowed to do that on cell phones. You’re allowed to do it on landlines. Part of what makes cell phone interviewing expensive is you have to have a live caller dialing themselves, dialing that phone number and waiting to hear if somebody answers. And get mad, get angry at you and hang up on you. Anyway, the short answer is yes, I do believe. But I think it’s only for this small group, this younger group. Now over time this group is going to become a larger and larger proportion of the electorate, and then it’s going to become harder and harder to do accurate survey research.
EVE CONANT, NEWSWEEK: A question for Anna. You said that young evangelicals were more likely to support Obama than older evangelicals were.
CONANT: But also in some of your polling you found that some younger evangelicals were actually more conservative on abortion than older evangelicals. So I wanted to know in what way were they more conservative, and just in general, for the younger evangelicals, if abortion is such a big issue, did you get any sense of how they squared that with support for Obama, period? How can you still say that abortion is so incredibly important for you and then vote for the Democrats? Just simply, what is the reasoning and the rationale, and if any of that came out in your work.
GREENBERG: On the question of what made them more conservative, literally it was just a matter of degree. On the global gag rule question, they were 5 or 6 points more likely than older evangelicals to say that we should not overturn the global gag rule. And on the question of favorability toward pro-life groups, they were more favorable than older evangelicals. They’re all very conservative, so it’s just literally a matter of degree. I only have polling data, so I can’t ask them to explain to me why they would be more likely to support Obama, but I suspect, given the other stuff we’ve looked at, that they’re not single-issue voters.
This goes to what John was saying about changes in the leadership and changes in the whole kind of conversation within this community when it comes to politics. You’ve got more people saying, look, other issues matter besides these social issues. They’re important but maybe I can live with someone not being where I want them to be because I believe climate change is really important, or I believe that the economy is really important. I think among this younger set you’ve got fewer single-issue voters.
GREEN: But you do see the effect of the social issues in the sense that although younger evangelicals were more for Obama, they were not majority for Obama. And if you look at favorability data, many younger evangelicals who apparently didn’t vote for Obama nonetheless liked him. So what you may see is some people couldn’t vote for him because the abortion issue was in the way.
GREENBERG: Even though he was very straightforward about being pro-choice, he’s definitely used language and – again, I go to this whole, parents have to turn off their television. That’s a very important line, and a lot of people interpret it in terms of speaking to the black community and the role of fathers, but I think it was very important for social conservatives too – that families really matter and what parents do really matters. Democrats don’t say that a lot. I think that that was very reassuring to people, maybe not your hardcore, white evangelical single-issue voter, but for people who are a little more socially conservative but not single-issue voters.
ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK: My question is along the same lines. Do you have any theories, Anna, as to why the younger evangelicals didn’t move in a more progressive direction, if you will, on abortion, whereas they did on gay marriage. I’m thinking that the information that’s out there about sexual orientation is increasingly that this is how people are biologically made, it’s not a lifestyle choice. Plus the increased visibility of gay people in society – you know, the world isn’t coming to an end, whereas on abortion, the scientific information actually might go in the other direction – non-progressive, if you will. I wondered how you see it playing out. You talked a little bit about it in the Democratic Party, but in the Republican Party as well.
GREENBERG: I’m sure it won’t surprise you that as someone who’s worked for NARAL and other pro-choice groups, we haven’t done a lot of work with evangelicals to figure out what they think about these issues.
GREENBERG: So I have done a lot more focus groups with younger women who are –
CLIFT: But that’s relevant.
GREENBERG: I agree. So I’ll draw upon that in answering this. I think there are a couple things going on. First, I think if you look at abortion in the early ’70s and the way the women’s movement and then the pro-choice movement talked about it, it was a feminist issue – controlling your own bodies, controlling your own reproductive trajectory, being able to work, birth control, all that kind of stuff. I think one of the things that the right did very, very well was move the abortion issue from an issue about the woman to the fetus or the baby and about life and death. I think that if you look at younger people who are not products – the most pro-choice people in this country are baby-boom women, especially if they have a college education. When you look at younger people who were not exposed to that and don’t know the history, they tend to see the issue around life or not life. And obviously that’s very relevant to young evangelicals.
But the other place where I think there’s been a lot of success is that it’s been turned into an issue from sexual liberation to sexual irresponsibility. The thing that I hear over and over again in focus groups with younger people is this kind of urban legend: I know this woman who had 14 abortions, and she uses abortion as a form of birth control. And, if you do the crime, you do the time. People have said that. As opposed to abortion being part of liberation and sexual freedom and being able to control your future, it’s actually something you’re doing that’s irresponsible. I think that’s also kind of wrapped up in AIDS and sex can kill you.
So I think that both those things are happening at the same time. For younger people, the whole history of this as a feminine issue is sort of gone. It’s not relevant to them. It’s about life and death, but also it’s about sex and sexual irresponsibility. I think both of those things, if you think about younger evangelicals, obviously even more important. But gay marriage is really different. First of all, I think that some people would argue that the kind of – and I’m not any expert – but the scriptural basis of abortion and homosexuality are different. And there are certainly people who would argue that on the issue of homosexuality things aren’t necessarily as clear from a scriptural standpoint.
But also, there have been such fundamental changes in family structure. We know that evangelicals are just as likely to get divorced as others. In fact, we know that people without a college education are much more likely to get divorced than people with a college education. Anyway, so you’ve got kids in the evangelical community – for half of them, their parents are divorced – the main reason people who are anti-gay marriage give is that they don’t want to re-define marriage, that the definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. Whether that’s religious or cultural doesn’t really matter; in some ways, politically, the impact is the same. I think for people who are younger, this notion that this is absolutely the definition of marriage, when you have a family structure where the majority of this country’s not married and you have such huge divorce rates. If you look at people who are the kids of divorce, they are much more progressive on a whole set of issues. Holding everything else constant, if your parents are divorced, that is a predictor of being more progressive on social issues.
I think gay marriage is just fundamentally a different issue. And I think that the way – in contrast to abortion, which – from the perspective of a Democratic pollster – went in the wrong direction in how people thought about it. In a lot of ways, gay marriage is – because of the fact that family structure is changing so fundamentally and all the other issues you mentioned, like cultural exposure through television and also just people coming out of the closet – one of the predictors of being for gay marriage is knowing someone who is gay – not just knowing them, you have to like them. So it can’t just be a family member because you could have a family member who is gay and not like them. But you have a friend who is gay; that actually is a predictor. So the relationship with the gay person actually matters. So I think all those things are happening at the same time. For younger evangelicals, I just think it’s where family structure is going and who they know and what they see that is just making them more progressive on the issue in a way that’s just not true for abortion.
KEVIN ECKSTROM, RELIGION NEWS SERVICE: If I could just jump in because my question is very similar to follow up. Do you have any sense of why the gay marriage ban ballot questions tend to be more successful than the abortion ones?
GREENBERG: Well, no. As I was working on this presentation, I started looking at all of them and saw this. I think that’s actually something that would be really interesting to look at.
GREEN: I think the reason may be just something as simple as the pattern of public opinion. Even in many more-liberal and Democratic states, a majority of Americans, the citizens there, still oppose same-sex marriage. Now many of them would be open to civil unions and so forth, but they oppose same-sex marriage. But if you look at abortion, there’s much more pro-choice sentiment. Now again, it might not be abortion on demand, but it’s certainly not ban all abortions either. So there are a lot of people in the middle.
GREENBERG: I buy that except that the California one was parental notification, where you get upwards of 65 percent agreeing with it. So I completely agree that if you look at the percentage against gay marriage and the percentage against abortion, you’ve got more people against gay marriage. But these particular ballot initiatives are actually – they’re smart. They pursue things that – except for South Dakota – they don’t try to do an all-out ban. They try to do something that people agree with.
GREEN: Yeah, and it still doesn’t work. So it’s quite interesting.
GREENBERG: Right. So I don’t know.
BYRON YORK, NATIONAL REVIEW: These questions are for both of you, but they’re based on John’s charts about the religious groups in ’04 and ’08 and how they performed. And so, on the Republican side, I went to a lot of Republican rallies over the course of the campaign and ran into zillions of Republicans who could not stand John McCain. Some of them were in our editorial meetings as well. My question there is, in these areas – almost all of them where McCain underperformed Bush – do you have any numbers that suggest how much was due to some antipathy toward McCain or how much was because people found Obama, in this occasion, more appealing than the guy he was running against?
And on the other one – in these very, very few categories where Kerry outperformed Obama or was equal among seculars, less-observant mainline Protestants and weekly attending white Catholics, why was that? Why were there these groups that went more for Kerry than they did for Obama this time?
GREEN: Let me deal with the second issue, and then maybe I’ll let Anna chime in on the first issue. Those oddities do suggest that religious affiliation and religious behavior do matter. And we have a lot of peculiar things going on in these different places. The seculars are such a strong Democratic group – and they have been for a while – variations may have to do with turnout. These are, as we mentioned earlier, difficult people to mobilize. When they do vote, they vote strongly Democratic, but they’re hard to find because not only are they not meeting in the same place at the same time every week, but they don’t belong to the Rotary Club and they don’t belong to the Audubon Society and they’re just kind of hard people to find.
One of the most interesting changes for me was among the less-observant mainline Protestants, a group that in the past has been more Democratic and this time, at least in these data, swung back a little bit and was pretty evenly divided.
CROMARTIE: Do you have some idea how big that is?
GREEN: Oh, it’s a large group. It’s often 12-13 percent of the population. Mainline Protestants tend to have lower levels of religious observance, so it’s a significant group. But this is a group that historically has also given priority to economic issues. Now the narrative of this campaign was that economic issues led people overall to vote Democratic. I think that’s a good narrative, but just because you care about the economy doesn’t necessarily mean that one draws the conclusion that the Democrats are better.
So it could very well be that John McCain’s talk about taxes and his economic platform appealed to that particular group – a group that, if the campaign had been about cultural issues, or more about cultural issues, probably would have become even more Democratic. So I think there are little idiosyncrasies in particular religious groups, and the fact that we see them in some ways puts an exclamation point on the general movement of these groups toward Obama.
GREENBERG: I think your first question is really hard to answer because how do you sort out how much of it is the personalities of the candidates and how much of it is the economy and how much of it is George Bush. I think that it’s very hard to disentangle them. But I would look more at independent voters than Republicans in this regard because if there was a group that was sort of swing – Republicans voted – from the very beginning John McCain performed among them as he should, meaning he was always getting around 90 percent of Republican voters.
Barack Obama was underperforming with Democrats for most of the campaign until post-convention. He was getting about 80 percent, and he got up to about 90 percent, particularly after the debates, so some of those white Democrats were coming home. But independents really were the swing group, and the biggest movement, for instance, after the Republican Convention toward McCain and Palin was among independent voters. What I think was very interesting about independent voters was that McCain came into this – independents liked him, more than Republicans, because part of his brand was the maverick and the reformer and the person who would go against his party in matters of principle and things that were important to him.
Part of what he did was undermine his own brand among independent voters; he did that, frankly, in the period between March and his convention. Now he kind of rehabilitated some after his convention, but because he had to work on dealing with Republicans – you move to the right in the primaries and back to the left – he never moved back to the center or to the left.
But the other piece of it was: Don’t underestimate how much it mattered that McCain ran a largely negative campaign and Obama ran a largely positive campaign, perception-wise. We all know if you look at the actual number of negative ads that Obama ran, that because he was buying so much more advertising than McCain, he was actually running more negative ads. But certainly the perception was always that McCain was running a more negative campaign. And one of the things that happened – which rarely happens in the course of this – was that Obama’s favorability actually increased over the course of the fall, even as he was under assault from the McCain campaign.
So the negativity of the McCain campaign actually backfired – though I’m not sure he had an option to do something different – among these independent voters.
YORK: Yeah, but independents didn’t have that conservative antipathy toward McCain, and I was asking if there was any sort of information you had, whether that showed up, and if so, how much?
GREENBERG: One of the things – like I said before – about McCain was that how you felt about him did not predict how you voted nearly as strongly as Obama, and that is because there were a lot of Republicans who from the very beginning were holding their nose and going to vote for him. And that didn’t really change very much.
GROSSMAN: Coming way back to earlier when you were talking about predictions for success for Obama, I wondered whether once Obama actually takes any action on abortion, which is the litmus-test issue for so many people – young and old – or on birth control, which relates to it, how much damage will that do to the base he has among evangelicals – among black, Hispanic and young evangelical voters? They’re anti-abortion – are they going to desert him in the next election?
GREENBERG: They’re very smart, the Obama people, and they will not be doing a major – I can guarantee you in the next six months they will not try to pass the Freedom of Choice Act. I think they will overturn the global gag rule immediately, which, quite frankly, most people don’t know what that is. There are people on both sides in the activist world who care about it deeply, but the masses don’t really know what it is, and – just like when Clinton did it – it’ll just happen. I don’t think it’ll have much impact. So I don’t think you’re going to see a major – that’s the first point I’d make – that they’re very smart; they’re not going to do another gays-in-the-military.
The places where the fights will happen will be about judges because I think that he will nominate pro-choice judges, and the right will want to have those fights to highlight where he is on those issues. But other fights actually work in Obama’s favor. A majority of this country – 75 percent – believe in comprehensive sex education versus abstinence, access to birth control, even questions about pharmacists, even emergency contraception. Take the abortion issue away, and on the other issues that the pro-choice movement cares about, you have very large numbers of people, especially younger people, who are more progressive on those issues.
So those issues, in my view, actually have the potential to enhance standing, not take away from it. The final thing I would say is that most people are not single-issue abortion voters. So even if there are some groups, like African-Americans, who tend to be a little more pro-life than other voters, I can’t imagine they’re going to defect from Obama because of abortion. That’s just unimaginable.
CROMARTIE: Cathy’s asking a very good, important point because I know religious conservative groups think he’s going to do all those things. They were saying in their literature before the election the first month of his being in office –
GROSSMAN: Oh, the Catholic bishops are near-hysterical over this.
GREENBERG: Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are not going to do FOCA as their very first thing. And again, take away abortion itself: Every other issue, whether it has to do with sex education or birth control or reproductive health, the vast majority of Americans are actually progressive on those issues. They may upset the Catholic bishops and evangelicals, but almost everybody else is at a different place on those issues.
GREEN: The way I would answer your question, Cathy, is that if President Obama makes these issues salient and strongly supports a pro-choice position, it will create problems for him with social conservatives. Now, notice the ifs – Anna’s suggesting that if they’re going to happen, they’re going to be delayed. But to the extent that that happens, I think it will create problems for him.
I think the problems will be much less strong among African-Americans and other religious minorities because their other issues have priority there. Many black Protestants tend toward the pro-life side, but civil rights and economic issues are much higher priority. So the real problem I would see if this comes to pass would be among these white Christian voters that Obama tried to woo in the campaign and had only modest success with but might hope to have success with four years from now.
GROSSMAN: I suspect if he delivers on the economy he can get away with murder for the next three years.
GREENBERG: If I could just add one thing. Gallup has the best time series on abortion. If you look over time, there is a rise in pro-choice sentiment when Bill Clinton is elected and it goes up, and then when Bush does and it goes down. It actually matters if your president is pro-choice or pro-life and the way you talk about it. Clinton was very strongly pro-choice; there was no moderation of it. Just straight-ahead, I’m pro-choice and did a lot of pro-choice things. And you actually saw a slight shift nationally toward a more pro-choice view. So there’s no evidence – at least looking at the Clinton example – that being strongly pro-choice, doing pro-choice things very early on, had any impact overall. In fact, it looks like it increased pro-choice sentiment in the country.
MARK KATKOV, CBS NEWS: Just before the election, the Pew Research Center had a presentation on polling data, and you focused a lot on what you called the persuadables. Particularly, there was an unexpectedly high percentage of persuadables among anti-abortion voters, for example – I think it was about 10 percent, which was very different from 2004. Do you have any sense of how that played out – how they wound up once they cast their ballots? And I have a second question.
GREEN: Many of the socially conservative groups that were persuadable by those measures were ultimately persuaded to vote Republican. There was an opening there and a lot of people commented upon it, and many of the groups involved in the campaign, and the Obama campaign itself, understood that there was an opening there. But you have to divide the groups up, and I think in that particular presentation we tried to do that, maybe with a little less success.
The underlying partisanship ended up having a big impact. Persuadable pro-life evangelicals tended to go back to McCain, even though they didn’t really like him. Some of the mainline Protestants, for instance, may have ended up going back to McCain on other issues; some of the Catholics may have ended up with Obama. So they were open to persuasion, but there was a differential impact of the campaign on those persuadable voters.
KATKOV: And just a quick second question: Do you have data on the admittedly tiny Jewish vote in the country? Can you break it down, Orthodox versus all the others? Do you have those kinds of numbers?
GREENBERG: Not surprising to the extent that you can look at it: People who are more observant tend to be more conservative. It’s very hard to look at Orthodox, but you can look at a certain level of observance, just like you can with Christians. And so when you look at it that way, yes – I don’t know the exact numbers, but people who are more observant are a little more Republican, as are men and as are older people, just like you see in the overall population.
GREEN: There are some Jewish groups that look at precincts or neighborhoods that have a heavy presence of Orthodox Jews. This is not individual-level data, but you look at those precincts and in this election, as in the past several, those areas have voted more Republican than the surrounding areas. Now Orthodox Jews tend to vote Democratic on balance, but they’re just not as Democratic as the Jewish community as a whole.
MICHAEL PAULSON, THE BOSTON GLOBE: I just didn’t hear either of you mention what seems to me an obvious point, which is that the abortion issue is sort of a mature political issue – we’ve been at it for 35 years – whereas gay marriage has been a discussion in public policy circles for somewhere less than a decade. It seems like that might explain some of the fluidity and uncertainty there.
But my question – this is just something I always wonder when we talk about this survey research about religion and politics. I never am sure whether, when people like you two talk about religion, you’re talking about it as a sociological kind of demographic label or whether faith actually matters. I ask that in part because I wonder why it is that groups like black Protestants and Jews and evangelicals are so politically cohesive, and other groups like Catholics are so dispersed. It makes me wonder whether religion actually is what we’re talking about here, or whether it’s something else.
And that leads me finally to the final part of my question, which is: What is going on with Catholics these days?
GREEN: Religion is a lot of different things. Religious affiliation – the extent that people think they belong to religious communities – is one aspect of religion. Much of voting analysis thinks of religion as social groups – usually self-identified, sometimes measured in other ways. Then there’s religious behavior, such as worship attendance, measures of religiosity. That is, of course, related to affiliation, but these days in many religious groups it has an independent effect on voting.
So religious behavior and religious affiliation are not the same thing. They’re obviously related. Then there are religious beliefs, and many of the surveys we look at do not have belief questions asked because you can get a lot of mileage out of just affiliation and attendance. But some surveys, including surveys at the Pew Forum, do ask belief questions, and that’s yet another independent aspect of religion.
Oftentimes journalists ask me: Does religion really matter, or does just the social group membership matter? As a social scientist my answer is, well, one form of religion is social group membership. Religious belonging is part of the social context in which people make political decisions. However, religious belief and behavior can have an independent effect. One of the reasons that some of these groups are so cohesive politically is that religious belonging, behaving and believing reinforce each other. And some of it has to do also with the size of the group. Smaller groups tend to be more cohesive than larger groups. Jews are a very good example.
As to what is happening with Catholics – a lot’s happening with Catholics. There’s a lot of dissent and debate within the Catholic community; it’s a very large, diverse community, where religious beliefs and behavior have an independent impact.
GREENBERG: On the first question I would agree with John, which is to say that religion is different things to different people. For some people it is about belief, and for some people it is about belonging to a group. I think that, as a pollster and even social scientist to some extent, I probably focus too much on the individual level and not as much on the institutional level. But understanding how – whether it’s belief or affiliation – actually gets mobilized into politics is all about institutions. And it’s about the actual religious institutions themselves, so whether it’s the black church or evangelical churches, but also para-institutions like Focus on the Family. They do incredible work through networking with individual churches, so that on Sunday when you open up your bulletin, there isn’t just the stuff from your church, but there’s an insert from Dr. Dobson talking about something religious. But then they might have something about life, something quasi-political – not explicitly political, but kind of quasi-political.
We do it, especially as a pollster. We look at the individual disassociated from the actual institutional environment they’re in, but I don’t think you can understand them separately. The other piece is that I think we tend to have these labels but not think about it in terms of identity. So to what degree does this affiliation or label define who you are? For some people, saying I’m Catholic or Jewish has no real meaning to them, and for others, it has deep meaning. And again, that intersects with what kind of institutions and networks that they’re embedded in. One of the ways that I’ve thought about it is, to what degree do you see yourself as an out-group or under siege?
If you look at white evangelicals, especially the ones who are very highly affiliated, there is a sense that we’re different, our values are under siege, and for some, obviously I have a worldview that others should share. African-Americans through the black church. You look at Catholics. They’re 25 percent of the population. There’s huge variation on level of affiliation, obviously diverse – white, Hispanic, etc. – but you don’t have that same sense, I think, for a lot of Catholics of: my identity is under siege, and being Catholic defines who I am, and all these values are under siege, and I need to define myself differently from other people.
So I think this whole question of identity and identity politics as it intersects with individual belief and the institutions you’re involved in is really the way you understand the impact of religion, but that’s a much more complicated way to do it than asking a question on a survey and looking at a cross-tab.
PAULSON: Sometimes it feels like when you look at these polls that there is very little distinction between Catholics and the population as a whole on either abortion or on voting behavior, and it makes you wonder whether their Catholicity in fact is a distinctive marker.
GREENBERG: For many it’s not. Catholics look a lot like the rest of the country on lots and lots of things.
GREEN: And there are two reasons for that, Michael. One is that because Catholics are so diverse, the group as a whole mirrors a lot of the diversity in the country. But that’s another reason why Catholic self-identification alone is not a very good predictor. There are sub-groups within the Catholic community that have the kind of identity that Anna’s talking about. But you’ve got to go find that other ways – just saying you’re a Catholic doesn’t help you very much.
GREENBERG: One of the ways you could do that is asking people if they are a traditional or a liberal Catholic, and that’s very predictive of where they’re going to be on a whole range of issues.
LAUREN GREEN: The reason I think the abortion issue failed and the gay marriage issue succeeded – abortion has been around for a long time, and the groups are well-organized, and the arguments are basically the same. They shifted from the feminist argument to the responsible/irresponsible, that kind of thing, sexual practices. But the gay marriage issue anecdotally, I think, is because the churches have not really addressed it directly. Abortion has been a clear-cut moral issue that they can address, and everybody kind of agrees that it is some kind of issue that they can either agree or disagree on.
Homosexuality’s not as clear cut, and the churches have been silent on it. I think the coalition that was formed among the Mormons and Catholics and evangelicals to support Proposition 8 is showing a growth of these groups coming together and saying, we’ve got to voice our opinions on this, we’ve got to let the church know, let our members know where we stand on it. Not only that, but to be part of the dialogue and get out there, just like Princeton University Professor Eddie Glaude Jr. was saying yesterday, that they’ve got to have a dialogue that’s not based on their biblical view but on some kind of level of reason.
GREENBERG: I want to push back a little bit that churches haven’t been talking about gay marriage because I think that that’s not true. But I also think that the way a lot of evangelical churches talk about it is also with this larger notion of the family under siege and the decline of traditional marriage. So it’s not just same-sex marriage, but it’s divorce, it’s about gender roles. I remember one of the churches that I went to when I was doing my research – an evangelical church – and being part of the women’s Bible study group and this woman talking about – she worked full-time – and talking about how she rationalized that relative to what her role was supposed to be in her family.
And so I think this whole question of the family itself, the family being under siege, family disintegration, roles of mothers and fathers within families – the whole same-sex marriage issue ties very much into this larger angst about the family and in particular around the roles of mothers and fathers. And so one of the things you hear people who are against gay marriage say is, well, children need to have a mother and a father because they need to learn how they fit in, and they need to know how to behave and what choices to make.
So while it’s true that the gay marriage issue is relatively new and immature, if you will, and certainly public opinion has changed on it rapidly over the last 15 years, this whole question of the breakdown of the family is not a new conversation in these churches, and I think it gets wrapped up very easily in that conversation.
LAUREN GREEN: I do agree with that. I mean, I agree with part of that, but I also agree and I’ve been talking – that’s why I say it’s more anecdotal – I’ve been talking with several ministers about the issue, and if you look at the Episcopal Church and what they’re facing, you see this split that’s growing and growing between the issue of – and even though they say it’s about authority, it really is about gay marriage and homosexuality. But the churches have not addressed it directly. They have not been as vocal on it as they could be in terms of getting out there and being more public.
They can talk to their congregations even on a small-group level, but it hasn’t been this wide-scale talking to the groups. Even if you go to Rick Warren’s church, he will not address this. He doesn’t talk about it directly, and there are other evangelicals who won’t talk about it directly, but they will talk about abortion. And I think that the difference that you’re seeing now is that they’re starting to kind of mobilize, which they hadn’t done before. Otherwise, why is the gay marriage issue – the ban on it – succeeding, where abortion is kind of still faltering?
PERRY BACON, THE WASHINGTON POST: Two questions: one for Anna and one for John. For Anna, I wanted to ask what the focus groups are showing you about Prop 8 and why so many African-Americans and Latinos voted for it. And this is a hard question to ask: If Obama were to get involved in this issue, would that create movement? Are these attitudes very permanent, or do you think they change among blacks and Latinos, who are otherwise pretty liberal people on these kind of issues?
Then for John, I have sort of a wacky question. Just looking at the data you gave, it almost gave me the impression that all these campaign events we covered, particularly for the general election, didn’t matter a whole lot. And I wonder what you think about that. It looks almost as if the election was pretty similar from ’04 to ’08, except there were more Democrats in the electorate and they voted in large numbers for Obama. And so there were more independents and fewer Republicans. Thinking about this as a reporter, I wonder if we should focus more on the numbers and these existing groups that are out there a little more than on who said what, who attacked who, who attacked who more or less, and the sort of nastiness in a bad way. I’m just curious about this sense of whether the data matters almost more than the campaign events each day.
CROMARTIE: Let me answer that, John; it came up during the break. Just to piggyback on what Perry just said, the question came up during the break from Fred Smith, which is that there was all this activity on the Democratic side to reach out to evangelicals, and your data shows a lack of success – practicing evangelicals.
GREEN: That’s a really good question. I was showing some of these data to some people in Ohio, and this one person said, “So we spent almost a billion dollars – (laughter) – to basically get the same results as in 2004? Do you think we could maybe do it cheaper next time?” I think that campaign mobilization – the kinds of things that you all cover – the events, the press conferences – largely operate at the margins. What drives the vote is partisanship, issues and candidates. It works different ways for different people. Anna would know a lot more about that, given the kind of work that she does.
But campaign efforts operate on the margins. If your candidate’s down by 15 points, then probably no campaign effort by itself is going to let you catch up. But if your candidate’s down by 2 or 3 points, that might make all the difference. So a lot of that campaign effort went into generating some modest changes. But they were hard changes to generate, and maybe it’s not surprising that the biggest changes were the easiest changes for the candidates to generate – which is to get groups that were already Democratic to vote Democratic and to keep groups that have long been Republican in the Republican column.
I understand that if one was inside the bubble covering a campaign, how one might be surprised at how little overall impact all that seems to have. But the impact it had might be crucial – that might be the difference in who wins. And I think that gets to the question Michael raised. We don’t see much of an overall effect of the Democratic and the progressive religious outreach to white Christians, particularly to white evangelicals, but there is the possibility that there were significant results in some states where the efforts were targeted.
And that may be partly behind the data that E.J. shared with us about the evangelical vote by state. The people who were trying to effect this change understood the Electoral College. They understood that some states were in play and some weren’t, and they really tried to make a difference. So you know, Obama won Indiana. That’s a pretty amazing thing, and maybe one reason is that enormous resources were focused on just moving a few percentage points from groups that have been traditionally Republican. Turns out he won so many states that Indiana probably wasn’t crucial, but they didn’t know that when they were going into Election Day. And Indiana might have been the state, or Virginia might have been the state, and that’s where we may see the effects of the campaign.
GREENBERG: Indiana I view as a moral victory since half my family are Hoosiers, Republicans. Well, I want to answer your –
CROMARTIE: Was that on the record?
GREENBERG: Sure. I did try to convince my grandmother, but she would not be convinced to vote for Obama. (Chuckles.) She’s not Jewish. Maybe I have a slightly different view just because I’m involved in campaigns and have to believe that campaigns matter – (laughter) – and make my salary because people think that campaigns matter. But it is true that when you think about the cost per vote, it is very high. Really it’s the cost per new vote because what you’re trying to do is – obviously, people who are regular voters and are going to vote the same way every time, yes, you care about them, but basically you don’t have to do a lot of work.
So it’s really – and particularly in this election, which was unusual for a presidential campaign which focused so much on registration, and not just the Obama campaign but other groups. So the cost to register – not just register, but then actually make sure that they vote and then also make sure that they vote the way you want them to can be like $150 or more per vote. When you think about how much it costs to register people, how much it costs to send the mail, how much it costs on television, how much it costs to get a person to go out in the van to get you to take you to Election Day –
But as John said, in close elections – 2004 was close, 2000 was close – this was not close electorally, but there were a lot of states that were close – it makes a huge difference. So I do think that campaigns matter, even if it is at the margins.
I’d also argue – and this is getting off-topic here – but the fact that Obama pursued this kind of strategy in so many states made the map very hard for McCain and in the end undermined his ability because of his resource constraints to really compete in the states where he needed to compete, like Virginia and Colorado. The fact that those were sort of off the table for him because of all this registration that was done was very important to beating him. So, yes, the economy, yes, partisanship – all this stuff matters a great deal, but this kind of work that especially the Obama campaign did, even though it’s very expensive, made a difference for him in winning.
DIONNE: For the record, Obama I learned here got 30 percent of the white evangelical vote in Indiana – five times his share in Mississippi – so something happened.
GREENBERG: There you go. On Prop 8: What happened on Prop 8 is really complicated. Obviously the story that a lot of people are telling is the African-American vote in California, and 70 percent of African-Americans voted “yes,” so that’s obviously a piece of it. There are some people who would argue that, well, that’s just a function of religiosity because African-Americans are more religious. In some of the work I’ve done, even controlling for religiosity, non-whites – we had to do it as one category because of sample size – not being white was a predictor of voting “yes.”
But other things happened as well. There was massive mobilization. Because of the money that came in from the Mormons and other places, there was massive mobilization through churches on this, and you actually saw in California that the intensity was really on the “yes” side, not the “no” side. So the flip to this is that on the “no” side, while you had, for instance, a majority of under-30s voting “no,” it was not as high as their vote for Obama, right? And so there were a lot of groups that should have been a higher “no” vote, which says something about the campaign that was run on the “no” side.
All that being said, I believe – in terms of African-Americans in particular, but also Hispanics – that, at least from the side where I sit, which is the pro-marriage side, I don’t think we understand very well why and how to communicate. And I do think there is a leadership issue, which is where Obama comes in. I do think that Obama as a leader, if he were to communicate about marriage equality in a way that was progressive, which he has though he is against gay marriage, I do think it would make a difference in the African-American community because I don’t think there’s a lot of leadership. There are obviously people of color who are active in the pro-gay-rights movement, but there isn’t a lot of national leadership or religious leadership like there is among whites who are pro-marriage-equality. So I think it could have a huge impact if Obama – just like you saw with abortion. I mean, leadership matters – national leadership matters, the conversation matters – you see attitudes change in response to what the national conversation is. But obviously we have to wait and see what happens.
CROMARTIE: You had a follow-up here.
BACON: The follow-up actually was to the first question. If we did a regression analysis of some sort and found out how much Bush’s approval ratings went down in Indiana or so on, would that have explained the election minus all these other – it seems like we’ve got three elections with similar results, depending on what Bush’s approval ratings are. In the Democratic primary, I felt like we had gotten to the point where you knew who was going to win in Kentucky because you knew what the demographics in Kentucky were, you knew what the demographics in Indiana were, and so on. That’s what I was trying to ask, but we can discuss that some other time.
GREENBERG: Right, but I just want to note that after the Republican Convention, John McCain was ahead, okay, and my side panicked. You can’t imagine how much research I got to do right after the Republican Convention. And then Obama started doing better; people said forget it, we’re not going to do research. So – such is my business. But you’ve got to remember the trajectory of this is that McCain was actually ahead after his convention.
KUHN: Indeed, but wouldn’t the 800-pound elephant in that room be the economic crisis of Sept. 15. I actually think you can empirically show how much politically the environment mattered and trumped the campaign by the tracking polls following Lehman Brothers. I don’t know if you two would disagree. I guess, on that point, would you two agree that compared to other years – maybe modern political cycles and presidential campaigns – that the environment mattered more than perhaps 2004 or 2000? Even 1992, particularly because of the economy, but not only – Bush fatigue, Iraq and all these other factors we’re all very familiar with.
I would posit that at least since 1980 the political environment was of great import and perhaps more, I would argue, than 1980. In fact, you’d have to go back to ’64 and Johnson taking on the Kennedy legacy and so on. I also wonder if, on the Jewish point – Anna, maybe you could touch on this – one thing that I found that kept me a little skeptical – a lot of the reporting on the Jewish vote was that there was this Gallup poll in May that showed, yes, Obama with about 61 percent of the Jewish vote, but Hillary Clinton had only 66. So I just want to posit that on this subject we are underestimating the appeal that the 2000 McCain had among a lot of these Jewish voters, as moderate Republicans would always be more appealing to this extremely Democratic bloc, especially a moderate Republican they knew, than perhaps the view that many Democratic blocs came to hold of McCain.
And then I just want to say one more thing – I know I’m surveying a lot of topics that we’ve talked about but – the question before about the religion variable. I just want to add on to what John said. I think that it’s important to note that sometimes it does matter and sometimes it doesn’t, which is what he said. But one thing that I found – like when I took the social conservative definition that the Pew Research Center had – more social conservatives had a gun in the home than attended church once a week. And what did that say to me? That said that it’s not simply social conservatism, that there’s cultural conservatism. Richard Land can expound for hours on the national security views of social conservatives and why they have these views – a force for right and so forth. And I almost wish there was a Richard Land here to, I guess, add to this discussion.
CROMARTIE: That’s Mike’s role.
KUHN: And I actually wish Mike was jumping in more. Richard Land – he would also say – I just want to channel a bit of Land here, because it’s not being introduced, to maybe make this discussion more of a debate. Land would argue if he was in this room that one reason the religious outreach failed – if you say it failed at least with white weekly attenders – is because, he would argue, that it was rhetoric and not substance. And I just think that seems to be missing from this discussion.
I would also wonder, since we’re talking about religion in a campaign where religion and cultural values were perhaps not as present as we have ever seen in a modern presidential campaign, at what point in the next cycle and the cycle after that does religion become a small variable compared to other variables? In other words, if it’s not simply weekly attendance. Do you guys have a view on this? At what point will other variables come to trump religiosity or religious practice or religious identity – because on the Jewish/black point that was brought up by somebody else, I think that that’s a great example of where civil rights and the African-American identity with the Democratic Party that follows the ’60s comes to trump for decades to the present, prior to Obama, the cultural conservatism of African-American communities. Anyway, I’ll stop as I’ve now planted 30 or some questions.
GREEN: There’s no question that the economy was very important in this election. We saw it early on. I’m sure Anna’s polls saw it early on as well. But the fact that there were events during the campaign – nonpolitical events – that made the economic issues salient, made it particularly important. I think that you can in fact demonstrate that the economic meltdown was a critical turning point in the campaign. As Anna pointed out, McCain was actually ahead after the Republican Convention. He had improved his standing all throughout the summer. So it was a well-orchestrated campaign. And then, even before the economic meltdown, as the Obama campaign began responding to McCain and catching up.
I think we could spend a lot of time dissecting the mistakes of the McCain campaign. Obama apparently didn’t make any mistakes, at least not very many. After the economic crisis made those issues salient, there was just not a whole lot McCain could do. We often see that in campaigns. At some point, public opinion crystallizes and it’s just very difficult to change it. It’s not impossible – there are people who come back at the end, but it’s very rare.
How does religion get connected to politics? It gets connected to politics in all kinds of complicated ways. Religious affiliation, belief and behavior are facts in the world that exist independent of politics. They become relevant to politics when they are politicized. And sometimes they are politicized by accident, and sometimes they are politicized on purpose. For instance, we’ve focused a lot on the connections of these religious variables to social issues. The very same religious communities where we see those patterns have a long tradition and spend an enormous amount of time talking about economic matters.
And yet, we haven’t seen the same kind of connections for them. Now why is that? Well, it could be that the politicization has been less effective. Or it could be that there’s been less of an effort to politicize. So religion can matter in all kinds of ways, and that is why we want to know about religion, but we also want to know about politics. It is the two phenomena coming together.
GREENBERG: No doubt the economy was, in addition to Bush’s approval ratings and the brand of the Republican Party – all of this stuff was incredibly important to the election and setting the overall context. But if you look at this question of who do you trust on the economy – and keep in mind, we forget about gas prices because of everything that happened in September. But the intensity of people’s focus on gas prices was as high as on the economic crisis. So it wasn’t just in September. There was this intense economic concern earlier focused, again, on gas prices and food prices and that sort of thing. And if you asked the question, who do you trust more on the economy, the Obama advantage was very small. And as someone who was on the other side of the firewall – on the IE [independent expenditure] side – it was driving us crazy.
Yeah, in retrospect, Obama made no mistakes, but we were berserk that – why isn’t he talking about the economy? Why isn’t he connecting with people? John McCain has said all these things: I don’t understand the economy as well as I should have – people’s economic problems are psychological. We had some very interesting ads we were coming up with around people being at the psychiatrist: John McCain tells me all my problems are psychological. Can you help me?
So this was driving us crazy. Even coming out of the Democratic Convention, you did not see a significant increase in Obama’s advantage on healing the economy. Then we added, who would you trust better to handle the financial crisis, when that started. And you still did not see the kinds of advantages that you would assume a Democrat would have over a Republican. And this is where campaigns matter. I don’t know – you’re very kind about John McCain. He screwed up completely. The suspension of the campaign, the fundamentals are strong, the fact – just whatever. You all know the story. And then Obama himself in the campaign really became much more populist. If you look at the advertising post-convention – the lobbyist ads, the health care ads – they were much more economically populist. He was more populist on the stump, and you had his demeanor in that he didn’t freak out when it all happened the way McCain did. Then you saw Obama’s advantage on the economy grow over the course of that period. So I’m just suggesting that it’s not all just inevitable because there was a crash that Obama – this was partially a function of what both campaigns did over time.
PETER BOYER, THE NEW YORKER: There were only a couple of places where Obama underperformed John Kerry. One of them was among attending Catholics. It’s not surprising, I think, that non-attending mainline Protestants went for McCain. That’s sort of his base. If he had a base, it was mainline Protestant, non-attending church members.
GREENBERG: Like him.
BOYER: But underperforming among attending Catholics – does this chart of y’all’s that talks about campaign contacts, could that maybe explain part of it? It’s data-speak to me, but it looks like there was less campaign contact among, Doug Kmiec notwithstanding, that there was less campaign contact among church-attending – Deal Hudson’s group: church-attending, devoted Catholics. Could that explain the underperformance, such as it was?
GREEN: Well, it could be. And again, we need to be cautious. This is one survey. We’ll want to look at other surveys and see if we see this pattern with other data. But it could very well be that there was less contact or less-effective contact – remember, these measures are survey respondents reporting contact, so there are probably some measurement problems there too. But nonetheless, they apparently didn’t receive a lot of this contact. And so it could be that there was less effort; it could be that it was less effective. It could also be that some of these cultural issues played out differently among different kinds of Catholics. It could be that some of the outreach of the Obama campaign and of progressive Catholics simply was ineffective – or less effective – because there was a similar outreach by pro-life people among Catholics.
So it’s just going to be really interesting to see if this figure holds in other data. But we could very well be seeing campaign effects – even though it’s modest – not just the absence of contact, but also the way those particular issues played out in that community.
CROMARTIE: Thank you for coming.
This written transcript has been edited by Amy Stern for clarity, spelling, grammar, accuracy and to eliminate references to some PowerPoint slides that could not be reproduced here.