Not only is Sen. Barack Obama ahead in general national polls, but a new survey finds that the Democratic presidential candidate has made significant inroads among faith voters.
In comparison to the 2004 Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry, Obama has made significant gains among monthly worship attenders. Among this group of voters, who attend religious services once or twice a month, 60 percent support Obama in 2008 compared to 49 percent for Kerry in 2004, according to results from the report, "The Faith and American Politics Survey," sponsored by Faith in Public Life and conducted by Public Religion Research.
Also unlike the 2004 election, more Americans think the Democratic candidate is friendly to religion than the Republican nominee. Forty-nine percent of Americans say Obama is friendly to religion, while 45 percent say the same of McCain.
This is a significant difference given that President Bush in 2004 won more than 60 percent of the religious vote.
The poll also found that 71 percent of Americans say it is important for public officials to be comfortable talking about religious values.
Besides looking at faith voters as a whole, the survey also delved into examining young faith voters, particularly Catholics and evangelicals.
It found that young Catholics (ages 18-34) are more supportive of Obama than older Catholics (ages 35 and older). While older Catholics are split between the candidates (46 percent for McCain and 44 percent for Obama), younger Catholics support Obama by a 15 percentage point margin over McCain (55 percent to 40 percent).
Younger Catholics are also more supportive of abortion, with six-in-ten saying it should be legal in all or most cases, compared to older Catholics, half of whom support legalizing the practice.
However, when it comes to young white evangelicals, this religious segment still remains strongly opposed to abortion rights, with two-thirds saying it should be illegal in all or most cases, and solidly backs McCain (65 percent).
But young white evangelicals are more likely to favor either same-sex "marriage" (24 percent) or civil unions (28 percent) than older evangelicals. Sixty-one percent of evangelicals age 35 and above want no legal recognition of homosexual relationships.
In other words, young white evangelicals are 2.5 times more likely than older evangelicals to say gay couples should be allowed to marry.
Among young white mainline Protestants and Catholics, nearly half (48 percent and 44 percent, respectively) support same-sex "marriage."
"Younger Americans, including younger Americans of faith, are not the culture war generation," commented Dr. Robert Jones, president of Public Religion Research and lead analyst of the poll, during the report's teleconference on Wednesday.
"On issues from gay and lesbian rights to the role of government at home and around the world, young Catholics, mainline protestants and evangelicals are bridging the divides that entrenched their elders and ushering in an era of consensus in which the common good trumps the clash of ideologies."
In this election year, culture war issues of abortion and same-sex "marriage" have been put on the back burner given the state of the economy and the financial crisis.
According to the survey, 83 percent of Americans say the economy is the most important issue in the 2008 election, followed by energy and gas prices (76 percent) and health care (71 percent).
Economic issues topped the list of most important issues among all religious groups polled. Even white evangelicals did not rank abortion or same-sex "marriage" among their top five most important voting issues.
Survey results are based on telephone interviews with a representative sample of 2,000 American adults and an over sample of 1,250 younger adults (ages 18-34). The poll was conducted under the supervision of Opinion Access Corp from Aug. 28 to Sept. 19, 2008.