Survey: Religiously unaffiliated, minority Christians propelled Obama’s victory
A quarter of President Barack Obama's supporters were religiously unaffiliated, the Public Religion Research Institute says.
November 15th, 2012
02:24 PM ET

Survey: Religiously unaffiliated, minority Christians propelled Obama’s victory

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama’s victory relied largely on two dramatically different religious coalitions - minority Christians and those with no religion according to a survey released Thursday.

“This presidential election is the last in which a white Christian strategy will be considered a plausible path to victory,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, which conducted the survey. “The American religious and ethnic landscape is becoming increasingly diverse, and any campaigns relying on outdated maps are destined to lose their way.”

One-in-four Obama voters were religiously unaffiliated, the second-largest “religious” demographic in the president’s coalition, according to the study (PDF). Minority Christians - consisting of black, Asian, Hispanic and mixed-race Americans made up 31% of Obama’s coalition, the largest religious group.

Among major religious demographics, Obama struggled most with white Christians, including Catholics, mainline Protestants and evangelical Protestants. When these three groups were added up, they accounted for just 35% of Obama’s religious coalition. In comparison, Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s coalition was overwhelmingly white and Christian, with 79% of Romney voters identifying as such.

The Public Religion Research Institute numbers flesh out exit polls released after Election Day. According to those numbers, 70% of the religiously unaffiliated supported Obama, compared with 26% who backed Romney. Ninety-five percent of black Protestants voted for Obama, according to the exit polls, while 75% of Hispanic Catholics supported the president.

Romney, according to the exit polls, overwhelmingly won white evangelical Christians (79% voted for him) and white Catholics (59% voted for him).

The rise of the religiously unaffiliated has been a major recent trend. A survey by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released this year found that the fastest-growing "religious" group in America is made up of people with no religion at all. According to the survey, 20% of adult Americans have no religious affiliation.

At an event announcing the Pew results, senior research adviser John Green said the growing political power of the unaffiliated within the Democratic Party could become similar to the power the religious right acquired in the GOP in the 1980s.

The 2012 election results have some political experts questioning whether the religious right’s influence is fading.

The Rev. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, tweeted after the election that the results show “we are witnessing a fundamental moral realignment of the country.”

Conservative evangelist Franklin Graham, CEO of Samaritan’s Purse and son of the Rev. Billy Graham, told CNN that while he doesn’t believe the movement is fading, “there is a lot of work we need to do.”

“I just think there are a lot of conservative Christians who did not vote for whatever reason,” Franklin Graham said.

Like Graham, Jones said the legalization of same-sex marriage by ballot initiative in three states last week shows that America is changing.

“For the first time tonight, same-sex marriage has been passed by popular vote in Maine and Maryland,” Jones said last week. “The historic nature of these results are hard to overstate. Given the strong support of younger Americans for same-sex marriage, it is unlikely this issue will reappear as a major national wedge issue.”

The results of the Public Religion Research Institute survey were based on 1,410 telephone interviews in both Spanish and English conducted between November 7 and Sunday. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

- CNN’s Dan Gilgoff contributed to this report.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Catholic Church • Christianity • Faith • Politics • Same-sex marriage

soundoff (1,305 Responses)
  1. Libertarian Time

    I'm an atheist who's also a capitalist, anti-wealth redistribution, and a fiscal conservative. Man do I have issues with both the Dems AND Repubs.

    November 16, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • demovsemperor

      That is very believable since Obama has no religion or any religion you want depending on where he is and who he is talking to. I'm atheist myself, but he is soulless.

      November 16, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      demovsemperor – you're incorrect! Obama's a fullly-brainwashed Christian... that's why I didn't vote for him... (or Romney, for that matter...)

      November 16, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • guest

      demovsemperor – Obama has no religion based on what?

      November 16, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  2. Richard

    Atheist believe in survival of the fittest so they want to kill everyone who is inferior to them and I think we all evolved from monkey poop, the poop created a new species, no lie

    November 16, 2012 at 8:12 am |
    • Libertarian Time

      You religious fools also want to kill everyone who doesn't believe in your version of your fairy tale, and think some cloud master created humans, and even saved them from some great flood by herding two of every single species on the planet onto a boat a fraction of the size of the typical Carnival Cruise ship. And yep you people actually believe this crap. It's in your instruction manual (the bible).

      November 16, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • Republicans Are The American Taliban

      More human beings have been murdered by the Catholic Church, in the name of God, than any other organization since the dawn of time.

      November 16, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • saganhill

      Richard if you believe that you're an idiot and a liar.

      November 16, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • Eric

      Response to DIck,

      I think you need to do a little research about social darwinism and who believes in it, otherwise you would have been gone all time ago.

      November 16, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • Michael

      It should be intuitively obvious, even to the most casual observer, that you knoweth not of what you speak. Man did NOT eveolve from apes; we share a common ancestor. Huge difference. Evolution describes perfectly how, over immense periods of time, the human eye evolved. Were it part and parcel of "Intelligent Design" why is it so flawed? Why are the rods and cones placed BEHIND blood vessels? Why do we have a blind spot?

      November 16, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  3. YoursIsNoDisgrace

    If Jesus saves - well, He'd better save Himself
    from the gory glory seekers who use His name in death.

    November 16, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  4. Skeptic

    The no religion group is the most intelligent group. They have gone beyond believing whatever their parents, preachers told them. They are smart enough to think on their own. They have confidence that they are smart enough to know what's fact, and what's fantasy. If I told you your father loved you, but he never came to see you and never paid any child support despite being the most powerful person in the world, would you have believed me? All Christians do.

    November 16, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  5. Colin

    The most encouraging thing is how few young people believe in the sky fairy any more. here are my dream headlines from 50 years from now:


    Reuters AAP – The last place of worship the USA officially closed its doors yesterday. The Church of Christ Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama held its last service at 10:00 on Sunday morning and was promptly shuttered by its pastor. “While I will be sorry to see a tradition pas.s, I guess it was time to move on,” declared Pastor Kevin Smith, “It saddens me a little, but I can no longer preach things I no longer believe in myself. Also, given that my congregation is elderly and poor, donations are down to a spasmodic trickle.”

    The closure marks the culmination of a dramatic surge in secularism in the USA following the Catholic Church scandals of the early 21st Century. After phone hacking by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Network revealed that the Pope and virtually all Archbishops were acutely aware of the depth of the pedophilia problem since the 1950s, sweeping new policies were implemented under President Gibbs’ administration (2040-2048).

    Under his “No Mind Left Behind” policy, children were taught science, history, psychology and critical thinking from their first year of school. It was not until they were in their early teens and had a grounding in healthy skepticism and independent thought, that any supernatural belief, such as astrology or religion was allowed to be presented to them. Such beliefs were, of course, almost universally rejected by them.

    As interest in the supernatural has dwindled, the vacated churches, synagogues and mosques in the USA were sold off and the proceeds invested in a fund which, under the XXV Amendment to the US Const.itution, could only be used to further scientific education and environmental awareness and protection. Already the fund has been responsible for returning vast swaths of land to their natural state, in the USA and elsewhere and has largely been credited for ensuring the survival of the tiger, cheetah and mountain gorilla.

    Bibles and The Book of Mormon, which once graced virtually every hotel room in the USA, were replaced with Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion.”

    As people have increasingly realized there is no sky-being looking out for us, donations to the Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation, the Red Heart (f/k/a “Red Cross”) and Doctors Without Borders are at an all time high.

    “Looking back, it’s weird to think of some of the nonsense people believed as late as the early 21st Century,” commented Pastor Smith, as he locked the doors and walked nonchalantly from his church. “I guess you can’t judge them too harshly, though. When you’re taught it from such an early age and then told it’s immoral to even question it, I guess you are easy prey.”

    November 16, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • kenny

      You have some real issues.

      November 16, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • How about....

      The Disney Corp. is pleased to announce that they have reached an agreement with the trustees of the bankrupt RCC and will be purchasing the area known as Vatican City, terms tbe announced later. Disney will develop the area with a theme park and a religious history museum. The trustees have indicated that all proceeds after debts have been paid will be used to integrate employees back into normal society.

      November 16, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  6. maybrick

    I am who God made me to be. If he/she wants to send me to an eternity of suffering just for fulfilling my nature then so be it.

    November 16, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      God made you whoever or whatever are you? Have you ever asked God, why did He make you Donald Trump? Could have been better! You're wrong.

      November 16, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      sorry – I mean why didn't He make you Donald Trump?

      November 16, 2012 at 8:16 am |
  7. Rosemary Baker

    A person votes and NOBODY know who he votes for!!Q

    November 16, 2012 at 8:04 am |
  8. dangeroustalk

    I reported on this last week: Will atheists decide the next election? – http://t.co/HEOUwfJ6

    November 16, 2012 at 8:02 am |
  9. Cindy

    @ richard. Most atheists I know are absolutely NOT racists. We just believe in science and that through science we can better answer the questions out there. I just think it is silly to believe some story that some camel herder sitting on a sand dune somewhere thought up and passed on to his grandkids and then you worship it. Come on, it just is silly. You can be a good person without having to have some belief in some story filled without outlandish stories. I believe Jesus was just a man, but a very good man. His treatment of others is the way we should behave with one another. Many leaders of the GOP have come out and said that many in the republican party are racists. I've seen it with my own eyes. I pity racists because they just don't know how stupid they appear.

    November 16, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • dutchtown

      You should read a book called (proof of heaven),by eben alexzander.He is a neurosurgeon who one day lapsed into a coma.He was 100% brain dead.He describes what he experienced during the time he was dead to the world.He described himself as a scientist,who thought of science to be the answer for everything that exsisted.He describes everything the brain can go through during a coma if certain parts are still active but says there was no answer for his experience since his brain was completly turned off.Its hard to put down.

      November 16, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  10. liz

    I am an atheist it was my pleasure to help reelect the President.

    November 16, 2012 at 7:57 am |
    • TonyT

      Another atheist here who voted for reason and justice. Thankfully for me and most people, our side won this time.

      November 16, 2012 at 8:08 am |
  11. Cindy

    I am a very moral person and also an atheist. I give heavily to charity. I help others. I take in people to my home that need help. I have bought things for those in need. I am polite, etc. etc. I am more "christian" than the christians. I am an atheist. I just don't believe in the supernatural or sky fairiies. I do, however, follow the principles of love thy neighbor, help thy neighbor, help the poor. Faux chrisitians these days are christian in name only and throw it around like a badge of honor but only subscribe to the rules of "what not to do" and not "what they SHOULD be doing". The republican party seems to be filled to the brink with faux christians. It disgusts me. The democratic agenda is closer to what christians SHOULD be doing for others. That is why I vote democratic.

    November 16, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • YoursIsNoDisgrace

      I am insulted by your use of the phrase "more christian". Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddists can just as moral as Christians.

      November 16, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • Cindy

      I'm not talking groups...I'm talking about myself. So read between the lines.

      November 16, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • Tracey

      So well put.

      November 16, 2012 at 8:12 am |
    • demovsemperor

      Sounds kind of christian to me-LOL-

      November 16, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  12. Bails

    Yep. America is changing. And next time we have a tragedy....next time innocent lives are claimed as a result of terrorism or hostility, we will all sit around and sing "God Bless America". We are so two faced. Let's turn our back on God, shun him, for what we want to do and what feels good. But He better be around when we need him!!!

    November 16, 2012 at 7:54 am |
    • YoursIsNoDisgrace

      And you just disrespected G-d by giving the almighty a name. The almighty does not have a name that humans can speak.

      November 16, 2012 at 7:57 am |
    • == o ==

      There is no evidence of the existence of the God of Abraham, nor any other god dreamed up so far by men. If he did exist and have the qualities that men have tried to give him, I don't think he would have blessed America much for their early treatment of native Americans.

      November 16, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • moakley

      No. There will be those who seek a supernatural explanation and make a lot of unreasonable noise, but the rest of us will not.

      November 16, 2012 at 8:12 am |
  13. Rozznitz

    I am not non-affiliated. I am inspired by the life of Siddartha, who the world knows as Buddha. He and the Dalai Lama are my spiritual/philosophical mentors. I choose not to embrace Christianity anymore because it is so judgmental, intolerant and elitist. I can say the same for Islam. I do not base my faith or spirituality on begging for how I want my life to be or turn out – I do not pray for outcomes. I have the opportunity to find happiness every day of my life. I do not need someone to save me. I accept that I am not immortal – but the earth will regenerate me into something.............I believe in the circle of life on Earth and that I am a part of it. That is enough.

    November 16, 2012 at 7:51 am |
    • YoursIsNoDisgrace

      Close to the Edge!

      November 16, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • WhatEver...

      I consider Buddhism to be the safest religion out there.

      November 16, 2012 at 7:56 am |
  14. calvin

    Where do you people get your info from? Most black christians would not vote President Obama because of the gay issues that he moved in favor of. This was one of the main reasons that I who happeb to be black did not vote for him or Romney. I'd like to know who these studies and surveys are done with. No on I know!! Very Interesting

    November 16, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • cdknorth

      It's not actually as confusing as you seem to think it is. What you're missing in your analysis of the situation is the fact that what you so eloquently call "the gay issues" is not a deal breaker for the majority of people in this country, regardless of Religious faith. While there are still many people, like yourself, who for some difficult to understand reason feel personally and spiritually threatened by the notion of a man marrying a man or a woman marrying a woman, a rapidly increasing number of people from all faiths, not to mention non-theistic thinkers like myself, either support marriage equality, or do not consider it an issue of primary importance to them. Certainly not enough to dissuade them from voting in a presidential election, or influence their vote one way or another.

      November 16, 2012 at 7:56 am |
    • WhatEver...

      Why let religion decide for you? Do you know the disaster a Mittens presidency would have brought to the black people?

      November 16, 2012 at 7:57 am |
    • let me guess, you're probably one of the ones who would rather have a king instead of a president


      November 16, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • Libertarian Time

      You know a bunch of mental midgets.

      November 16, 2012 at 8:21 am |
  15. YoursIsNoDisgrace

    Just remember you can be persecuted by your own religion for not following all the rules. The 1st amend protects these people too.

    November 16, 2012 at 7:49 am |
  16. Richard

    All you atheist on here are so smart I want to worship u, I bet your poops don't stink

    November 16, 2012 at 7:47 am |
  17. YoursIsNoDisgrace

    Just remember Athiest, Non believers are protected by the 1st amend.
    If you are a catholic but you don't follow all the rules you are protected by the 1st amend.

    November 16, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • ....

      The 1st Amendment doesn't play favorites, but what's an Athiest?

      November 16, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • YoursIsNoDisgrace

      You have a 1st amend right to worship your religion any way you want.

      November 16, 2012 at 7:55 am |
  18. NoTags

    Christians who understood the theology of the LDS church were not going to vote for Romney. They either voted for Obama, or didn't vote for a presidential candidate.

    November 16, 2012 at 7:46 am |
  19. Richard

    Atheist are racist

    November 16, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • ....

      Bullsh it.

      November 16, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • Michael

      I have already rebuffed you once. Allow me the privilege again. I am not religious by choice, a choice made after reading, studying, listening. I excercised my free will to rebuff religion. I live an honorable life (and I truly understand the term); I don't lie, steal or cheat. I am color blind (to skin color) and will grant you respect until you show me you're not worthy of it; the only thing that matters to me is the strength (or absense) of your character. My parents, unfortuneately, are (1) racist; (2) judgemental; (3) professed Chrsitians. Your comment that atheists are racists shows true ignorance.
      naDev vo' yghoS, P'taK !!

      November 16, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  20. spottedsharks

    atheism is a religion the way that not collecting stamps is a hobby

    November 16, 2012 at 7:40 am |
    • Old Sailor

      Perfect analogy

      November 16, 2012 at 8:25 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.