Imagine if I told you four years ago that voters felt John Kerry was friendlier to religion than George Bush? You would say that is crazy and you’d be right. But in 2008, a new poll published by Faith in Public Life shows that voters actually think Barack Obama , a Democrat, is slightly more friendlier to religion than John McCain. Read some of the findings below:
Forty-nine percent of Americans say Obama is friendly to religion, while 45% say McCain is friendly to religion. More than seven-in-ten (71%) say it is important for public officials to be comfortable talking about religious values.
The greatest shift in candidate preference between 2004 and 2008 has occurred among voters who attend religious services once or twice a month, moving from 49% support for Kerry in 2004 to 60% support for Obama in 2008. McCain maintains a significant advantage among voters who attend more frequently, while Obama has a nearly identical advantage over McCain among those who attend less than a few times a month or never.
Among young first-time voters, who make up close to one-third of this age group (ages 18-34), more than seven-in-ten (71%) support Obama, compared to slightly more than half (53%) of young voters who have voted in previous elections.
While older Catholics (age 35 and older) are split between the candidates (46% for McCain and 44% for Obama), among younger Catholics Obama leads McCain by 15 points (55% to 40%). Six-in-ten younger Catholics say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to half of older Catholics. Younger Catholics are more pro-government than any other religious group, with two-thirds preferring bigger government with more services, compared to 41% support among older Catholics.
This poll was done by Public Religion Research on behalf of the group Faith in Public Life. You should note that this group is considered more of a moderate to progressive Evangelical group. The Brody File only brings this up because if the conservative Focus on the Family or The Family Research Council sponsored a poll then that would have to be duly noted as well. The Brody File IS NOT suggesting the polling numbers are faulty. Not at all but it is important to describe the source. Having said that, there is no reason to believe that these numbers aren’t generally reflective of the religious mood in the country when it comes to these two presidential candidates.More on the poll and the methodology here.
As for Brody File analysis, do we really think these numbers are so surprising? In one sense they are startling because who would have “thunk” a Democrat running for President would lead a Republican on being “friendlier to religion”? Wasn’t all that religious talk supposed to be Republican domain? But these numbers make sense because Obama has engaged the faith community in public and McCain has pretty much stayed away for the most part.
Remember, this is not about social issues like abortion and marriage. These polls are not suggesting that Obama’s views on public policy are necessarily more “religious” than McCain’s positions. That is not what we are talking about here. Don’t mistake these polling numbers as a referendum on who’s the more religious man.
Let me also address a larger point. Americans overall are fairly religious. Worshipping God and going to Church matter in this country. (And not JUST with conservative Evangelicals) The point here is that Obama has done something very smart. By discussing his faith publicly and engaging in God talk, he’s been able to relate to millions of voters in a very real and emotional sort of way. In other words, people in America like to hear you talk about your relationship with God. They want to feel like you have a moral compass somewhere inside of you and what better way to express that than through faith?
The McCain campaign wants to show the World that Obama is a true blue liberal and indeed his voting record reflects liberal positions. But Obama’s zest to discuss morality, God and faith has positioned him differently than a John Kerry four years ago. Kerry came across as a secular northeast liberal and couldn’t shake that label. Obama hasn’t been defined that way and the faith aspect is a central reason why.