Has religion lost its purchase at the polls, pushed aside by questions of prosperity and peace? Is there a fundamental shift in the structure of faith-based politics, driven by crisis and charisma? Do the results presage a new era in religion and politics? All these queries presume a more basic question: What role did religious voters play in the election of Barack Obama?
The first three questions have straightforward answers. Religion has not lost its influence at the ballot box, although the economy did impact the vote. Despite changes in the issue agenda, there was little evidence of a fundamental shift in the structure of faith-based politics in 2008. Instead, variation within the structure favored the Democrats. Although the sum of this variation was large enough to put Obama in the White House, it gave no clear evidence that a new era in faith-based politics is in the offing.
The fourth question requires a more complex answer. Obama largely held on to the religious elements of the Democratic coalition, enjoying expanded support from religious minorities, and also made modest gains among some groups of white Christians. In the end, Obama gained some support among the most traditional white Catholics but lost some support among the less traditional.
US News interviews Deal Hudson, who did Catholic outreach for President Bush. He is not happy.