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November 5, 2008

Examining the Exit Poll Data on Evangelicals

As readers of this blog know, I've been pushing the hypothesis that evangelicals in the Midwest were going to be shifting to Obama in ways that their co-religionists in other parts of the country, especially the South, were not. And lo and behold, yesterday's vote more or less bears that out. Across the Midwest, where evangelicals tended to vote 3-1 for George W. Bush over John Kerry in 2004, they tended to vote only 2-1 for John McCain over Barack Obama yesterday. Meanwhile, in the South and what we call the Southern Crossroads, whereas in 2004 evangelicals voted 3-1 or better for Bush over Kerry, in most states they actually voted by greater margins for McCain over Obama.

Let's compare Indiana and Oklahoma. Hoosier evangelicals favored Bush by 77-22 but McCain by only 66-41. Oklahomans, by contrast, voted 77-23 for Bush and 77-22 for McCain. Midwest pickups for Obama included 11 points in Ohio, 13 in Michigan, 11 in Iowa, 11 in South Dakota, and 19 in Nebraska. But he lost one point in Alabama, five in Mississippi, three in Kentucky, five in Tennessee, eight in Louisiana, and five in Arkansas. There were some exceptions. In Missouri, which we include in the Southern Crossroads (but which has real Midwestern features), there was a 14-point shift to Obama. And in Kansas, which we include in the Midwest (but which has real Southern Crossroads features), there was a 2-point shift to McCain. Meanwhile, out West, there were significant shifts by evangelicals toward Obama in Oregon (15), Colorado (20), and Idaho (12). In the latter two states, however, the shift didn't even manage to bring the vote down to 3-1 levels.)

I haven't tried to do all the calculations, but one thing is clear. In Indiana's astonishing flip to blue, fully half the 21-point shift came from the evangelicals. The larger question has to do with explaining the overall bifurcation. The most likely explanation for what happened in the South and Southern Crossroads is the persistence of racial prejudice in those regions. It's also the case that this is where evangelicals are most heavily organized and mobilized as Republican partisans. But in the Midwest, there is Obama's identity as a Midwesterner, and the common Midwestern religious sensibility that he appealed to, to take into account. Not to belabor the point, but Obama's communitarian outlook is very much the Midwestern way--a point Andrew Walsh and I make in our new book, One Nation, Divisible: How Regional Religious Differences Shape American Politics. The book postulates that, led by the likes of Obama, we may be now be trading the Crossroads ethos of Bush and Company for a Midwestern one. As the book's last line reads: "If there is to be a new style of religious pluralism in America, there is something to be said for having it emerge from the Midwest."

(Originally published at Spiritual Politics.)

Comments

What an accusation to say that the south voted for McCain in higher numbers because of racial prejudice!! I live in a northern state, but I voted for McCain because Obama supports the right to abortion, wants to remove the ban on partial abortions and actually cast a vote for infanticide at one time in his life. Perhaps southern evangelicals voted for McCain because they have not forsaken the teachings of the Bible on abortion and diluted their faith to conform to the culture as have those in the Midwest. Please tell me how a Christian stands before God some day and explains how they voted to allow the least among us to be killed for the sake of convenience?

My sense in listening to people talk is that many who call themselves Christian are less concerned with the Word of God than they are with how much money they have to buy the latest elecronic gadgets or bigger houses. They know that Obama would not vote against partial birth abortion and just don't care.
So many Christians unashamedly hold the same sense of entitlement as the rest of the population.

What I'd really like to see is a breakdown of the evangelical vote by education level.
On another non-religious site, they showed Obama making gains in all groups except amongst white males without college education. So I'm wondering whether level of education has significantly impact upon how evangelicals voted. Perhaps the trend shown above by state is really a reflection of education levels across those states.