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The religious dimension of voting in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections : how--and how much--did religion matter to vote choice?


In the 2004 presidential election, voters who never attend religious services overwhelmingly supported John Kerry while white voters who attend religious services more than once a week overwhelmingly supported George W. Bush. In the wake of commentary suggesting that poor white voters were swayed by their religiosity and thereby duped into voting for the Republican candidate (against their own economic interests), many scholars provided evidence that voters remain politically divided by income, with poorer voters more likely to identify as Democrats and wealthier voters more likely to identify as Republicans. Evidence that voters are polarized along both religious and economic lines raises an important question in the general election context: which has a greater degree of influence on presidential vote choice, the religious dimension or the economic dimension of voting? Using numerous data sets from the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, this dissertation attempts to answer that question. I hypothesize that it depends on the emphasis placed on religion by an individual candidate and whether the economy is a salient issue in that particular election. In 2004, I find support for my hypothesis that the religious dimension of voting should have had a greater effect than the economic dimension in that election, given Bush's emphasis on religion and his identity as a Christian, and the fact that the economy was not a major issue. In 2008, however, when the American economy collapsed just weeks before the general election, I do not find as predicted that the economic dimension had a greater effect than the religious dimension. While the economic dimension did influence vote choice, the religious dimension continued to matter as much or more than the economic dimension in the 2008 general election. Finally, in the 2008 presidential primaries, I find support for the hypothesis that the candidate within each primary who most clearly activates the religious dimension should be the preferred candidate of the religious voters targeted by that candidate. In sum, I find that religion continued to matter in 2008--and that it mattered a great deal-- regardless of the salience of the economy in the general election

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