Today, MSNBC airs the Hardball/Newsweek Special Report "Under God: Bush, Kerry, and the Faith Factor." "There is no argument over the importance of religion in the election," Jill Lawrence reports in USA Today.
Frequency of worship is a prime predictor of how people vote. Surveys of voters leaving the polls in the 2000 election showed that 63% of people who attended church more than once a week voted for [Republican George] Bush, compared with 36% for Democrat Al Gore. Weekly churchgoers broke 57%-40% for Bush.
Protestants made up over half the 2000 electorate, and Bush won 55% of that vote, beating Gore nearly 2 to 1 among white Protestants. That support was critical to capturing the Oval Office since Gore bested Bush among virtually every other religious group, from black Protestants to Catholics to Jews, as well as nonbelievers.
"Church attendance itself, regardless of one's brand of faith, seems to be part of what divides America about Bush," Dane Smith and Eric Black write in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "In a recent national poll by Time magazine, those who attended church once a week or more favored Bush over Kerry 59 percent to 35 percent."
For the president, paying close attention to his religious base doesn't just make sense--it is imperative. Opinion polling shows that Americans' votes most closely track their religious attendance. Voters who say they go to church every week vote Republican, by overwhelming margins. Those who go to church less frequently vote Democratic, by nearly similar proportions.
Persuading religiously observant citizens to register and vote is key to President Bush's reelection strategy, but is not the easy sell that many political believers--or rather believers in politics--might think.
Constantly subjected to stereotypical slanders from the secular elite that dominates America's increasingly indistinguishable news and entertainment media, indifference and discrimination from government, and neglect and betrayal by soi-disant "conservatives," millions of Christians remain skeptical, even leery, of political involvement. Indeed, an estimated 4 million white evangelical Christians did not vote in the last presidential election.
If President Bush's nightmare is evangelical Protestants staying home, Senator John F. Kerry's is faithful Catholics going to the polls and this despite the fact that Catholic voters gave Gore 50 percent of their votes in 2000, a 4 point margin over Bush.
"As a Catholic himself, Kerry would hope to do even better," Johnson notes.
But the Catholic Church isn't exactly cooperating. Kerry disagrees with church doctrine on abortion, and the controversy has occasionally slowed his campaign....[In fact,] his candidacy has become a test case for...developing guidelines for how U.S. bishops should approach Catholic lawmakers who promote policies opposed by the church.
It is a test that many bishops seem determined to flunk.
The faith factor is the fear factor in the reality show that is the 2004 elections. It is likely to determine the survivor.