Friday, April 20, 2012

The 'God Gap' in the First Presidential Polls

April 18, 2012
In a recent post we presented research indicating that President Obama could win re-election without winning a majority of the Catholic vote (which is historically rare and difficult to do). This is possible with the rising number of U.S. voters without a religious affiliation (i.e., Nones) who historically vote overwhelmingly for Democrats in presidential and congressional elections. We indicated that the president could go no lower than 44% support among Catholics and Protestants if he hopes to win re-election.

With the Republican nominee decided (in all likelihood), the first national head to head polls are coming out. Gallup surveys have shown President Obama trailing but this gap is within the margin of error. Today, Pew released results that also show a tight race with a slim lead for President Obama. It is still a long, long time before any of these polls are predictive of anything. But as a first look, the Obama campaign might be second guessing some of their recent decisions that may have alienated religious voters.

The Pew survey of 2,373 registered voters (landline and cell phone samples) was conducted April 4-15 (margin of error +/-2.3 percentage points). Among Catholics overall, Gov. Romney leads Obama 50% to 45% (he has gained 8 percentage points on Obama since March). This level of support is also consistent with what President Obama would need to make the electoral math work for him (although by just 1 percentage point). His bigger problem is among Protestants overall where his support dips to 43% (and even much lower among Evangelicals). This is too low to indicate a good chance for re-election. More problematic for his campaign is that his support among Nones has dipped below the 70% he needs to comfortably counter-balance poor support among Christian voters (67% now compared to 75% last month). The survey results also indicate that this is likely due to the respondents' overall concern about the economy rather than social issues, where Democratic Party policies attract the votes of Nones best. Social issues lag far behind the economy, jobs, health care, and the deficit in stated importance. the rest


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