So, what's the story about religious voters in the 2008 election? Well, it depends on who you're talking to. Peter Smith, religion reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal says that religious minorities decided the vote:
White Anglo Christians voted for John McCain.
Yet Americans elected Barack Obama.
That confirms what recent polling had suggested would happen -- that Barack Obama won with a coalition of religious minorities -- black Protestants, Hispanic Catholics, Jews and other smaller religions, and people with no religion. All of those were strongly in Obama's corner -- voting for Obama at higher percentages than white Anglo Protestants and Catholics voted for McCain. The difference in the margins of victory is what nixed McCain's advantage among the white Christians even though they're a majority of the electorate.
Gary Stern, religion reporter for the Journal News in New York says the religious impact this election was not all that great:
I just got off a conference call with the Pew Forum's John Green, the man on the intersection of faith and politics. He spent the night poring through the exit polls.
Let's just say that the '08 race will not be remembered like the '04 race, when evangelicals were credited with lifting George Bush on their shoulders and carrying him to victory.
This time around, there were no major religious swings. But most religious groups moved somewhat to the left.
His blog post goes on to say that ethnicity played a bigger role than religion.
And the Associated Press' Eric Gorski, after speaking with the same John Green, has a much more dramatic lede (And understandably so. Presumably, "nothing happened" isn't a good way to get your story read.):
In building a winning coalition of religious voters, Barack Obama cut into the so-called God gap that puts frequent worshippers in the Republican column, won Catholics, made inroads with younger evangelicals, and racked up huge numbers with minorities and people with no religious affiliation.
The actual meat of the story, however, is in line with the previous excerpts in this post. All demographic groups voted more Democratic this year and traditionally Republican religious voters were no exception, although their shift was more marginal:
The early indications from exit polls don't suggest a fundamental reshaping of religion's role in electing presidents, but they do show Obama made progress on important fronts that hold promise for future Democratic religious coalitions that cross racial lines, analysts said.
"It really doesn't look to me like a realignment," said John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Rather, he said, Obama made religion work for him in a way other Democrats haven't.
The economy, meanwhile, dominated voters' priorities across religious lines, blunting the impact of issues like abortion and gay marriage that historically help move religious votes.
The AP story has plenty of numbers for numbers geeks and shows where Obama made the biggest inroads. Even if it's not a dramatic realignment, there is some very interesting meat for future stories and it looks like we'll have much to cover with the new administration and its religious followers.
But the bottom line is that we did see some changes. The God Gap changed a little, but not dramatically, particularly with white evangelicals and very dedicated Catholics. And another thing that would be nice with these reports is a bit more perspective beyond 2004. For instance, Catholics -- not surprisingly due their demographic heft -- always vote overall with the winner. That wasn't something that just happened in 2004.