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 “The American religious and ethnic landscape is becoming increasingly diverse, and any campaigns relying on outdated maps are destined to lose their way.”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)

    Congress - both sides of the house - are wise to Obama's game.

    November 19, 2012 at 6:35 am |

    CNN MANAGEMENT - Obama made numerous campaign promises - promises that cost money we do not have - while demonizing Gov. Romney. Among the "free stuff" for college kids and Latinos is VA help. Backlogged clims have doubled under Obama's watch. Processing errors are on the rise. There are people who returned home mentally and physically wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan. That is why Obma wants to raise taxes on the most wealthy - money which would not do much to cut the deficit. Obama openned his mouth - he got what he wanted with Media help - and now all America will suffer. Good job CNN - very good job for supporting Obama's re-election. there are consequences for every action - did you not know?

    November 19, 2012 at 6:33 am |

    CNN MANAGEMENT: Sounds like a united Congress - both Republican and Democrat - in its approach to fiscal management and international affair justice - will look like the personification of Gov. Romney - Obambi-poo is in deep doo doo LMFAO

    November 19, 2012 at 6:09 am |

    America should realize that Pakistan, Iran and China - then perhaps Russia - will NOT sit back and give Israel a "free pass" like you give Obama. There might be an unexpected massive overwhelming Eastern Hemisphere barrage soon. No one - including the United states - can stop it and save the people Obama was allowed by the media to continue acting "distant" from all this time. POTUS and Secretary of State in small insignificant Southeastern Asia and the rest of Asia laughs at a weak American leader re-elected now. Iranian President warned Piers Morgan in ways he is just now realizing.

    November 19, 2012 at 5:41 am |

    CNN MANAGEMENT: are you goin to place obama under the carpet for demonstrating inability to broker international peace? Why did John McCain have to suggest Clinton go to mideast? Who was elected POTUS? Clinton or Obama? Once again, you soft pedal and give sweet poo poo a free pass. Are you afraid to come right and say :"America re-elected an incompetent and dangerous man as President?" We know its what you THINK - now is the time to come right out and SAY it. before its too late.

    November 19, 2012 at 5:22 am |

    We are witnessing the rapid decline of Western Civilization - and the media helped propel it.

    November 19, 2012 at 5:11 am |

    The Demo-craps need to start realiing something: Republicans Presidents have done much more to improve international relations. Nixon and Kissinger ended the Viet Nam War and softened relations with China. Reagan ended the Cold War. Bush got rid of Saddam Hussein. Democrats only PROLONGED war, death and international destruction. LBJ, Clinton and Obama. Thr Republican POTUS selected more-competent administrators and cabinet members. Hillary Clinton is no Henry Kissinger. Obama and his cabinet are exploitative and incompetent. Obama has his priorities all screwed up, spending time in Southeast Asia when he should have been working with Netanyahu and the Arab League. They keep watch as our nation and the world decay more rapidly each passing day. Obama and his henchmen are mere Media Props - the Media are not elected officials. Glory Days of America are long gone - the Eastern Hemisphere is about to take over.

    November 19, 2012 at 5:09 am |
    • midwest rail

      You DO realize no one is taking your inane drivel seriously, right ?

      November 19, 2012 at 5:13 am |

    Obama and his cabinet are mere non-functional media props - Hillary Clinton is certainly no Henry Kissinger. Unfortunately, where our economy an the Mideast are heading are very much real.

    November 19, 2012 at 4:43 am |

    The Arab League summit will be for only one purpose: coordinating Palestinian vengence - in a way unimaginable. Then America will see the impotent the POTUS unavle to do anything - it started as unwilingness and then will end in inability. The eyes of the blind shall instantly see horrors never before imagined. The media placed Obama on a pedestal - the media created this charismic figure while demonizing the Republicans all these past months. What will the media do as the world witnesses international destruction of people and economy of historical proportions?

    November 19, 2012 at 4:39 am |

    Obama claims that his re-election was America's voice demanding tax hikes. The re-election of a House GOP was America's voice demanding deep cuts in expenditures. The cuts will come FIRST before any discussion of tax REVENUE increase.

    November 19, 2012 at 3:57 am |

    hello fools

    November 19, 2012 at 3:48 am |

    CNN is protecting Obambi-poo again - you won't let me comment on the large budget deficit that begins the 2013 fiscal year.

    November 19, 2012 at 3:48 am |

    2013 Fiscal Year began with a $120 billion deficit for October

    November 19, 2012 at 3:46 am |

    The 2013 Budget Year began with a $120 bilion deficited. POTUS is in Myanmar instead of Gaza. The Arab League will not sit back and watch Palestinian children suffers under the hands of oppressive Jews.Obama is a comical farce and the Media created him.

    November 19, 2012 at 3:44 am |

    The Pagans are ecstatic about Obambi-poo spending time with a relatively-insignificant area of the Southeast Asian world while Jews are about to commit Palestinian genocide. The same lame speech he presents in Myanmar should have been the one before Palestinian leaders while meeting with Netanyahu face-to-face as he seems brave enough to do with tiny Indonesian women. Meanwhile, the 2013 Budget year began with a $120 billion - mutliply that x12 for this fiscal year unless something happens to prevent it. The fiscal cliff looming - deep cuts in expenditure FIRST, then increase in tax revenue negotiations. People cheer and clap for the POTUS as he ignores what will soon be irreversable. CNN and the Pagans can continue to clap as we all witness the Arab League come to Palestinian aide - suffer the little Palestinian children as POTUS falls into disgraceful irrelevancy, and the biased Media with him.

    November 19, 2012 at 3:40 am |
  16. Shells

    I can understand why it's hard for some to understand the perspective of an atheist. If you were raised with a religion your entire life, and that's all you've ever known, then you have no reference points really. I've been an atheist my entire life, and I have a hard time imagining what it would be like to believe in something with no evidence, only faith.

    A few important points:
    The following is my belief as an atheist, coming from my own personal perspective, so I'm not implying that every atheist believes or thinks the exact same thing as me.

    Atheists aren't "anti-god." We just don't believe there is one. We also don't believe in santa claus, the easter bunny, the tooth fairy, etc.

    We call ourselves by many terms, including atheist, agnostic, theist, undecided, not affiliated, no religion, or none of your damn business. You don't hear about us much; we don't march in parades or shout sermons from soap boxes, because a bunch of people not believing in the same thing isn't really enough to start a club.

    Because of that, we can't really be counted accurately, although you might notice that "none" category growing from year to year.

    And quite frankly, some religious people are mean to us, calling us names, assuming we're somehow evil or immoral, verbally attacking us, bullying us, sometimes so badly that the attack becomes violent.

    As a child, a friend told me her mom wouldn't let her play with me anymore, because I was a devil worshiper. But don't you see? If I don't believe in a god, I also don't believe in a devil. And no, I'm not afraid of going to hell, because I don't believe in that either.

    There are hundreds of religions in the world, each one a little bit different, each with its own doctrine, stories, form of god, prophet, sacred text, set of rules and traditions, and each one insisting they are the one with the truth. It's doubtful that only one of these hundreds of religions happens to have gotten it right, and the other hundred plus, are wrong.

    Atheists are starting to become a bit more vocal as we stand up to support separation of church and state, to demand our own freedom from religion, and to use our own freedom of speech rights to say what we think, even in a billboard if we want to.

    Freedom of religion, with mutual respect, understanding, and tolerance for all!

    November 19, 2012 at 1:16 am |
    • Athy

      One of the best, most logical comments I've ever seen. Very well written. It echos my feelings exactly. Kudos.

      November 19, 2012 at 1:38 am |
    • 0_0


      November 19, 2012 at 2:25 am |
    • dillan

      Shells, I agree with your assessment on may issues. Atheists are wonderful people who are great citizens.
      Most atheists are know are far more kinder than some Christians I know.
      Having said that, I have to point out to you that the whole notion of atheism is not a logically consistent view.

      November 19, 2012 at 2:33 am |
    • Over It

      Nice post, Shells. Thank you.

      *If you have the opportunity to use it again, you might want to fix:

      "We call ourselves by many terms, including atheist, agnostic, theist, undecided, not affiliated, no religion,"
      - I think you meant nontheist or non-theist instead of theist.

      November 19, 2012 at 2:38 am |
  17. TeaPatriot

    This election was an obamanation

    we need to reverse course

    got the pun?

    November 18, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Oh so clever..... /sarcasm off

      November 18, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  18. Downwithobama

    Call a Spade a Spade for once. Obama's boss got him elected. Satan. And the Good Lord let it all happen to show you just how little we really do know. And unless you don't wise the hell up, we all may become another Sodom . That is to say, we are already Sodom , but we may become just another burned out hole in the ground where the World Use to be. The Middle East has already started. And with Barack bin Obama in charge here, you can bet your Bippy he's not about to disappoint his boss. Instead of over the Gates of Hell , the entrance to Washington may soon read : " Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here."

    November 18, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • MC75

      Pretty sad that you have so little respect for America. Yes we have our problems. But if you look at any measure of "morality" – be it divorce rates, sticking with education, crime rates, teen pregnancy – the "blue states" and the more secular rest of the first world – Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada – outperform the "red states" by a large margin. The Middle East you cite looks the most like the America the GOP strove to create in this election – "religious"-ly based, intolerant, and opposed to science, women's rights, etc. Perhaps if there is Satan's influence, it is not where you think ...

      November 18, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • romney draft dodger

      agreed. Your statement makes much more sense that ^ BS.
      I hope that person doesn't actually believe that crap.

      November 18, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • clarke

      You are bats**t crazy.

      November 18, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • Athy

      It's "batshit" crazy. And, yes, that describes Downy.

      November 19, 2012 at 1:11 am |

    All America and the media will be responsible for Palestinian bloodshed - 2 million Jews against 15,000 Hamas? Jewish tanks with plows? POTUS had FOUR YEARS to work with Netanyahu. The Media and Pagans just sat back and gace Poo Poo a free pass all along -Candy Crowley hee hee haw haw with Axelrod on Sunday mornings. The media KNEW this would eventually happen - POTUS on phone with Netanyahu - "good morning - bye" Now let's hear the children scream and watch them die.

    November 18, 2012 at 6:31 pm |

    Let's play softball

    November 18, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
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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.