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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Religiosity Continues to Power Presidential Vote Choice

Following up from Wednesday’s post, we didn’t see signs of a rally effect in Wednesday night’s interviewing, but I think the jury will be out on that front until we have several days of interviewing going through the weekend.

There are (among many others) two competing forces at work right now in determining public opinion about Barack Obama and vote choice in the presidential race. First, the possible impact of the situation in the Middle East, as I discussed here. Second, the broader regression to the mean effect -- which basically implies that there is a tug or pull on results that move away from what has been established as a mean to come back to that mean. The mean, or average, in this race has been for the ballot tests to be roughly even between Obama and Mitt Romney, and for Obama’s job approval to be in the 40% range. Obama’s numbers on both fronts have pushed up higher above that mean coming out of the Democratic National Convention. All else being equal, a natural tendency is for these numbers to come down from the highs as the impact of the convention fades. It they don't, that means that Obama has, in essence, redefined the mean -- which can occur. But as noted, it will be into next week before we have a solid feel for that.

Meanwhile, on a different front, I continue to be fascinated by our Gallup data confirming the ongoing importance of religiousness in voting intentions this year. If anything, religiosity is becoming more of a powerful factor in relationship to the presidential vote than it has been in the past.

This graph displays the Obama over Romney gap based on our continuing three-week rolling averages (registered voters) -- among voters split into three groups based on their religiosity:

The religiousness groupings are based on responses to two questions “Is religion an important part of your daily life?” and “How often do you attend church, synagogue, or mosque -- at least once a week, almost every week, about once a month, seldom, or never?”

The basic power of religiosity to distinguish vote choice is clear. Highly religious Americans skew significantly into Romney territory, with a Romney over Obama gap at the 20-percentage-point or higher level. Nonreligious Americans are even more predisposed to vote for Obama over Romney. And those who are moderately religious are much closer to the overall average, with no major skew in the direction of either candidate.

Note that the spread between the highly religious and the nonreligious groups is growing slightly, rather than narrowing. This means that religiosity is becoming more of a factor in the presidential race -- to a degree -- that it has been before.

Basically, if you meet a random voter on the street, and you ask that voter two simple questions about religion, you can do a pretty good job of guessing that voter's predicted voting intention. Someone who says that religion is an important part of their daily life and who attends religious services weekly or almost weekly has a much higher probability of being a Romney voter than another person who says that religion is not an important part of their daily life and who attends religious services seldom or never. This latter "person on the street" has a significant probability of being an Obama voter.


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