Voting Intentions Divided

Voter preferences for the upcoming congressional elections remain closely divided, with 45% currently expressing support for the Democratic candidate in their district and 44% saying they back the Republican candidate. Opinions about the midterm have changed little since the start of the year; in four previous surveys this year, voters also were evenly divided.

Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants overwhelmingly favor the Republican candidate in their district (by 67% to 23%). That is little changed from this point in the previous midterm campaign in 2006. (For a detailed comparison between current voting preferences and the 2006 midterm, see “Republicans Faring Better with Men, Whites, Independents and Seniors,” Aug. 10, 2010 ).

Opinions are more evenly divided among white non-Hispanic Catholics and white mainline Protestants, but the GOP is running better among both groups than it did four years ago.

Religiously unaffiliated voters currently favor the Democrats over the Republicans by a 49%-36% margin. Among this group, those who describe themselves as atheists and agnostics are largely loyal to the Democratic Party (64% favor Democrats, 27% favor Republicans). However, those who say their religion is “nothing in particular” are more evenly divided; 39% favor Republicans and 42% favor Democrats, with a large percentage (19%) saying they do not know how they will vote.

Black Protestants favor the Democrats by a wide margin. Fully 86% of black Protestants say they will vote Democratic, while just 7% say they will support the Republican candidate, which is little changed from this point in the 2006 campaign.

Registered voters who say they attend worship services weekly or more favor Republicans by a 12-point margin (51% vs. 39%), while those who say they attend services monthly or yearly are more evenly divided (43% favor Republicans, 47% favor Democrats). Voters who say they attend services seldom or never are 19 points more supportive of Democrats (53%) than Republicans (34%).

As the Pew Research Center noted in its Aug. 10 report, the Republican Party continues to hold an engagement advantage over the Democratic Party. More than half of Republicans (55%) say they have given a lot of thought to the election, compared with 37% of Democrats.

Among religious groups, about half of white evangelical Protestants (51%) have given a lot of thought to the election, as have 48% of white mainline Protestants and 45% of white Catholics. By contrast, just 36% of the religiously unaffiliated and 29% of black Protestants say they have given a lot of thought to the November election.

Despite these differences in how much voters have thought about the election, there is less variation in the proportions who say they are “absolutely certain” to vote in November. Overall, 70% of registered voters say they are absolutely certain to vote in the fall. Among religious groups, 76% of white non-Hispanic Catholics and 74% of white evangelical Protestants say they are certain to vote as do 67% of the religiously unaffiliated and 64% of black Protestants.

Three-quarters (75%) of those who say they attend worship services weekly or more say they are certain to vote, compared with two-thirds of those who say they attend monthly or yearly (68%) or attend seldom or never (66%).

Trends in Party Identification

Analysis of aggregated Pew Research Center surveys from 2006, 2008 and 2010 reveals that Republicans have made gains in the proportion who identify with the GOP or lean to the Republican Party. Overall, 47% of registered voters in 2010 Pew Research Center surveys identify with the Democratic Party or say they lean Democratic, while 43% are Republican or lean Republican. In 2008, 51% identified as Democrats and 39% as Republicans.

Half of white Catholics (50%) now identify themselves as Republican or lean toward the GOP, up nine points since 2008. Republicans also have made gains among Jewish voters; 33% now identify or lean Republican, up from 20% in 2008.