Secular Americans who have watched Barack Obama’s campaign surge forward from the victory in South Carolina might want to pause for a moment before hopping on the bandwagon, and consider whether their interests will be fairly represented by a President Obama.
As this chart shows, the margin of victory for Barack Obama in South Carolina got smaller the less that people went to church.
Among those Democrats who described themselves in exit polls as attending church weekly, Barack Obama’s margin of victory was 31 percent – larger than for the population as a whole. Among those who described themselves as attending church occasionally, Obama’s margin of victory dropped to 22 percent, less than for the population as a whole. Among those voters who described themselves as never attending church, Barack Obama’s victory was quite small – only 7 percent.
Support for Barack Obama was lower the less voters went to church. For Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, this trend was reversed. The less voters went to church, the more support they got.
What can account for this relationship between an Obama victory and church attendance? There are many possibilities, and it will take some dedicated analysis to establish academically reliable answers, but I want to propose one possibility: Obama engaged in a program of explicitly religious campaigning in Christian churches and with a gospel music tour featuring anti-gay preacher Donnie McClurkin. The possible connection between Barack Obama’s victory and this overtly religious campaigning is enough to give me pause when considering the worth of the presidential campaign of Barack Obama.
Will this pattern hold across the United States? It’s important to keep in mind that South Carolina is an unusual state in that its residents are much more religious, and more connected to churches than the residents of most other states.
As for the states where primaries and caucuses have already taken place, I’m disappointed to find out that there have not been similar exit polls. So, it’s difficult to find a way to understand whether the South Carolina pattern is representative of a national trend or is a local idiosyncrasy. There was an exit poll in Nevada that asked people about their religious affiliation though. More on that in a bit…