A new national poll revealed that Americans want a religious person to be president.
Over half of all respondents with an opinion (60.7 percent) believe a presidential candidate should be religious while 39.3 percent do not, according to the poll released Thursday by the Sacred Heart University Polling Institute.
But a majority of Americans (66 percent) said the candidate's specific religious affiliation is not relevant to their voting decision while 27.8 percent do consider a candidates specific religious affiliation. Most of the rest (6.3 percent) responded they were unsure if a candidate's specific religious connection influences their vote.
"While 27.8 percent is a minority, it represents nearly 34 million people, based on the 2004 voter turnout, who will consider the particular religious denomination of such candidates as former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney – a Mormon," commented Jerry C. Lindsley, director of the Sacred Heart University Polling Institute in a statement
That – according to Dr. June-Ann Greeley, SHU assistant professor of Religious Studies – means 27.8 percent of Americans would either vote for a candidate because of the candidate's religious affiliation or they would not support the candidate on that basis.
"We think we can understand something meaningful about a person, a politician, if we have a sense of his/her religious beliefs because, clearly, religious belief is still esteemed by a majority of Americans," explained Greeley, who is director of SHU'S Center for Catholic Thought, Ethics and Culture.
Nearly half of all participants, 48.4 percent, said their own religious faith always or sometimes guides their political views with the same percentage of Americans saying their faith seldom or never guides their views. A minority of 3.2 percent were unsure.
The poll also found most Americans (60.3 percent), neglecting how they will vote themselves, expect Democrats to regain the White House compared to only 14.5 percent believe that Republicans will maintain the presidency. About a quarter of Americans said they were undecided.
"When you remove undecided voters from the data, 80.6 percent believe the Democrats will win the White House – a perception that will be hard to overcome," Lindsley noted.
"Even Republicans, by a margin of 42.6 percent to 29.4 percent, believe Democrats will regain the White House," he added.
The top three most popular Democratic presidential candidates according to the poll are: New York Sen. Hillary Clinton (54 percent), Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (20.5 percent), and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina (12.1 percent).
For Republicans, the top presidential candidates are former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (38.6 percent), former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (19.3 percent), Arizona Sen. John McCain (17.9), and former Sen. Fred Thompson (9.0 percent).
Furthermore, the SHU poll revealed that Americans believe Republicans are three times more likely than Democrats to maintain a strong military and twice more likely to protect the country against terror attacks.
However, Democrats are considered more likely to maintain a strong economy, reduce the U.S. budget deficit, provide health care to the uninsured, end the military effort in Iraq, and support higher education.
Dr. Gary Rose, professor and chair of SHU's Government and Politics department, said the vote may be impacted by the current issues surrounding Election Day.
"If national security is the principal concern of the electorate, the Republicans will have the advantage," Rose said. "If domestic issues are primary, then the Democratic Party will carry the day. That's the traditional way American politics has played out over the years."
Some of the top issues that concern Americans, according to the poll, are: the Iraq War, rising gasoline prices, cost of and access to health care, immigration policy/illegal aliens, poor economy, high taxes, environment/pollution, terrorism, global warming, and violence/crime.
The poll also showed a continued loss of support for President Bush. Just under one-third, 32.6 percent, had a very or somewhat favorable opinion of the job Bush is doing. The favorability is the lowest SHU has recorded. The figure is down from 51.0 percent in February 2006 and 45.1 percent in October 2005.
The Sacred Heart University Polling Institute conducted a nationwide telephone survey of 958 Americans May 14-26 to study what role religion may play in the 2008 election. The sample was generated proportional to population contribution in all 50 states.
Sacred Heart University, in Fairfield, Conn., is the second-largest Catholic university in New England.