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The quadrennial survey on religion and public life of the Henry Institute at Calvin College is out, and it’s got a wealth of interesting data. Unlike the exit polls, it sorts folks into levels of religiosity not by (asserted) frequency of worship attendance but on a kind of orthodoxy scale. In the large categories (evangelical and mainline Protestants and white Catholics), you can be either traditionalist, centrist, or modernist. Among the unaffiliated you can be either a believer, secular (whatever that means), and atheist/agnostic. So here, following the tables, are the highlights, according to me.
1. In terms of partisan identification, evangelicals have in the aggregate shifted barely at all since 2004: the differential between Democratic and Republican is still 29 percentage points, with both losing a couple of points to independents. Most of that shift comes from traditionalist evangelicals, who outnumber the other two categories combined. In a word, and I’m sorry if I keep harping on this, there’s still no sign of Democratwards movement among this critical GOP voting bloc (27.4 percent of the population, according to Henry).
2. Over the past two decades, the biggest shifts have come among mainline Protestants and Jews. Most strikingly–though in line with exit poll results from the past few elections–mainliners have moved from a solid Republican voting bloc to (as of this year) to identifying Democratic by nine points. The net shift among them since 1992 is a whopping 27 percentage points. Jews have gotten much more Democratic. In both cases, most of the movement has come during the Bush presidency. Although Jews are somewhat less likely to identify as Democrats this year than in 2004, they are no more likely to identify as Republicans.
3. Since 2004, support for environmental regulation has slipped a bit. This might seem to be counterintuitive, at least given the ratcheting up of green concerns over the past few years. The explanation has to do, I think, with the way the question is asked: “Strict rules to protect the environment are necessary even if they cost jobs or result in higher prices.” In other words, less support for environmental regulation may simply reflect higher economic anxieties. That said, not all groups show this tendency. Jews, Blacks, and Latinos all have become more environmentalist, by modest amounts, and the unaffilated, by a hefty amount. Atheists and Agnostics are not the most pro-environment group in the country, at 81 percent. Environmentalism is their religion.
4. Legalized abortion that’s solely up to the woman to decide is supported by 53 percent of the entire sample, as opposed to 40 percent against. And by a margin of 47 percent to 41 percent, respondents do not agree that gays and lesbians should be permitted to marry legally. Catholics support abortion rights 51-43, and are almost evenly split on gay marriage, 43 percent against and 45 percent for. These numbers are not good news for social conservatives.
5. Only one aggregate group now thinks the U.S. did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq: evangelicals, 57 percent to 35 percent. Among them, the traditionalists support our having gone to war 64-27, while centrist and modernist evangelicals are just slightly in favor. Among subgroups, the evangelicals are joined in their support only traditionalist mainliners (57-40) and traditionalist Catholics (56-36). All other groups are opposed. In a word, Iraq as a proposition has become a religious question, with only conservative Christians (and possibly Orthodox Jews, but the sample is too small for them to be broken out separately) prepared to answer in the affirmative. For John McCain the news is mixed: He can win religious conservatives on the strength of Iraq alone, without having to sound the trumpet for “moral values.” But the vast “centrist” middle where the election will be won or lost is not with him.
6. One addition fact, too interesting to bury at the end of this long post.