- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2010

In the 2010 contest for House seats, Republicans won stronger support from people in the major religious groups — and even the unaffiliated who usually vote Democratic, an analysis of exit polls show.

“None of the religious groups we looked at trended in the Democratic direction this year,” said Greg Smith, senior researcher at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Instead, “a variety of religious groups went in the Republican direction this year, including traditionally Republican groups as well as traditionally Democratic groups. And that really parallels the GOP’s broad-based gains among the electorate as a whole,” said Mr. Smith, whose report compared National Election Pool exit poll data from several elections.

The biggest swing was among Catholics, who gave 54 percent support to Republicans, a 12-point increase from 2008. This also marked a departure from the two previous elections, in which Catholics favored Democrats over Republicans by double-digit margins.

Other religious categories showed a surge in Republican support, too. Sixty percent of Protestants pulled levers for Republicans, as did 78 percent of white evangelicals — both significantly higher than the 2008 election.

Unaffiliated voters — those who say “none” when asked for their religion — preferred Democrat candidates in 2010, as they typically do. But a surprising 32 percent voted Republican, compared with 25 percent in 2008 and 22 percent in 2006.

These results are interesting because the 2010 election didn’t focus on religious or social issues like same-sex marriage and “yet the pattern of the religion vote looks like 2004” when those issues were prominent, said John C. Green, political science professor at the University of Akron and scholar on the influence of religion in politics.

“I think that this shows, if nothing else, that religious affiliation is a very important part of the structure of our politics, and even when [faith and social issues] aren’t on the front burner … it nonetheless has an influence on how people vote,” he said.

The Pew report didn’t include responses for Jewish, Muslim or other non-Christian religions. However, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) said Thursday it was pleased with the 2010 results.

“The GOP is continuing to make inroads with Jewish voters,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the RJC, citing exit poll analyses of several state and House races.

Since 1982, Republicans have averaged 24 percent of the Jewish vote in midterm elections, the RJC said. But in 2010, the RJC saw the Republican share rise to 31 to 37 percent in key races, Mr. Brooks said in a media call yesterday.

The more-religious Orthodox Jews tend to vote Republican, while non-Orthodox prefer Democrats, but in 2010, there was more Republican support even among the non-Orthodox, said Arthur Finkelstein, a Republican pollster on the same call.

“If that continues,” he said, “that would really put the Jewish vote up for grabs in future elections. Which, of course, would be a tremendous signal to Republicans.”

Still, the politically progressive J Street PAC said its election-night poll of Jewish voters still showed 66 percent of Jews nationwide voting for Democratic congressional candidates. “Right-wing appeals to Jewish voters on Israel failed in the past, have failed this year, and will continue to fail to move voters in the future,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder and president of J Street.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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