Although much is made of how the reelection of President George W. Bush revealed the cultural divide between secular and religious Americans, the 2004 elections also showed new political allegiances and patterns taking shape within religious traditions and denominations. The Catholic vote for Bush was generally underplayed in the media and in many polls, but it was as important a factor in the election results as the evangelical vote, writes Kate O’Beirne in National Review (Nov. 29).
As reported last month, in swing states such as Ohio, Bush’s increased margin among Catholics was larger than his increase among all voters. In fact, the Catholic vote led the national shift to Bush, increasing the share by five points, compared to three points by all voters. The state that showed the largest increase in Catholic support for Bush was heavily Democratic Massachusetts, where it was up by a significant 17 points over 2000. O’Beirne adds that Bush’s support from Protestants in the state was down by six points. But Massachusetts Catholics gave Bush 49 percent of their votes
Not only was there the national Republican effort to woo Catholic voters (setting up the website KerryWrongforCatholics.com and mobilizing 55,000 volunteers to help build Catholic support for Bush), but local efforts, such as the one in Massachusetts, may have had the strongest impact. Boston’s former Democratic mayor Ray Flynn, at the request of Boston’s Archbishop Sean O’Malley, launched a statewide campaign to register Catholic voters and educate them on their moral responsibility to be “faithful citizens.”
A coordinator was hired for each diocese in the state and Flynn traveled from parish to parish urging support for policies consistent with church teaching on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and stem cell research. While acknowledging dissent over issues such as taxes and the Iraq war, Flynn urged voters to “do something different and take our Catholic values into the voting booth.” The gay marriage court decision in the state may have mobilized the Catholic voters who provided Bush with such a boost, but other states also saw significant Democratic defections, leading Flynn to believe his model of activism can be exported.
Moral issues also gained George W. Bush the support of a greater share of Black evangelical votes than in previous elections, reports Long Island’sNewsday (November 14). The “Republicans’ steady drumbeat against gay marriage helped erode black support for Kerry in key states and hand the White House to Bush,” writes Martin C. Evans. Exit polling showed that 27 percent of black voters in northern Florida–known as the “Bible belt of the state– said they voted for Bush.
That was in strong contrast with black voters in Miami where only four percent said they supported Bush. While Kerry did get the lion’s share of black votes, beating out Bush by an 88 percent to 11 percent edge, he did not do as well as Gore in 2000. In close contests in Ohio and Florida, “Bush’s ability to turn larger number of black voters his way drained critical support from Kerry,” Evans writes.
The move to the Republican right during the recent elections can also be seen in smaller groups such as the Seventh Day Adventists. The independent Adventist journal Spectrum (Fall) featured a new survey of church members predicting that they would elect Bush by a landslide– with only 16 percent saying they would vote for John Kerry. This pattern is not a surprise, since Adventists are traditionally conservative and elected Bush in a landslide in 2000.
But sociologists Roger L. Dudley and Edwin I. Hernandez write that in 2004 the divisions between those whom they call “literalists” and “contextualists” in the church are wider and more significant. Literalists are defined as those Adventists who hold that the Bible and the writings of founder Ellen White should be taken literally, while contextualists believe that both writings should be interpreted in the setting of one’s own time and place. Both are active members who tend to uphold church teachings, though the literalists are generally more conservative (even though they were more likely to oppose the Iraq war than the contextualists).
Dudley and Hernandez find that in candidate preference there were not significant gaps between the literalists and contextualists in 2000. But in 2004, the contextualists were more likely to vote for Kerry while the majority of literalists said they would vote for Bush. There is also differences between these two groups on gay rights and abortion, “creating a wedge or a cultural divide within Adventism.” The writers conclude that over the years there has been a subtle shift among Adventists, particularly literalists, to support positions that conflict with their strict church-state separationist tradition, such as on vouchers and faith-based social services.
The Democrats also found a new source of support in 2004. While the majority of Muslims gave Bush their support in 2000 (with U.S. Islamic organizations officially endorsing him), early polling data suggests a “dramatic political shift among Arab and Muslim Americans,” reportsAljazeera.Net (Nov. 11).
A pre-election survey conducted by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) indicated that 80 percent of Muslim Americans planned to vote for Kerry, yet the final total might have been as high as 90 percent, according to the organization’s election-night exit polls. Another poll commissioned by the Arab American Institute indicated that 63 percent of Arab Americans in the battleground states of Michigan, Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania voted for Kerry, while 28.5 percent voted for Bush.
(Spectrum, P.O. Box 619047, Roseville, CA 95661-9047)