Religious Whites Leaving GOP?

Gallup released a new poll Thursday headlined “Religious Whites Disproportionately Shift Away from GOP.” It’s perhaps the clearest indication yet that the Republican base is becoming disillusioned with the party.

An analysis of USA Today/Gallup poll trend data indicates that while Democrats have made gains across the board on the generic Congressional ballot in the latest Oct. 6-8 survey, the change has been greater among religious whites than among less religious whites and among non whites. At this point, religious whites are equally as likely to say they will vote Democratic as Republican, a marked change from their strong tilt towards the Republicans in surveys conducted June through September.


There are two main factors which determine election outcomes: the candidate preference of voters and the relative turnout on Election Day of each candidate’s supporters. Republicans have benefited historically from having a significant advantage in terms of the vote choice among religious whites over the years, and have in addition placed a good deal of effort on the attempt to get these individuals motivated enough to turn out and vote.

The data reviewed here suggest that the Republicans have lost — at least temporarily — some of the disproportionate advantage in voting preference they have enjoyed among religious whites. This group continues to be much more likely than less religious whites or nonwhites to support the Republican candidate in their House race, and is currently as likely to support a Democrat as a Republican Congressional candidate. But, the difference between religious whites and these other two groups has narrowed somewhat as of the Oct. 6-8 poll.

As with all Gallup polls* for USA Today, the main sample is merely of “adults,” with “registered voters” and “likely voters” mere subsamples. That presents some serious methodological issues when moving from simply guaging the public mood to predicting voter behavior.

That said, the methodology was presumably consistent across these polls and the trends are horrible for the GOP.

Gallup Poll Religious Whites Disproportionately Shift Away from GOP

Further, while the magnitude of the shift is surprising, the direction is not. Between frustration that little progress has been made on the social issues despite the fact the Republicans have been in power for most of the last six years (minus the brief loss of Senate control caused by Jim Jeffords’ defection and the public’s ability to express their will at the polls again) and numerous scandals which call into question the degree to which the party really exemplifies “family values,” religious conservatives have to be disillusioned.

My guess is that Kevin Drum is absolutely right here: “In the end, I imagine that a majority of these people will hold their noses and vote for Republicans after all. But if even 5% of them stay home and another 5% switch to the Democrats, it’s going to have a huge impact.”

*Full disclosure: My wife is a VP at Public Opinion Strategies, another polling firm.

FILED UNDER: 2006 Election, Congress, Public Opinion Polls, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. just me says:

    I suspect it will be more of a nose holding or stay home than an actual vote cast for a democrat outside of certain congressional districts.

    The one thing most religious voters know, is that the democrats are going to give them even less of what they want, and probably more of what they don’t want.

    I do think the one portion of the base the GOP can least afford to lose right now is the religious voter base, and I am not sure they have “lost” them so much as made them uninterested in participating in the proccess anymore.

  2. JohnJ says:

    Isn’t it racist to focus only on religious whites?

  3. No doubt all these polls are going to cited as evidence of Republican fraud and vote suppression on November 9 when the Democrats don’t take over the house and the Senate.

    There’s an awful lot of echo chamber thinking going on here, taking a couple data points and extrapolating forever. Maybe the Democrats will take over the legislative branch of government, but I remain skeptical. Last time I looked, in aggregate, people have always thought that Congress is corrupt but their particular congressperson is peachy keen. Coupled with the fact that we don’t elect parties but individuals, I just don’t see the tectonic shift on the horizon that has some on the Left overly giddy.

    Mr. Drum’s 10% switch in voting patterns would have more than a huge impact. If it came about it would give the Democrats at least a 50 and maybe a 100 seat majority in the house. I just can’t quite see this happening. Then again, the Democrats are fielding some really good looking candidates according to the Washington Post, and style is in ascendancy over substance.

  4. floyd says:

    the definition of “religious” is a bit vague. however it is clear that the democrats have declared open war on Christianity, and show malicious contempt for so-called “whites”.unfortunately, for these reasons, white Christians in this country can be “taken for granted” by the republicans in the same way that blacks are “taken for granted” by the democrats. polarization leaves elections in the hands of fewer and fewer voters.