Americans’ religiosity remains a powerful predictor of their vote choice. Take a look at these data among non-Hispanic whites from our tracking for the period May 1-July 18.
These data are among whites only. Why? Because black voters form a special case in this regard. Blacks are the most religious racial and ethnic group we track. Blacks are also are the most Democratic. Black voters have such a high probability of voting for Barack Obama, across the board, that none of their demographic characteristics make a difference. So, by looking at whites, we get a more highly focused portrait of the impact of religion.
The differences among highly, moderately, and nonreligious white voters are startling. (These three categories of religiosity are based on responses to two questions about the importance of religion in their daily lives and also religious service attendance).
Nonreligious voters are about 30% of the registered voter population. Over the period of time May 1-July 18, they swing to Obama over Mitt Romney by a 56% to 35% margin (a 21-percentage-point Obama gap). The highly religious white voters -- about 42% of registered voters -- swing to Romney by an overwhelming 46-point gap, 23% for Obama, 69% for Romney. Those who are moderately religious (28%) go for Romney by 16 points.
In other words, the mere knowledge of a white voter's response to two seemingly simple questions: "Is religion important in your daily life?" and "How often do you attend religious services?" continue to be extremely effective predictors on that white voter's voting intentions.
Of course, the state of being nonreligious does not occur in isolation. Americans who are nonreligious also tend to be unmarried and younger, characteristics which, in and of themselves, are associated with voting for Obama.
But these demographic correlates are not the total explanation.
I looked at the relationship between religiosity and vote choice (again, using the big sample of interviews conducted between May 1 and July 18) among each of four age groups.
Age in and of itself, of course, certainly makes a difference in the projected vote choice of white voters. Note that 18- to 29-year-olds as a total group are virtually tied in their support, while 65 years and older go 21 points toward Romney.
But, and this is the key factor here, within each of these age groups, the very religious are skewed much, much more toward Romney than are the nonreligious.
Look at 30- to 49-year-old whites, for example. Voters in this group who are very religious go for Romney over Obama by 73% to 20%. Voters in this age group who are nonreligious go for Obama over Romney by 56% to 35%.
I also looked at the relationship between religiosity and vote choice within marital status groups.
As you will note, taken as a group, single/never married white voters and white voters living in domestic partnerships skew significantly toward Obama. Single white voters go for Obama by a 49% to 42% margin; those in a domestic partnership are even stronger in their support for Obama, giving him a 52% to 39% edge over Romney. On the other hand, married white voters skew significantly toward Romney, giving him a 59% to 34% margin over Obama.
But, again, within each of these marital groups, there is a big difference between those who are very religious and those who are nonreligious.
The biggest difference comes within the ranks of those who are married. Very religious married white voters go for Romney by a whopping 52-point margin. Nonreligious married white voters go for Obama over Romney by a 15-point margin.
We find the same pattern within each of the other groups based on marital status.
Bottom line: How religious one is in America today continues to be a major predictor of one's vote for president.
This religious divide is not new or unique to this Democratic president. It has been apparent for decades in American politics.
Barack Obama is, by all accounts, a religious man. In fact, his remarkable prayer breakfast speech this past February gave evidence that he has been thinking about the relationship between religiousness and politics. But at this point in American politics, as a Democratic candidate for president, Obama continues to attract those voters who are the least religious, and has significantly lower appeal to those who are the most religious.