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Obama Backed By All Religions, Pew Says

This story was written by Sommer Ingram, The Lariat

Along with becoming the nation's first African-American president-elect, Barack Obama gained more support in this election from nearly every religious group than Democratic nominee John Kerry did four years ago.

Obama made a deliberate effort to reach out to the religious world throughout his campaign, and according to The Pew Forum on Religionand Public Life, these efforts were evident in the results.

According to the Pew Forum, Obama won 26 percent of the white evangelical vote compared, to the 21 percent that voted for Kerry in 2004.

"What is clear from polling is that Obama increased the Democratic evangelical vote," said Dr. Dwight Allman, Baylor University professor of political science and graduate program director. "Obama was able to kind of cut into this demographic and attract a somewhat bigger piece of the pie."

Although his gains were minimal, Obama seems to have made the religion element work for him in a way other Democrats historically haven't.

"I think Democrats have seen that most Americans are religious and those values play a role in their political views," said Dr. Blake Burleson, associate dean for undergraduate studies in religion. "To ignore that is problematic for any party. Democrats are finally catching on."

Dr. Ted Jelen, professor of political science professor at University of Nevada Las Vegas and co-editor of "The One, the Few and the Many: Religion and Politics in Comparative Perspective," doesn't believe Obama's gains should necessarily be seen as huge progress.

"There is not much difference between the percentages Obama obtained from evangelicals and Kerry's percentages," Jelen said. "But evangelicals are kind of ambivalent about political activity in general. Their business is saving souls, not political platforms."

Though polls show white Roman Catholics and Protestants backing Republican candidate John McCain, Obama won nearly all of the black and Hispanic Protestant votes. Catholics supported him over McCain 54 percent to 45 percent. He also improved the minority evangelical vote significantly.

"Evangelicals tend to be lumped together as white evangelicals, and this is simply an inaccuracy," Burleson said. "There are different issues for white, Hispanic and black evangelicals.

These groups have wider and more diverse views than are traditionally publicized."

The traditional concerns of the evangelical world, primarily abortion and gay rights, are not seen as prevalently among younger evangelicals.

"The younger generation has a different and somewhat broader set of issues, but only a small percentage of these voters moved toward the Democratic platform; most seemed to follow their parents and grandparents," Allman said. "While these newer issues have come to hold more significance, the younger generation may still place a certain priority in older issues."

Economical issues proved to overshadow the traditional cultural concerns for both parties, which could have also have contributed to his success among the religious electorate. More than six in 10 cited the economy as the nation's top concern.

"The economic crisis that unfolded even in the last weeks of the election had a way of focusing voters minds on their pocketbook concerns," Allman said. "When juxtapositioned against McCain, voters seemed to find Obama's demeanor more comforting, more reassuring, more presidential."

Despite the fact that white evangelicals between the ages 30 and 64 remained a center pillar in the Republican support base, Obama's concentrated outreach to the religious community resulted in modest gains on Kerry's percentages in Colorado, North Carolina andOhio.

The Democratic candidate's campaign may signal the beginning of reversing the prevailing stereotype that casts Democrats as worldly and anti-religious.

"I believe we will continue to see various strategies with religious voters," Allman said. "I think we'll have to go through a couple more election cycles to see whether there will be a more varied voting pattern. It's a little early to tell, but however small these movements we saw, they were all in the direction of the Democrats."

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