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Religiousness a Key Factor for Romney and Obama Support

Religiousness a Key Factor for Romney and Obama Support

Romney does best among the very religious and among Protestants

PRINCETON, NJ -- Mitt Romney leads Barack Obama by 17 percentage points, 54% to 37%, among very religious voters in Gallup's latest five-day presidential election tracking average. Obama leads by 14 points, 54% to 40%, among the moderately religious, and by 31 points, 61% to 30%, among those who are nonreligious.

Candidate Support by Religiosity, Registered Voters, April 2012

For the purpose of this analysis, an American's relative degree of religiousness is based on responses to two questions asking about the importance of religion in one's life and about church attendance, yielding three specific groups:

  • Very religious -- Religion is an important part of daily life and church/synagogue/mosque attendance occurs at least every week or almost every week. This group makes up 41% of registered voters interviewed April 19-23.
  • Moderately religious -- All others who do not fall into the very religious or nonreligious groups but who gave valid responses on both religion questions. This group makes up 27% of registered voters.
  • Nonreligious -- Religion is not an important part of daily life and respondents seldom or never attend church/synagogue/mosque. This group makes up 32% of registered voters.

Voters' religiousness was a significant correlate of vote choice during the Republican presidential primary season this year, with more religious Republicans tending to vote for Rick Santorum, while less religious Republicans tilted toward Romney. Despite Romney's troubles with highly religious Republican voters, he gets the disproportionate support from highly religious voters in the general election that Republican candidates traditionally enjoy. Very religious voters make up less than half of the electorate, however, and among all Americans, Romney is losing to Obama by a seven-point margin.

Romney Does Better Among Protestants

Obama is a Protestant Christian, and was a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, while Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Despite Protestants' broad religious connection to Obama, they support Romney over Obama by a five-point margin in the April 19-23 tracking aggregate. Obama is ahead among Catholics by six points, and has a substantial lead among Americans who have no formal religious identity.

Candidate Support by Religious Identity, Registered Voters, April 2012

There are significant differences within the broad group of Protestants -- 52% of all registered voters in the April 19-23 sample -- based on how religious they are. Very religious Protestants support Romney over Obama by a 19-point margin, while nonreligious Protestants tilt toward Obama by 11 points.

Candidate Support by Religiosity, Among Protestants Only, Registered Voters, April 2012

Very Religious Catholics Tilt to Romney

While Catholics -- who make up 24% of all registered voters -- tilt toward Obama over Romney, their support differs significantly based on how religious they are -- just as was the case for Protestants. Very religious Catholics tilt slightly toward Romney, while Catholics who are moderately religious or nonreligious tilt by 13- and 15-point margins toward Obama.

Candidate Support by Religiosity, Among Catholics Only, Registered Voters, April 2012

Romney Gets Nearly Two-Thirds Support Among Highly Religious White Protestants

One confounding factor in these results is the reality that black Americans are highly religious and highly likely to be Protestants, while at the same time very likely to be Democrats. In the latest weekly election aggregate, for example, 48% of black voters are very religious and only 12% are nonreligious, but at the same time, 89% support Obama. Thus, with nonwhites factored out of the analysis, Romney leads by 24 points among white Protestants, and by 41 points among very religious white Protestants. This latter group is the functional equivalent of the group of voters often called evangelicals.

Candidate Support Among Non-Hispanic White Protestants, Registered Voters, April 2012


It appears that in this year's general election, religion will continue to be a major determinant of how Americans vote for president. Highly religious Americans, particularly those who are white and Protestant, disproportionately support presumptive Republican presidential candidate Romney, while less religious Americans skew their support toward Democratic incumbent Obama. This reinforces a basic pattern in American voting behavior that has been evident for decades.

The fact that Mitt Romney continues to receive the support of highly religious white Protestants is important, given that the Republican portion of this group disproportionately supported Romney's opponent Santorum in the Republican primaries. Just as it appears that Republicans as a whole are coalescing around Romney even after the bitter primary battles, highly religious white Protestants appear to be coalescing around his candidacy as well.

President Obama's February Prayer Breakfast speech notably included a number of references to the ways in which his religion and religious convictions guided his political policies. Obama's underlying theme was that religion and Democratic policies are strongly compatible. That may be the case theologically, but in the practical world of today's presidential politics, religiousness continues to translate into Republican voting -- a pattern that, to this point, does not appear to be changing.

At the moment, Obama does so well among less religious Americans that he leads Romney among all registered voters by a 49% to 42% margin. For Romney to be successful this November, it appears he will need to make further inroads into the ranks of Americans who are not highly religious.

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Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking survey April 19-23, 2012, with a random sample of 2,157 registered voters, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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