Monday, July 26, 2004

The party of John Kerry and John Edwards is improving its standing with minorities, but losing ground to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney among white evangelicals, a new survey found.

Those findings are bad news for Democrats assembled in Boston for their national convention, because white evangelicals and born-again Christians far outnumber blacks and Hispanic combined.

“White evangelicals and born-again Christians are 26 percent of all registered voters — that’s quite a big chunk — and the survey shows they are quite happy with Republicans,” said Adam Clymer, political director of the University of Pennsylvania’s National Annenberg Election Survey, which polled 3,715 registered voters nationwide July 1 to 21, with a margin of error of 1 percentage point.

“Whatever percentage the turnout of your voters, if you get another 1 percent of evangelicals and born-agains, that’s a lot more votes,” Mr. Clymer said. “It makes a lot more difference than getting an additional 1 percent of blacks or Hispanics.”

The good news for Mr. Kerry and his party is that the Annenberg survey also shows Republicans are failing to make the big gains they hoped for among minorities, especially Hispanics, in the past four years.

What might be more important to the electoral map, however, is that among registered white Protestants who described themselves as born-again or evangelical, Republicans now enjoy majority status, Mr. Clymer said.

Both political parties have been going all-out to stir their voter base to turn out in record numbers on Nov. 2, but although blacks and Hispanics are key constituencies for the Democrats, together they account for only 17 percent of registered voters. In contrast, white born-again and evangelical Christians are fully 26 percent of all registered voters.

And 51 percent of those white evangelical and born-again Christians now call themselves Republicans, up eight percentage points from four years ago, when 43 percent called themselves Republicans.

Only 22 percent of white evangelicals say they are Democrats, down slightly from four years ago, when 24 percent said they were Democrats.

For registered black voters, it’s a wholly different partisan story, with 66 percent calling themselves Democrats and only 7 percent Republicans. That represents almost no change from the 65 percent to 7 percent ratio the survey reported in 2000. Actual black turnout for Democrat Al Gore in 2000 was higher, with 90 percent of black voters opting for the Democratic ticket, according to exit polls

Among registered Hispanics, the fastest-growing component of the electorate, Democrats outnumber Republicans 45 percent to 24 percent. In 2000, only 39 percent of Hispanics said they were Democrats. The Democratic gain occurred despite Mr. Bush’s proposals earlier this year to accommodate illegal immigrants and the American businesses that hire them.

But although Hispanic Democrats are a critical voter group in about four states, Mr. Clymer said, white Protestants are critical in many more states.

The biggest Hispanic populations are in California and New York, both firmly in the Democratic column, and in solidly Republican Texas. The battleground states where Hispanics can make a difference are Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Nevada, he said.

“Born-again and evangelical white Protestants are all over the country, and they matter everywhere,” Mr. Clymer said. “And their attitudes don’t change much regionally. There are more of them in the South than the Northeast, but they are just as much pro-Bush and pro-Republican in general in either place.”

He noted that the more regularly white Protestants attend church, “the more conservative, pro-Republican and pro-Bush they tend to be.”

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