The close 2004 presidential election produced increased polarization between and within religious communities, according to a new poll conducted by The University of Akron’s Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.

The Fourth National Survey of Religion and Politics, sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, was conducted in November and December 2004.

Titled “Religion and the 2004 Election: A Post-Election Analysis”, the poll included 2,730 respondents originally surveyed the previous spring.

The findings of the survey include:

  • Mainline Protestants, considered a strong Republican constituency, divided their votes evenly between President George W. Bush and challenger John Kerry, producing the highest level of support for a Democratic presidential candidate in recent times from that religious group.
  • Modernist Protestants (78%) and Catholics (69%) strongly supported Kerry, increasing their votes and turnout for the Democrat (71% and 70%, respectively) over 2000.
  • The Democratic Party candidate gained ground among voters who were unaffiliated with major religions compared to 2000 (up 5 percentage points to 72%), but the turnout of those voters remained unchanged (52%).
  • The Republican incumbent’s biggest gain came among Latino Protestants (63%), who moved from the Democratic column in 2000 to the Republican column in 2004.
  • Non-Latino Catholics, once a bedrock Democratic constituency, gave a majority of their votes (53%) to the Republican Party incumbent. This gain was due primarily to increased support among traditionalist Catholics, but President Bush also won the crucial swing group of centrist Catholics (55%).
  • Black Protestants (17%) and Latino Catholics (31%) supported Bush more than in 2000, but remained solidly Democratic.

Foreign policy and economic priorities were far more important to the overall vote than social issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage. However, social issues were more important to Bush’s religious constituencies. In contrast, economic issues were more important to Kerry’s constituencies.

The nationwide survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

“Both President Bush and Sen. Kerry benefited from strong support among key religious constituencies,” explains Dr. John Green, director of the Bliss Institute. “Yet there was strong polarization not only between different religions as was common in the past, but also within the major religious traditions, a relatively new phenomenon.”

Read the pre-election survey