Religion is among the most powerful predictors of voting behavior in American elections. This pattern plays out again in the 2008 race for the White House. And while Democrats are working hard to appeal more to people of faith, a strong religious/political divide continues.
For example, those who tell a pollster religion plays an "important part" in their daily life are much more likely to support John McCain. But Americans with a more secular persuasion side with Obama.
Gallup's Frank Newport recently underscored this point:
And, as we've been seeing all year, one of the most important variables which helps us understand voting patterns among non-Hispanic whites (about three quarters of the registered voter population), is religion.
Best example (again, from our July Gallup aggregate). "Is religion important in your daily life?" Simple question with important consequences. Among those who say "yes", it's McCain by 37 points. Among those who say "no", it's Obama by 16 points.
Religious "practice," measured by church attendance is another strong predictor according to Newport.
Other questions about religion are almost as valuable. Whites who attend church weekly go to McCain by 36 points. Those who attend nearly every week or monthly tilt towards McCain by 18 points. Those who seldom or never attend church support Obama by 9 points.
Newport also notes that despite a lot of attention this year to Obama's religion and church membership, these patterns linking belief and vote choice continue in 2008.
In a nutshell, the Democratic Party has been more open to acceptance of behavioral patterns which deviate from traditional normative patterns - particularly relating to family structures. The Republican Party has been more protective of traditional structures and behavioral norms, aligning them with the viewpoints of those who are highly religious. And it doesn't look like this is going to change this year.