How values, demographics and the economy helped shape the election

BLOOMBERG President Obama makes an acceptance speach during an election night rally in Chicago on Nov. 6, 2012. At the … Continued


President Obama makes an acceptance speach during an election night rally in Chicago on Nov. 6, 2012.

At the outset, the 2012 election seemed ripe for a struggle over religion. White evangelical Protestants’ anxiety about former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, Americans’ overall dearth of knowledge about President Obama’s religion, in addition to the Obama administration’s struggle with the American Catholic bishops over contraception, vaulted religion into the public eye several times during the course of the Republican primaries and the general campaign.

In the end, religion was relegated to a supporting role, dwarfed mainly by economic issues. But its importance should not be overlooked: while the economy, health care, and the deficit were the issues that voters specifically cited as most important in this election, the results – on the state and the national level – also signal historic shifts in values and demographics.

It was clear throughout the general election that economic issues were at the forefront of voters’ minds. The importance of the economy and the role of government were particularly clear in the strategically critical state of Ohio. In the exit polls, 60 percent of Ohio voters said that they approve of federal government’s aid to U.S. automakers. During a series of focus groups Public Religion Research Institute conducted last weekend in Columbus among white working-class independent voters, the conversation focused primarily on jobs and the economy, while social issues received much less attention.

This year, however, several state ballot initiatives ushered in a sea change on the issue of same-sex marriage, which was one of two issues at the tip of the spear in the 2004 “values voters” movement. Same-sex marriage notably did not come up in debates this year and was not used as wedge issue. This has certainly not been the case in recent elections: in 2004 alone, 11 out of 11 state ballot measures banning same-sex marriage passed. But opinions have shifted dramatically over the past decade. In national polling over the past twelve months, PRRI has consistently seen pluralities or slim majorities of Americans reporting that they support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. For the first time last night, same-sex marriage has been passed by popular vote in Maine and Maryland; it may also pass in Washington State. And given younger Americans’ overwhelming support for same-sex marriage, it seems unlikely this issue will reappear as a major national wedge issue.

There is also evidence that publicly expressing extreme views about abortion in cases of rape hurt Senate candidates Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, both of whom lost last night, and underperformed among white evangelical Protestants, a key Republican constituency. In Missouri, Akin trailed Romney’s support among white evangelicals by 20 points (57 percent vs. 77 percent). In Indiana, Mourdock lagged behind Romney among white evangelicals by 11 points (69 percent vs. 80 percent). As I noted in a pre-election column, only about one-quarter (24 percent) of white evangelical Protestants agree that abortion should be illegal in all cases, and politicians who stake out positions in this rarified territory can expect to lose support.

Finally, the changing demographics of the country, and the values held by different demographic groups, also cannot be underestimated. The early exit polls show a nearly linear relationship between age and Republican support. Obama won among Americans under 30 by 23 points, while Romney won seniors by 12 points. And this year, as in 2008, younger voters turned out, rivaling seniors as a proportion of the electorate. Another key value in this election is the treatment of immigration and other issues important to Latino voters, who now constitute 10 percent of all voters. Nearly two-thirds of Latino voters say illegal immigrants should be granted some legal status, and those voters strongly supported Obama. While George W. Bush won 44 percent of Latino voters in 2004, Romney won less than 3-in-10.

Next week, when PRRI releases post-election research that will closely examine the role religion, values, and economic issues played in the 2012 election, we will be able to unpack these preliminary results further. The post-election survey will also explore what expectations Americans have for Congress and Obama’s second term, as the national government moves into high-stakes budget talks. But for now, one thing is clear: although the 2012 election may have turned on economic issues, values and changing demographics also played a vital role in shaping its outcome.

More on faith and the election:

Mason: ‘Mormon Moment’ RIP

Skaggs: Election results reveal God is winning

Elizabeth Tenety: God after 2012: How did election change religion and politics landscape?

David Gibson: What’s next for religious conservatives?

Lisa Miller: After huge Hispanic vote, plenty of reason to compromise on immigration reform

Figuring Faith: Faith in 2012 by the numbers

Otterson: What lies ahead for Mormons?

Thistlethwaite: Compassion in chief: Why Obama won

Berlinerblau: An open letter to conservatives

Patel:Hopeful for explicit discussion from White House on religious diversity

Schneier and Ali: Why American Jews and Muslims backed Obama by huge margins

Robert P. Jones
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  • eyes wide open

    Sure wish there were ways to measure the impact of the liberal media on the Obama win…..

  • vzepijdu

    Try Fox News …. they never lie

  • DavidJ9

    The media is quite corporatist. Look at how the Kaplan Post does its imitation of the Washington Star these days.

  • DavidJ9

    When right-wing religious leaders learn to sit down, shut up and figure out what Jesus taught, I won’t dismiss them as evil people.

  • amelia45

    One thing that should be clear is that women got the message. Republicans are dangerous to their health, to their safety, and to their ability to compete in the job market.

    As a Catholic, religion did play a role in how I looked at the candidates. And I went with Catholic Social teaching, and voted for Obama. The bishops are just plain wrong in throwing away the Affordable Care Act for some hoped for action on abortion that the Republicans were never going to provide.

  • acs451

    could it have been the GOP’s right wing religous convictions and far right beliefs in a vengeful God, it seems that the GOP has this uncanny ability to interpret the will of God. only to get it wrong time after time. It seems if they have this ability to talk to God, you would think they would be able to tell if they would win the POTUS. Seems, also, that that there must be something wrong with their communication skills. Fox news, the network that relies on the voice of God (or so they say), proclaimed that God told them that Romney would win in a landslide. mmmm are they just talking to the wrong God or what ?

  • Dixie Suzan Davis

    Quote—These are the times that try mens souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. —Thomas Paine 1776
    Nay, we have not yet begun to fight.

  • Dixie Suzan Davis

    No, just the one who reminds us
    Proverbs Chapter 12, verse 19—The lip of TRUTH shall be established forever: but a lying tongue is but for a moment—

  • Dixie Suzan Davis

    In the Trinity one has God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost., three in one in unity and harmony. And God the Son, being Jesus the Christ is throughout the Bible. And so one may quote what Jesus taught below.

    Isaiah Chapter 3, verse 9, 10, 11
    9 – The show of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves.
    10 – Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings.
    11 – Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him.

    The Trinity speaks in Isaiah, in unity and in harmony.

  • persiflage

    Religious extremism is fast becoming a fringe issue with little impact outside of politically regressive red states. Future generations will be far better at separating religious beliefs from political/societal values. It’s already happening, as the GOP suddenly realized on November 7.

  • persiflage

    ‘The Trinity speaks in Isaiah, in unity and in harmony.’

    Ancient religious superstitions are fast losing their value as political capital in an increasingly diverse society.

    I wouldn’t turn to the father, son, and holy ghost on the political stump – at least publicly.

  • Lpoppopcorn

    This is my take on it

    As the first four years passed and we now stand on a dawning of four more years to come,
    We can only see a brighter path that leads ahead under a leader that had brought us back together which no other has done.

    As we stand together across meaning ethical lines and bring this country back to where God wants us to be,
    We can now say across this Land of the free:

    Separation had no place in what God put together,
    He created this world as one body united for His pleasure.

    Who are we to separate and cause division on the land and in the world,
    We as a people broke the plan of Man who created this land as His pearl.

    So, we will see destruction and division and unhappiness in this dark place,
    We will fall with no hope to get up and lose the race.

    So we now come together and giving thanks to the Lord that He had given President Barack Obama four more years,
    To help take us out of the Miry Clay and place us on a sure foundation were the Nation can be healed.

  • WmarkW

    It would be a mistake to over-interpret the 2012 election results of being “The Crossroads” any more than any election ever is. The modern historical pattern in that since the 22nd Amendment was ratified before the 1952 election, the parties have traded the White House every eight years, except for one 4/12 split in the 1980s. The Republicans only chance was to hope voters would forget everything that happened before 2009. Forget it.

    Obama became the first President ever re-elected by a smaller margin than his first win. The Senate is changing by two seats; the House by about 10. Republicans control most state governments. This was a stay-the-course election by votes who may not like the way things are now, but didn’t want to throw the bums out, just for the sake of acquiring new bums.

    I hope the Republican party can find more Mitt Romney’s, and fewer Rich Santorums and Rick Perry, either of whom would have pulled a Walter Mondale. Contrary to what people say, the Republicans do NOT nominate right-wing nuts for President. Romney, McCain, Dole and the two Bushes are not Newt Gingrich, Jesse Helms and Michelle Bachmann.

    What they need to work on, is building a bigger tent and the sub-Presidential level. Defeating effective politicians like Richard Lugar (2012) and Mike Castle (2010) with nutjobs who become laughingstocks (literally) will continue to earn the moniker of Stupid Party.

  • PhillyJimi1

    Nice little post. But I don’t believe in your invisible man in the sky. I don’t care what anyone believes about make believe deities unless you can get him to appear and do some magic tricks I am not interested in “faith”.

    My point is does your vision for America include an unbeliever such as me? Or do I get excluded? I want politicians the work in the real world and don’t pander to the superstitious believers in 2000 year old zombies.

  • itsthedax

    Yes, that non-republican got elected. And yet, we’re all still here. The seas haven’t swallowed the land. There’s no angel with a flaming sword, driving us out of America.

    Go figure.

  • pcca

    God is love, John 1 Chapter 4 Verse 8. as a Catholic I believe that God wil always stand on the side of love; he will never stand by those preaching hatred and intolerance. This is the main reason the GOP lost, their time was lost predicating hatred towards minorities and intolerance for those who are different or may have different beliefs.


    The Demo platform was pro abortion, pro gay marriage, pro legal dope, pro deleting God, etc etc! I’d make the case the immoral majority won and we all loose!

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