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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

It’s a White Protestant Thing, You Wouldn’t Understand

What is the relationship between church attendance and party ID? The conventional wisdom is that those who attend church most frequently lean heavily Republican, while those who attend least frequently lean heavily Democratic. A new Gallup report, based on 30,000 interviews conducted during 2004, confirms this perception.
According to the report, a “macropartisanship” measure tapping the Democratic leanings of a group (defined here as the percentage of Democrats in a group divided by the percent of Democrats plus the percent of Republicans in that group) has a value of 40 among those who attend church once a week, 45 among those who attend almost every week, 54 among those who go once a month, 56 among those who seldom attend and 61 among those who never attend. That indicates a pretty strong and uncomplicated relationship between church attendance and Democratic leanings.
But among important subgroups of the population this relationship is considerably more muddled. Among blacks, for example, the relationship is considerably weaker and more erratic, going from 88 to 92 to 94 to 95 and back to 94, as you go from highest to lowest attendance. And among white Catholics the relationship is also quite weak and even more erratic, going from 49 to 47 to 46 to 57 to 54, as you move from highest to lowest levels of church attendance.
Given this, what’s driving the strong relationship we see in the overall data on church attendance and partisanship? It’s all about white protestants: at the highest level of church attendance, macropartisanship is 25, rising to 32, 41 , 47 and finally 52 at the lowest level of church attendance.
So when Democrats worry about the relationship between religious observance and supporting the Republican party, it appears they should focus most of that worry on white protestants. Among other groups, it doesn’t seem to be that big a deal.