Post-election survey: changing religious landscape challenges influence of white Christian vote

Empathy and auto bailout boosted Obama among Ohio voters

December 4, 2012

WASHINGTON

A new survey conducted after the Nov. 6 election confirms that winning an overwhelming majority of white Christian voters is no longer sufficient to secure the presidency.

The 2012 post-election American Values Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute, found that like previous Republican candidates, Governor Mitt Romney’s base in the presidential election was largely made up of white Christians. Specifically, 79 percent of  Romney voters were white Christians, half of whom (40 percent) were white evangelical Protestants.

On the other hand, President Barack Obama’s coalition rested on two very different cornerstones: minority Christians and the religiously unaffiliated. Only 35 percent of Obama’s voters were white Christians.

“This presidential election is the last in which a white Christian strategy will be considered a plausible path to victory,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “The American religious and ethnic landscape is becoming increasingly diverse, and any campaigns relying on outdated maps are destined to lose their way.”

PRRI’s analysis draws on findings from both a national panel survey that re-interviewed respondents from its October American Values Survey, and a new post-election Ohio Values Survey.

Overall, Obama scored higher than Romney in voters’ perceptions of empathy. A majority of voters agree that Obama, rather than Romney, cares about people like them (53 percent vs. 41 percent). While white working-class voters overall strongly supported Romney (65 percent to 33 percent), they split their vote in Ohio with 44 percent supporting Obama and 46 percent supporting Romney.

White working-class voters in Ohio were also more likely than white working-class voters overall to say that Obama, rather than Romney, cares about people like them (50 percent vs. 36 percent) and to support the auto bailout (60 percent vs. 48 percent). Among white working-class voters who support the government’s action to help the auto industry, 62 percent supported Obama, while 35 percent supported Romney.

“Nationally, Obama struggled with white working-class voters, but performed much better in Ohio,” said Daniel Cox, director of research at PRRI. “This stronger performance was boosted by widespread support for government assistance to the auto industry.”

The survey also found that the two candidates divided suburban voters nearly equally between them nationwide (50 percent Obama vs. 48 percent Romney) and in battleground states (48 percent Obama vs. 51 percent Romney).

Nationwide, Obama led Romney among urban voters (60 percent vs. 38 percent) and trailed Romney among rural voters (33 percent vs. 65 percent).

A research memo containing more detailed analysis is available at the PRRI website.

Among the findings:

  • Three-quarters (76 percent) of Obama voters say that their vote was primarily a vote for Obama, while 13 percent say their vote was primarily a vote against Romney, and 11 percent say it was both.
  • Among Romney voters, a slim majority (52 percent) say their vote was a vote for Romney, while nearly 4-in-10 (37 percent) say their vote was a vote against Obama, and 1-in-10 (10 percent) say it was both.
  • Less than half (48 percent) of white evangelical Protestants said their vote was a vote for Romney, while more than 4-in-10 characterized their choice as a vote against Obama.
  • Tea Party voters are nearly evenly divided on whether their vote for Romney was a vote for Romney (44 percent) or a vote against Obama (42 percent).

Public Religion Research Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values and public life. The post-election American Values Survey and the Ohio Values Survey were made possible by generous funding from the Ford Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Civic Participation Research Fund at the New World Foundation.

The post-election American Values Survey and the Ohio Values Survey were designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute. Results from the post-election American Values Survey were based on 1,410 callback bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews with respondents from the pre-election American Values Survey. Results from the Ohio Values Survey were based on 1,203 bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews of adults currently living in Ohio. Both surveys were conducted between November 7, 2012 and November 11, 2012. The margin of error for the post-election American Values Survey is +/- 3.3 percentage points, and the margin of error for the Ohio Values Survey is +/- 3.5 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence interval.

  1. If the "Public Religion Research Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization..." , then why was the AVS funded exclusively by three left-leaning organizations, "...the Ford Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Civic Participation Research Fund at the New World Foundation"? That presumes bias, and since America is now a "post-racial" country anyway--thanks to the election of 2008--terms like "white" Christian are now irrelevant and should be excluded from the survey altogether.

    by Aaron Adair

    December 4, 2012

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