Divining the Electorate

Is there a religious vote?

Is there a religious vote? The answer is complex and ambiguous. First of all, politicians think there is a religious vote and that, in close elections, they must cater to it. Second, each party is currently in the process of abandoning the extremes-for Republicans the "culture wars," for Democrats, permissiveness-that appeal to some religious or irreligious groups and repel others. Third, voter data suggest that faith-based voting occurs only at the margins of American elections. However, faith-based voting is central for some religious groups: African American Christians since the sixties and white Evangelical Protestants more recently. Finally, a creedal basis for voting is difficult to sustain in the United States where office-seekers use (and abuse) religious symbols, where civil religion remains the dominant form of political religion, where economic well-being, perhaps even greed, motivates voters more than their moral and religious beliefs, and where intergroup conflicts lie fallow only for short periods of time. It has never been easy to be a consistent Christian in American politics.

Some of the complexities of this issue can be seen in a brief look at the "Catholic vote" over the last four decades. And when we examine the voting preferences of African Americans, Evangelicals, and Mainstream Protestants, further complexities can be demonstrated.

We are told that 1980 was the fulcrum election,...

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About the Author

David C. Leege is emeritus professor of political science, the University of Notre Dame.