This poll from Pew Research appears to betray commonsense. It breaks down voting along religious affiliation.
Comparing with 2008, Barack Obama lost about 1 in 10 Jewish voters, but his difficult relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not make that a surprise.
Obama also lost a few percentage points of support from white evangelicals and born-again Christians. Again, this is not a big surprise. Obama lost a small amount of support from white. That his percentage of support from evangelicals dropped from 26% to 20% is surprising only in that so many still supported him. Evangelicals are the backbone of the social conservative movement. Generally, they share little in common with Obama in issues ranging from abortion to same-sex marriage to the teaching of evolution in the schools.
It is interesting that white Catholic support for Obama dropped while Hispanic Catholics came out in greater number for the President. Again, this is not hugely surprising because Obama has taken a position supportive of Latinos on immigration and other issues.
It is a bit more interesting to notice that Obama’s support among the religiously unaffiliated dropped 5% with Mitt Romney picking up 3% of that drop. The best explanation for that is that much of that 5% abandoned Obama for economic issues. That would also explain why Romney picked up the bulk.
The real surprise is that Romney received less support from Mormons than George W. Bush did. In the 2008 poll, Pew included Mormons in with other religions so it is impossible to tell what percentage McCain received. Going back to 2004, John Kerry had 19% of the Mormon vote and Bush 80%. This year, Obama had 21% and Romney 78%.
It is true that 2% is virtually indistinguishable and within the margin of error. Nevertheless, Romney is a Mormon. He shares not just a political outlook with the majority of Mormons but a cultural background.
Various polls from this year and 2008 have show that Obama increased his support among African-Americans. They overwhelming vote Democratic, but some are Republicans and independents. Obama was able to grab their votes because of his shared cultural background with them as African-Americans. That support has generally exceeded the margin of error in polls, if for no other reason than that it is universally reported in polls. A poll would be viewed as an outlier if it showed Obama dropping support below what a non-African-American candidate, like Gore and Kerry, received for president.
Yet here is Romney, the first Mormon nominee for president, and he gets less Mormon support than Bush. Romney should have been able to increase the already heavy support that Mormons give to the Republican Party.
It is hard to find an explanation, but the only one that I can surmise is that Mormons are drifting leftward while the Republican Party is turning to the right. This political realignment even trumps the cultural affinity that Mormons would feel with a fellow Mormon like Romney. It seemed a coincidence that the two most moderate Republicans in the presidential field this year where two Mormons: Romney and Jon Huntsman. It may not have been a coincidence. It may be part of the growing divide in the Republican Party that has seen the Tea Party and evangelicals dominate the GOP. Mormons, once part of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, are now the moderates.
Too bad the Pew poll didn’t show McCain’s Mormon support. It may have dropped from Bush’s level in 2004. If someone other than Romney had been the nominee, such as Gingrich or Santorum, it looks probable that Obama may have increased his share of the Mormon vote to somewhere around 25%.
While this Pew poll is interesting from the perspective of Romney and Mormons, it is more relevant in suggesting that the coalition that has held the Republican Party as a powerful force in national elections since 1972 is fraying.