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The Exit Polls Tell a Different Story on Church Attendance and Partisanship

By Alan Abramowitz

According to the 2004 NEP exit poll, the relationship between church attendance and partisanship is not just a white Protestant thing. Yes, the relationship between church attendance and partisanship/presidential vote is stronger among white Protestants than among white Catholics, but it's there for both. Among churchgoing white Protestants, those who attended religious services weekly or more often, Republicans outnumbered Democrats by 61% to 19%. Among non-churchgoing white Protestants, those who attended religious services a few times a year or never, Republicans outnumbered Democrats by only 38% tp 34%. Among white Catholics who attended religious services weekly or more often, R's outnumbered D's by 44% to 29%. Among white Catholics who attended religious services a few times a year or never, R's outnumbered D's by only 36% to 35%. Not nearly as big a difference but still statistically significant and certainly politically significant. In terms of presidential voting, 77% of churchgoing white Protestants voted for Bush vs. 56% of non-churchgoing white Protestants. 61% of churchgoing white Catholics voted for Bush compared with 51% of non-churchgoing white Catholics. Again, the difference among Catholics is statistically significant and, more importantly, politically significant.

More generally, my analysis of the 2004 exit poll data shows that among white voters, two measures of religiosity--church attendance born again/evangelical identification--correlated more strongly with both party identification and presidential voting than any other social characteristics including age, income, gender, marital status, and even union membership.

The way Gallup presents the data also tends to underestimate the influence of religiosity on partisanship and voting behavior because including only Protestants and Catholics leaves out a large group of voters--those who describe their religion as "something else" or "none." These "something else/none" voters comprised 15% of the white electorate in 2004. Church attendance among "something else/none" white voters is much lower than among Protestants and Catholics: 85% of "something else/none" white voters reported attending religious services only a few times a year or never. Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 39% to 23% among "something else/none" white voters in 2004 and 65% voted for Kerry.