President Obama vote totals shrank in all 12 of our battleground states, as they did throughout the country. What’s particularly striking, however, is that in none of the battlegrounds did he win a majority of either mainline Protestants or Catholics, with the exception of Nevada, where the heavily Latino Catholic electorate supported him by five percentage points. So in winning ten out of the dozen, the president had to depend on non-Christians.
Compared to 2008, the Latino share of the vote in Arizona was up two points to 18 percent and the proportion of Nones rose from 12 to 19, while mainline Protestants were down two points and Catholics down four. Nonetheless, President Obama still dropped a couple of points to his GOP opponent, splitting the Catholic vote 50-50 as he did before but seeing his margin of loss among Protestants grow by 13 points, from 35-63 to 29-70. The one-third of Arizonans who said they attended worship weekly or more preferred Mitt Romney to Obama at the astonishing rate of 80-17. Count among these a healthy portion of the state’s Mormons.
The only information on religion in Colorado provided by the exit polls this year was on voters identifying as white evangelical or born-again. Their proportion of the electorate grew from 21 to 25 percent, which tells you that the get-out-the-vote effort in Colorado Springs was operating at full throttle. Evangelicals voted for Romney over Obama at a slightly higher rate than they voted for John McCain over Obama, 77-22 versus 76-23. All in all, they can claim credit for a good three-quarters of the shrinkage in Obama’s overall margin in the state from 54-45 in 2008 to 51-47 this year.
They’re still counting absentee ballots in the Sunshine State, but whoever wins, the president will have surrendered surrendered three points to Romney compared to McCain in 2008. In terms of the religious layout, Protestants remain a point over 50 percent of the electorate but Catholics have dropped five points, from 28 percent to 23 percent—with Nones picking up the points. Among the latter, Obama increased his margin by a bare point, from 71-26 to 72-26, meanwhile dropping four points among both Catholics and Protestants—leaving the state in all but a dead heat.
In Iowa, the past four years have seen a decisive shift in the Protestant electorate, from one nearly balanced between mainliners and evangelicals to one where evangelicals outnumber mainliner by more than 50 percent. Despite that, Obama did not lose any ground with Protestants; indeed, he narrowed his losing margin among evangelicals from 32 to 29 for a (by national standards) very respectable 35-64 tally. Where Obama lost ground was among Catholics, who supported him by a whopping 59-41 in 2008 and this time flipped to Romney, 52-47. This is the most substantial turnaround among any battleground religious group, and begs for some explanation. Still, it was only enough to reduce Obama’s winning margin from nine points to five.
Michigan voters gave President Obama a 16-point margin victory in 2008 (57-41), but just a nine-point margin this year (54-45). All religious groupings giving him a smaller proportion of support. Evangelicals went from voting for McCain by 30 points, 63-33, to voting for Romney by 50 points, 74-24. Catholics switched from supporting Obama 52-46, to opposing him, 55-44. The religious layout remained essentially the same in the Wolverine State remained essentially the same. Despite the importance of the auto bailout to the state, Romney’s deep roots helped him out across the board.
Nevada saw the president’s margin of victory cut in half between 2008 and 2012, from 12 points to six. Meanwhile, the mainline portion of the electorate dropped by 9 points, evangelicals were up by 3, and Nones up by six. In 2008, Obama lost Protestants (and “other Christians”—including Mormons) by just four points, while winning Catholics by 15. This time, the non-Catholic Christians voted for Romney by 19 points, while the Catholics supported Obama by just 5. But 2-1 support among the Nones, who outnumber evangelicals in Nevada, kept the Silver State in the president’s column.
New Hampshire saw a modest shift in its 2012 electorate from mainliners to evangelicals and Nones. At the same time, Obama’s margin of victor shrank three points, from 54-45 to 52-46. Protestants increased the margin they gave the GOP candidate from six to 16 points; Catholics, from one point to nine. But the hefty number of Nones and adherents of other religions (27 percent) supported Obama by over 40 points, easily keeping the Granite State on his side.
Interestingly, in 2012 the evangelical portion of the Tarheel electorate fell by nine points, with mainliners picking up two and Nones seven. Moreover, where evangelicals gave John McCain a 59-point margin, they dialed that back to 48 points for Mitt Romney. Yet the state switched from blue by one point in 2008 to red by 3 points in 2012. Which other group(s) turned the tide? Because the 2008 exit poll did not ask about religious identity, it’s impossible to say.
In 2004, when George Bush carried the Buckeye State by two points, evangelicals voted for him by a margin of 76-24. Constituting 25 percent of the electorate, they provided him with a 13-point cushion. In 2008, evangelicals became 30 percent of the Ohio electorate, but they went for John McCain by only 71-27, costing him half the 52-47 margin by which he lost to Barack Obama. This year, their portion of the electorate increased a point to 31, but the margin for Mitt Romney dropped from 44 points to 41 (70-29), meaning that for all the strenuous efforts of Ralph Reed and company, the evangelicals did not move the needle at all in the most important of the swing states. So where did the Obama’s loss of three points (from 52-47 to 50-48) come from? Mostly from the Catholics, who went from supporting McCain over Obama by 52-47 to supporting Romney by 54-44.
In 2008, Obama carried Pennsylvania’s Protestants by a point and lost its Catholics by four. This year, he lost the Protestants by two points but shrank the deficit among Catholics to one. The latter evidently did not heed Philadelphia Cardinal Chaput’s repeated criticisms of the Obama administration. Most of the ground Obama lost to his GOP rival in the Keystone State resulted from the smaller margin by which he won Pennsylvania’s Nones (49 as opposed to 69 points). Possibly these were Tea Party libertarians.
Both mainline and evangelical Protestants have become a smaller proportion of the Virginia population since 2004, shrinking from 69 percent to 58 percent of the electorate. So even though evangelicals increased their support for the GOP presidential nominee from 79-20 in 2008 to 83-17 this year, it wasn’t enough to put the Commonwealth in the Romney column—not with over three-quarters of Nones and others voting for Obama.
Obama carried Wisconsin by 13 points in 2008 but only seven this year. The loss came from Catholics, who switched from supporting Obama over McCain 53-47 to backing Romney over Obama 56-44; and from evangelicals, who increased their margin for the GOP candidate from 29 points to 45 points (64-35 to 72-27). Nones and other mitigated the losses for Obama only slightly.