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Religion affects voters much as it did in 2004

WASHINGTON - A survey of religious groups' political leanings shows remarkably little change between the current presidential campaign and the 2004 race, according to pollster John C. Green of the University of Akron.

"My staff called me a slave driver because I had them run the data 50 or 60 times," said Mr. Green, who expressed shock over the consistency among religious communities despite four years of tumult on issues of faith and politics.

The fifth National Survey of Religion and Politics, released yesterday at the Religion Newswriters Association's annual convention here, was conducted before the political conventions and before the candidates announced their vice presidential running mates.

It broke down the candidates' support among 11 main religious groups and some subgroups.

Among evangelical Protestants, Republican John McCain held a 37.3 percent lead over Democrat Barack Obama, while in 2004, GOP incumbent George W. Bush held a 40.8 edge over Democrat John Kerry among that religious demographic.

Mr. Green added that while the numbers are similar, there was an "enthusiasm gap" among evangelical Protestants this year, with many saying they were "not very excited" about Mr. McCain.

Mr. Green said V.P. picks historically have had little impact in presidential elections, but a Pew Forum survey released this week showed that the Republican Party's nomination of Gov. Sarah Palin has "rallied those weak McCain supporters."

The University of Akron poll showed that non-Latino Catholics favored Mr. McCain by 44.1 to 39.4 percent, while in 2004, they supported Mr. Bush 42.4 to 39.1 percent.

Among mainline Protestants, Mr. McCain led Mr. Obama 43.2 to 39.5 percent, numbers that are virtually identical to the party lines in 2004, when Mr. Bush held a 42.4 percent to 39.1 percent lead.

Mr. Obama's strongest support was among Jews, black Protestants, Latino Catholics, and the religiously unaffiliated, Mr. Green said.

Jewish voters favored Mr. Obama 52.5 percent to 23 percent, a lead that was large but a drop for Democrats from 2004, when Jews backed Mr. Kerry 69.4 percent to 25.3 percent.

Mr. Obama also led Mr. McCain by 68.4 to 15.8 percent in the "other world religions" category, which includes Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims. In 2004, Mr. Kerry led Mr. Bush 60.7 to 17.9 percent lead among that demographic.

Religiously unaffiliated voters supported Mr. Obama 50.5 to 21.3 percent over Mr. McCain, a gain for the party from 2004, when Mr. Kerry led 46.5 to 23.4 percent.

Mr. Green said preconvention surveys provide a "baseline" for analyzing U.S. religious groups' political preferences through the years, and that the data are later compared to post-election surveys asking the same questions.

Post-election results in 2004 showed that a multitude of issues influenced the 23.4 percent of voters who were undecided before the vote, but this year the economy has become the overwhelmingly dominant issue for all Americans, including the 20.8 who are undecided.

"Religious Americans care about a lot of things, but this election they particularly care about economic issues," Mr. Green said.

He said the startling consistencies between the 2004 and 2008 surveys reflected "deep-seated divisions among America's faith communities" that are not easily or quickly changed.

The poll was based on interviews with 4,017 adult Americans and has a margin of error of 1.5 percent.

In a separate presentation to religion journalists, Joshua DuBois, Mr. Obama's director of religious affairs, said Democrats will begin a series of town-hall meetings in key battleground states to discuss faith and values issues. An Ohio stop is scheduled for the second week of October, he said.

With half a million United Methodists in Ohio, Mr. DuBois said Mr. Obama seeks to meet with the state's mainline Protestants, whom he described as "more persuadable" than evangelical Christians.

Mr. DuBois also cited the Pew survey that showed Mr. Obama with a 9-point lead over Mr. McCain among white Catholics, and a recent Barna Group poll showing Mr. Obama leads Mr. McCain in 18 of 19 religious subgroups.

Association president Debra Mason said Mr. McCain was invited to send a representative to the conference but did not do so.

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.

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