Democrats Find Religion

The religious left is expanding, as I’ve noted. Now a poll indicates Democrats have captured some religious voters:

The Henry Institute National Survey on Religion and Public Life found that Democrats made gains among mainline Protestants, those like Presbyterians who are affiliated with the National Council of Churches. Among those Christians, Republican identification shrank from 44 percent in 2004 to 37 this spring, while Democratic identification rose from 38 percent to 46 percent. The Henry Institute, at Calvin College in Michigan, studies the intersection of Christianity and public life.

Though both the Republicans and the Democrats lost 2 percentage points among evangelical Protestants in the survey, the Democrats were able to gain slightly among traditional and centrist evangelicals. …

[Leah] Daughtry [the Democratic National Convention Committee’s chief executive and a Pentecostal preacher] says the evangelical movement is changing.

“You see their list of concerns growing to include issues like Darfur, issues like the environment,” Daughtry said. “I think as those issues become part of their conversation, then I think it’s a natural fit for them to look to the Democratic Party… I think we have more in common with them, particularly on social issues, than the Republican Party does.”

“Social issues” means expanded political control of the economy, more global and domestic welfare, and higher taxes.

The original survey may be downloaded.

The cited story from The Denver Post doesn’t clarify what’s going on with evangelicals. The survey breaks down “evangelical protestants” into “traditionalist,” “centrist,” and “modernist.” What happened is that traditionalist and centrist evangelicals dramatically reduced their support for the GOP, while a few joined the Democrats. In a comparison between 2004 and 2008, evangelical support for the two parties dropped by two percent each. In 2004, 56 percent of evangelicals identified with the Republican Party and 27 percent with the Democrats. In 2008, 54 percent identified with the Republicans and 25 percent with the Democrats. I’m not sure how the numbers for evangelicals square with slight gains among traditionalist and centrist for the Democrats.

Mainline Protestants have made a big jump. Their support for Republicans has dropped from 44 to 37 percent, while support for Democrats has grown from 38 to 46 percent.

The upshot seems to be that some traditionalist evangelicals (about five percent) have dropped out of partisan politics, having become disillusioned with GOP. Meanwhile, the Democrats have made gains among many religious voters by appealing to the social-welfare view of Christianity.

Here’s another interesting tidbit: the percent of evangelicals who disagree with the doctrine of free trade has grown from 51 percent to 60 percent. However, the question seems to have been grossly biased; “Free trade is good for the economy even if it means the loss of some U.S. jobs.” Even if we discount the results because of the tainted question, evangelicals by no means show strong support for a free market.

Here’s another interesting result that helps explain the move of Mainline Protestants to the Democrats. While only 35 percent of evangelicals believe “Abortion should be legal and solely up to the woman to decide,” 60 percent of Mainline Protestants think so. (Surprisingly, 51 percent of Catholics think so.)

Interestingly, though, evangelicals are still strongly for McCain, 59 to 24 percent. McCain has a 3-4 point lead among Mainline Protestants and Catholics. This is from the Spring, though; it will be interesting to see if Obama’s religious rhetoric and background can attract more religious voters.