National Issues Poll Says Americans Looking for a Religious President

News Story:
  • Nearly Half Say Faith Guides Political Views
  • Over One Quarter Consider Candidate’s Religious Affiliation
  •  Americans Expect Democrats to Win the White House in 2008
  • Among Issues, Cost of Gasoline Was Second Only to the Iraq War

According to the Sacred Heart University Polling Institute, a nation-wide telephone survey of 958 Americans reveals what role religion may play in the 2008 elections.

Over half of all respondents with an opinion, 60.7%, believe a presidential candidate should be a religious person while 39.3% do not.

Nearly half of all respondents, 48.4%, suggested their own religious faith always or sometimes guides their views toward politics. An equal percent, 48.4%, said their own faith seldom or never guides their views and 3.2% were unsure.

When choosing a presidential candidate, 27.8% consider a candidate’s specific religious affiliation relevant to their decisions.  Another 66.0% do not and 6.3% are unsure.

“While 27.8% is a minority,” according to Jerry C. Lindsley, director of the Sacred Heart University Polling Institute, “it represents nearly 34 million people, based on the 2004 voter turnout, who will consider the particular religious denomination of such candidates as former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney – a Mormon.”

Dr. June-Ann Greeley, assistant professor of Religious Studies and director of SHU’s Center for Catholic Thought, Ethics and Culture, said that religion may have a positive or negative impact when considering throwing support behind a candidate. Although 27.8% of respondents said they consider a candidate’s religious affiliation relevant, Greeley said it could either mean that they would vote for a candidate because of the candidate’s religious affiliation or they would not support a candidate on that basis.

Greeley said one way or the other, the poll shows that for most Americans, religion is important in selecting a candidate. “We think we can understand something meaningful about a person, a politician, if we have a sense of his/her religious beliefs because, clearly, religious belief is still esteemed by a majority of Americans,” she said.

The poll also shows Democrats emerging as the party of choice in the November 2008 presidential election.

Despite how survey respondents planned to vote themselves, 60.3% expect the Democrats to regain the White House while just 14.5% believe Republicans would retain the White House.  One quarter, 25.2%, are undecided.

“When you remove undecided voters from the data, 80.6% believed the Democrats will win the White House – a perception that will be hard to overcome,” according to Lindsley.

“Even Republicans, by a margin of 42.6% to 29.4%, believe Democrats will regain the White House,” he added.

In other results, former Tennessee U.S. Senator Fred Thompson has jumped into the top tier of preferred presidential candidates among Republican-affiliated voters.  Among Republicans, the four leading preferred candidates emerging from the pack are former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (38.6%), former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (19.3%), U.S. Senator John McCain (17.9%) and former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson (9.0%).

Some Democrats also preferred an unannounced, undeclared candidate.  Former Vice President Al Gore received 5.4% backing, placing him fourth among the top four Democratic contenders.  The first three included U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton (54.0%), U.S. Senator Barack Obama (20.5%), and former U.S. Senator John Edwards (12.1%).

More respondents, 27.5%, plan to vote all or mostly Democratic in 2008 than those saying they plan to vote all or mostly Republican (20.4%).  Others, 39.0%, expect to divide their vote evenly between the two parties.

“Just 17.5% of those under 30 years of age say they will vote all or mostly Republican – another indication that America’s youth are trending toward the Democratic Party,” according to Lindsley.

By nearly a three-to-one margin, Republicans are considered more likely to maintain a strong military (63.8%) than Democrats (20.5%) and more likely to protect the United States against terror attacks (51.5% to 24.9%).

However, Democrats are considered more likely to…

  • Maintain a strong economy – 49.2% to 34.0%
  • Reduce the U.S. budget deficit – 55.5% to 23.6%
  • Provide health care to the uninsured – 76.7% to 11.7%
  • End the military effort in Iraq – 61.9% to 27.3%
  • Support higher education – 54.4% to 32.4%

“If there is a glimmer of hope for Republicans,” according to Lindsley, “it is that America remains a mostly conservative nation by a nearly two-to-one margin – 35.9% (mostly and very conservative) and 21.1% (mostly and very liberal) with another 37.2% describing themselves as moderates.”

According to Dr. Gary Rose, professor and chair of SHU’s Government and Politics Department, the vote may be influenced by perception about the issues closer to Election Day. “If national security is the principal concern of the electorate, the Republicans will have the advantage. If domestic issues are primary, then the Democratic Party will carry the day. That’s the traditional way American politics has played out over the years,” Rose said.

On issues, the escalating price of gasoline was second only to the Iraq War (51.2%) for nearly a quarter, 23.2%, of respondents when asked which issues they are most concerned about.  Rounding out the top 10 issues are the cost of and access to health care (12.3%), immigration policy/illegal aliens (10.5%), poor economy (8.4%), high taxes (5.6%), environment/pollution (4.5%), terrorism (4.1%), global warming (3.7%) and violence / crime (3.3%). 

The poll shows that President George W. Bush continues to lose support.  Just under one-third, 32.6%, held a very or somewhat favorable opinion of the job President Bush is doing.  This favorability rating is the lowest SHU has recorded.  This latest SHU poll figure is down from 51.0% in February 2006 and 45.1% in October 2005.

How the Poll Was Conducted

The Sacred Heart University Polling Institute completed 958 interviews with residents nationwide between May 14-26, 2007. The sample was generated proportional to population contribution in all 50 states. Statistically, a sample of 958 completed telephone interviews represents a margin for error of +/-3.0% at a 95% confidence level.