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hobby horse.jpgIt’s a bit of a slow day on the religion-and-the-campaign news front, so why not take a ride on my favorite hobby horse? The object of this exercise is to make clear (once again, sorry folks) the importance of aggregate worship attendance figures in determining partisan political preferences from state to state. Consider the following results from recent surveys done by SUSA in Oregon (June) and North Carolina (July). Regular attenders backed McCain over Obama 59-31 in Oregon and in NC 56-40. Occasional attenders split their vote in Oregon, 48 percent for McCain and 47 percent for Obama, but went for Obama in North Carolina 50-44. And those who said they almost never attend worship went for Obama 64-31 in Oregon and 55-43 in North Carolina. Now if each of these three groups were identical in size, the two candidates would have just about divided the respondents in half (in both cases fractionally preferring Obama). But in fact, the percentages of the groups in Oregon are, respectively, 39-25-36 but in NC 57-28-16. As a result, Obama’s particular strength in Oregon with the large group of non-attenders was enough to give him a three-point lead in the Beaver State (48-45), whereas even though McCain was weaker among frequent attenders in NC than in Oregon, the huge proportion of frequent-attending Tar Heels pushed him to a five-point lead (50-45). And these differentials extend beyond the presidential; for example, take a look at this late SUSA poll of voter preferences in Kentucky’s third congressional district.
A couple of points are worth taking away. First, the new strength of Democrats in the West is in no small measure to be explained by the increasing tendency of the less religious to vote Democratic. That’s because the West has significantly lower religious affiliation rates than the rest of the country. Second, in order to pick off red seats in Congress, Democrats need to find ways to appeal to more religious voters. Consider Virginia’s fifth congressional district, where (as we’ve noted before, here and here), Democrat Tom Perriello is trying to unseat incumbent Virgil Goode with a faith-based campaign of community service and “the common good.” In a sign that this may be working, the Cook Political Report earlier this month changed its assessment of the district from “Solid Republican” to “Likely Republican.”