The Role of Faith in the 2012 Election
December 5, 2012 – The 2012 presidential election season was the most expensive in U.S. history—and one of the most contentious campaigns in recent memory. A new nationwide survey by the Barna Group among people who voted in the election reveals the role of faith had substantial influence on the election and upon people’s perspectives regarding the state of the nation and its future.
How People Voted by Their Faith Inclinations Although President Obama won the Electoral College vote in a landslide (332 to 206), the popular vote was very close in the 2012 election: Mr. Obama prevailed by a 50% to 48% result. However, looking at the various faith segments, none of them provided an outcome that was nearly as close.
Since 71% of evangelicals described themselves as “mostly conservative on political and social issues,” it is not surprising evangelicals overwhelmingly supported Mr. Romney (81% to 17%). As expansive as that support was, the 81% represented the lowest level of evangelical backing for a Republican candidate since Bob Dole garnered just 74% of the evangelical vote in his 1996 loss to Bill Clinton. It also represents a seven-point decline from the proportion awarded to John McCain in 2008.
Born again Christians who are not evangelicals also supported Mr. Romney in a major way. This group gave the challenger a 56% to 43% edge over the incumbent. That is the highest percentage of votes given by that segment to a candidate in the last five presidential elections (tied with the percentage won by George W. Bush in his successful 2004 re-election bid). That percentage was five points higher than that won by Republican challenger John McCain four years ago. Interestingly, this particular faith segment has distinguished itself as the least predictable group of faith-defined voters. Their vote totals have ranged from giving Democrat Bill Clinton a four-point edge in 1996 to the 13-point differential won by Mr. Romney this year.
In contrast to other Christians, Notional Christians—the large segment of voters who consider themselves to be Christian but are not born again—voted decisively in favor of Mr. Obama (57% to 41%) at a slightly lower rate than did the aggregate born again population (i.e., evangelicals plus non-evangelical born again adults combined to give Mr. Romney a 60% vs. 39% edge). This outcome was not at all surprising; notional Christians have given the Democratic candidate a lopsided victory in each of the last five elections.
Nationally, Notional Christians outnumber all born again adults, but the proportion of adults who voted from each of those segments was nearly identical in 2012 (each was 43% of the electorate). The remaining one out of every seven votes (14%) was cast by people not associated with the Christian faith.
Two-thirds of both the Skeptics and voters associated with non-Christian faiths cast their vote for President Obama. The 68% of Skeptics who voted for the Democratic candidate represents an 8-point decline from the percentage of Skeptics that supported him in his victory in 2008. The 69% he won among people of non-Christian faiths was the largest margin of victory generated from that group since Bill Clinton garnered 89% of the group’s support in 1996.
Catholic voters have a long-established pattern of backing the Democratic nominee. This year proved no different thanks to the 57% to 42% outcome in favor of Mr. Obama. That 15-point margin was the largest among Catholics since Bill Clinton topped Bob Dole by 21 points in 1996.
This year’s Protestant vote was the mirror opposite of the Catholic vote: 57% to 42% in favor of Mr. Romney. That extended the streak to four consecutive elections during which the Republican has gained a majority of the Protestant vote.
Other faith-related segments examined in the Barna study include unchurched voters (one-third of the electorate, backing Mr. Obama, 58% to 32%); mainline Protestant attenders (17% of the voters, siding with Mr. Obama, 48% to 45%); non-mainline Protestant attenders (29% of voters, backing Mr. Romney, 56% to 35%); adults with an active faith (31% of the voting public, supporting Mr. Romney, 56% to 35%); and people with an inactive faith (69% of the public, preferring Mr. Obama by 52% to 39%).