Why churchgoers prefer Bush to Kerry

August 12, 2004|By Linda Chavez

WASHINGTON -- The Gallup Organization poses it as a conundrum: Churchgoers are much more likely to support George W. Bush, while those who don't attend church regularly are more likely to favor John F. Kerry. Men are also more likely to favor Mr. Bush, while more women back Mr. Kerry. Yet more women than men can be found in the pews any Sunday morning. So how is it that Mr. Bush does better than Mr. Kerry among both church attendees and men?

The answer, according to Jeffrey M. Jones and Joseph Carroll, who analyzed the Gallup data, is that white men who attend services weekly so overwhelmingly support Mr. Bush that they tip the scales. Religiously inclined women also are more likely to support Mr. Bush, but less so than their devout male counterparts.

Among white men who attend church weekly, Mr. Bush gets a whopping 70 percent of the registered voters in the Gallup sample to Mr. Kerry's 27 percent. Women in this group of once-a-week attendees give Mr. Bush the nod, but by a smaller margin, 52 percent to Mr. Kerry's 42 percent.

Mr. Kerry, meanwhile, has the advantage among registered voters who never -- or rarely -- attend services, especially among women who shun the church door. A majority of men who don't attend church or other religious services support Mr. Kerry, 53 percent to 45 percent. But an even higher proportion of women in this category are much more likely to favor Mr. Kerry: 61 percent to 36 percent.

So what about voters who go to church, but not as regularly as the most devout? Among both men and women who attend religious services monthly, Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry are in a dead heat, with men in this group slightly favoring Mr. Bush, 49 percent to 47 percent, and women splitting their vote 48-48. Nonetheless, according to Mr. Jones and Mr. Carroll, "the data suggest ... that whites at this level of religious commitment show a noticeable preference for Bush over Kerry."

The Democrats have been trying to overcome their reputation as the less-God-fearing party, making sure that speakers at their recent convention invoked spiritual and religious themes.

Barack Obama, the Illinois state senator now running for U.S. Senate, told a cheering audience, "We worship an awesome God in the `blue states.'"

But Mr. Kerry gave the most spirited defense of faith in his speech: "In this campaign, we welcome people of faith," he said. "America is not us and them. I think of what Ron Reagan said of his father a few weeks ago, and I want to say this to you tonight: I don't wear my own faith on my sleeve. But faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday."

So why aren't his words resonating with the people of faith Mr. Kerry talked about? Although Mr. Kerry attends Mass regularly, and carries a rosary and prayer book with him on the campaign trail, he is at odds with his church on abortion and gay marriage. But perhaps more important, Mr. Kerry's positions on these issues seem motivated more by political expediency than principle.

He says he opposes gay marriage, but voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, one of only a handful of senators to do so. He has said that he believes that life begins at conception and that he is personally opposed to abortion, but he then votes consistently counter to these professed moral principles.

Mr. Kerry has voted against legislation to outlaw the gruesome practice of late-term, partial-birth abortion each time it has come up. And just weeks ago, he abandoned campaigning to return to the Senate floor to vote against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which would allow federal prosecutors to treat violence against a pregnant woman as a crime against two victims.

It would be one thing if he said he disagreed with the Catholic Church on these matters, but he doesn't. Instead, he tries to have it both ways, making him appear weak and unprincipled. And that may be why religious voters -- especially men -- seem less comfortable with John Kerry.

Linda Chavez's syndicated column appears Thursdays in The Sun.

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