The Religion Gap between Republican and Democratic Voters


Over at Research on Religion Podcast, Tony Gill interviews Gerard Del Maio on the so-called “religion gap.” From the podcast description:

With the election season heating up, we revisit the issue of whether religion plays a role in voting behavior in the United States.  Prof. Gerald De Maio, associate professor of political science at Baruch College (City University of New York), discusses his collaborative research with Louis Bolce, a former guest on our podcast (see below).  Their research examines the “religion gap” in American politics and how the media and scholary community have overlooked this rather salient feature in electoral politics.  We begin by discussing what the “religion (or God) gap” is and Jerry provides some basic statistics from the 2008 presidential election that reveal this gap between regular churchgoers and more secular individuals represents a difference of upwards of 30 – 35%, far eclipsing the more discussed “gender gap” and “age gap.”  Only racial differences — largely between African-Americans and Caucasians — are larger.  We also discuss how this “religion gap” was once defined denominationally but now is largely an effect of how often one attends religious services and/or maintains orthodox religious beliefs.  In other words, whereas there was a Catholic/Protestant divide in electoral politics historically, it is now more common to see regular churchgoing Catholics vote similarly to regular Protestant church attenders.  Prof. De Maio provides some theoretical speculation as to why this gap has arisen, noting that it is not just social issues (e.g., abortion, same-sex marriage) that are creating this gulf, but includes economic issues as well.  Jerry notes how the cultural change that occured in the 1960s and 1970s affected religious electoral alignments which became visible in the data by the 1980s.  It also played a role in redefining the political parties during this era.  We then discuss how the “religious gap” plays out in non-white communities, most notably the African-American and Latino communities.  While religious African-Americans share many of the same opinions on social issues as conservative white churchgoers, they tend to vote Democrat.  Jerry gives his take on this issue and does not see the Republicans making many inroads into the religious African-American and (to a lesser extent) Latino voting bloc in the near future.  Following this discussion, we turn to how the media has been reporting the “religion gap” in American politics, with Jerry pointing out that what little discussion there has been about this trend has focussed on the Religious Right as compared to the secular Left, and how the Democratic Party has tried to fix their “religion problem.”

Read Del Maio and Bolce’s seminal 2002 article, “Our secularist Democratic party” in The Public Interest.

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