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Religious voters motivated more by issues than doctrine

Nov. 19, 2010

By Jade Mardirosian
Staff Writer

The Republican Party gained a surge of voters from all demographics, especially religious sects, in the 2010 midterm elections.

Almost all congressional districts voted a higher percentage of Republican candidates into office in the 2010 midterm elections than the previous election in 2008.

Dr. Patrick Flavin, associate professor of political science at Baylor said the Republican Party ran on a more unified platform in the midterms than the Democratic Party.

"The Republican Party platform included smaller government, so for example opposing the new health care reform law and reducing the national debt. Basically just trying to provide an alternative to what the Democrats are currently doing," said Flavin.

Analysis done by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life of National Election Pool exit poll data reported by CNN showed that white Protestants voted Republican over Democratic in their congressional districts by a 69 percent - 28 percent margin.

This marks a six-point increase in Republicans' share of the white Protestant vote compared with 2008 and an eight-point gain compared with the last midterm

in 2006.

Catholic voters showed even more polarized results. Catholic voters favored Democratic over Republican candidates by double- digit margins in the last two congressional elections, but swung to favor the Republican party in the 2010 midterm election.

Fifty-four percent of Catholic voters cast the ballot for Republican congressional candidates in the midterms, which was an increase of 12 points compared to 2008.

"The idea of a Catholic vote has gone away over time," Flavin said. "If you look at how Catholics broke in this election, they broke the same as the rest of voters."

Flavin explains that it is hard to pick out a distinctly Catholic vote and those that are very religious and attend church regularly tend to break strongly Republican.

Conversely, religiously unaffiliated voters supported Democrats over Republicans overwhelmingly in the midterms by 68 percent to 30 percent. However, exit polls showed that the GOP made gains even in this committed Democratic group.

Republicans secured eight points compared with 2006.

West Des Moines, Iowa junior Grant Nelson is Catholic and said his religious identity did not play a role in how he voted in the midterm elections.

"I voted Republican in the midterm elections because of both the economy and the social issues," Nelson said. "Of those the economy was a bigger factor for me, so my Catholic identity sort of took a backseat to that."

Within these three major religious groups, Catholic, Protestant and unaffiliated, support for the GOP rose this year compared with 2006, which effectively matched or exceeded the levels of support for the Republican Party in any recent election.

Gains by the GOP among religious groups parallel the party's broad-based wins amid the general electorate.

"I think the reason people turned out was not due to a Catholic identity; it was due to the economy," Nelson said. "It is probably the economy and the health care reform that angered enough GOP voters that they turned out."

Flavin agreed that religious identity was not necessarily what drew voters.

"It didn't strike me that Republicans focused heavily on life or moral issues in this election," Flavin said. "The GOP seemed to be more focused on spending and the size of government. Catholics are kind of like the rest of voters and are fed up with the Democrats more than the Republicans. Voters in general tend to not be happy with either party, but more dissatisfied with the Republicans."