Large numbers of Catholics and religiously unaffiliated voters heavily contributed to President-elect Barack Obama‘s huge margin of victory over Republican Sen. John McCain, according to an analysis of exit poll surveys by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
“Obama had a greater appeal for religious people,” said John Green, a senior fellow at Pew. “I don’t think we would have seen that support had Hillary [Rodham Clinton] been nominated.”
Catholics voted for Mr. Obama over Mr. McCain by a nine-point margin (54 percent versus 45 percent), a turnaround from 2004 when Catholics supported President Bush over Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, by a five-point margin (52 percent to 47 percent).
Their votes came despite the warnings from 89 bishops who issued a blizzard of statements in the closing weeks of the election, warning against voting for a pro-choice candidate.
Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who last month termed Mr. Obama “the most committed ‘abortion-rights’ presidential candidate of either major party since the Roe v. Wade abortion decision in 1973,” led the effort.
His - and other voices from church leaders - went unheeded.
“Six months ago the pundits were predicting that President-elect Obama would not do well with Catholic voters,” said Steve Krueger, national director of the Boston-based group Catholic Democrats. “The fact that Senators Obama and [Joseph R.] Biden reversed a trend, since 1996, of white ethnic Catholics defecting to the Republican Party in presidential elections is of historic significance.”
Mr. Obama did especially well among Hispanics, who are overwhelmingly Catholic. Two-thirds of them voted for him compared with white Catholics, who voted for Mr. McCain 52 to 47 percent over Mr. Obama.
“Latino Catholics appear to have been decisive in flipping three states from red to blue: New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada,” wrote Michael Sean Winters, an author on Catholic issues and a regular contributor to a blog sponsored by the Jesuit-run America magazine.
Plus, “The states that are most Catholic - Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania - are also the states that are the bluest of the blue,” he added.
In Lackawanna County, Pa., home of Scranton Bishop Joseph F. Martino, a fierce critic of Mr. Obama’s pro-choice stance, the Illinois senator won 63 percent to 36 percent.
The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit affiliated with the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, said the economy was the biggest issue on Catholic minds.
“Few said that abortion was the most important issue,” he said. “In addition, the anti-immigrant rhetoric from the Republican base chased Hispanics away from the Republican Party. Joe Biden, an experienced Catholic senator with working-class roots, helped the top of the ticket with Catholics much more than did [Republican vice-presidential nominee] Sarah Palin, the ex-Catholic evangelical governor of Alaska.”
According to the Pew data, white Christians who once were the senior partners in the religion vote, were outnumbered by black Protestants and Hispanic Christians, voters from other religions and the religiously unaffiliated.
Mr. Obama pulled in greater numbers of voters who attend church more than once a week, garnering 43 percent of this group compared with the 39 percent who supported Mr. Kerry in 2004. But Mr. Obama’s largest support base came from those who never attend church, 67 percent of whom voted for him.
“His largest gains were the unaffiliated voters,” said Gregory A. Smith, a Pew research fellow. “Sixty-seven percent of these people voted for Kerry in 2004; 75 percent voted for Senator Obama.”
Eight out 10 Jews (about 78 percent) also supported Mr. Obama, according to Pew. Similar numbers supported former Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat, in 2000 (79 percent) and Mr. Kerry in 2004 (74 percent).
Among Protestants overall, 45 percent supported Mr. Obama, up from the 40 percent who voted for Mr. Kerry. Among white Protestants only, the gain was much smaller. Thirty-four percent of this group voted for Mr. Obama compared with 32 percent who voted for Mr. Kerry.
Among evangelical Christians, 26 percent voted for Mr. Obama compared with 21 percent who voted for Mr. Kerry.