Thursday, March 24, 2005

Religion in the 2004 Election

As several posts on this blog pointed out immediately after the election, there wasn't much evidence that Bush's victory rested on a huge surge in turnout and support by evangelical Christians. The preliminary findings of the 2004 support this notion. The NES doesn't have a straight-up question on evangelical status, but it does ask questions about the nature of respondent's religious beliefs. Looking at two of these questions for both 2000 and 2004 gives you an idea of how things changed or did not change across the two elections. In 2000, those who said religion was important in their life made up 79 percent of the electorate, but in 2004 that fell to 76 percent. This was offset somewhat since Bush's support in this category went from 51 to 54 percent. Nonetheless, Bush's performance (defined as percent of the electorate X percent support for the candidate) went up only marginally, from 40 to 41.

The NES also asks whether people think the Bible is the word of God (probably a closer fit with evangelical status). In 2000, those who believed the the Bible is the word of God were 31 percent of the electorate. This increased to 34 percent in 2004. Likewise, Bush's support from this group went from 54 percent in 2000 to 56 percent in 2004. These increases in turnout and support for Bush meant that his performance in this group went from 17 to 19. This two point increase, though small, accounts for most of Bush's overall 3 point increase in the vote share from 2000 to 2004.

Yet, the significance of this increase depends on how it stacks up with changes in performance on other issues, particularly foreign policy, the other big issue in the campaign. Unfortunately, the NES didn't ask many questions about foreign or military policy in the 2000 survey, so direct comparisons are tougher. But one relevant question did appear on both surveys--whether or not agreed that it was better if the U.S. just stayed home and didn't concern itself with problems in other parts of the world. In 2000, 75 percent of voters disagreed that the U.S. should just stay home, but in 2004, this jumped to 85 percent. In addition, Bush's support among this group went from 46 to 54 percent. These changes in turnout and support boosted Bush performance from 35 in 2000 to 46 in 2004. This 11 point jump is far more than the 2 point increase that Bush saw among religious conservatives. As with my previous post, this suggests that foreign policy concerns were central to Bush's victory last year.

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