Analysis: America's 12 Religious Voting Blocs

Whether one's religious or not in this election cycle, one trend that is seen across the 12 tribes of American politics is that moral issues have become dramatically less important than in previous years, a newly released survey found.

From members of the religious right to those in the secular bloc, the eyes of all American voters are focused on the country's economic situation, according to the 2008 edition of the Twelve Tribes of American Politics by John Green of the Bliss Institute at University of Akron and

Only 13 percent of American voters listed social issues as their top priority this year - half the number that did so in the summer of 2004.

By comparison, 61 percent of Americans instead listed the economy as the most important issue this election year, a dramatic increase, compared to 32 percent four years ago, according to the Twelve Tribes survey.

The 2008 Twelve Tribes survey, conducted from June to August this year, divided American voters into 12 groups formed around similarities in religious beliefs and practices. The survey seeks to be more specific than normal political polls that mostly only divide voters into two groups – the Religious Right and Everyone Else.

Voters were divided into the following tribes: The Religious Right, Heartland Culture Warriors, Moderate Evangelicals, White Bread Protestants, Convertible Catholics, The Religious Left, Spiritual but Not Religious, Seculars, Latinos, Jews, Muslims & Other Faiths, and Black Protestants.

The survey found that the Religious Right, which makes up 12.9 percent of the voting-age population, is still the group that cares the most about cultural issues (36 percent compared to 13 percent nationally), but has upgraded economics to higher priority.

Now, 42 percent of the Religious Right list the economy as the top issue, compared to 18 percent in 2004.

However, this group's position on social issues remains virtually unchanged since 2004, with 83 percent saying they are pro-life and 86 percent supporting only traditional marriage.

According to the survey, 71 percent of the Religious Right supports Republican John McCain, 19 percent back Democrat Barack Obama, and 11 percent remain undecided.

Meanwhile, Moderate Evangelicals, or white evangelical Protestants who hold less orthodox religious beliefs, were found to be highly concerned about economic issues. Two-thirds of this group said the economy was their greatest concern in this election, nearly a 30 percentage point increase over 2004.

Only 10 percent of this group said social issues are the most important in this election.

Voters in this bloc, which according to the survey includes Pastors Rick Warren, Joel Osteen and Joel Hunter, prefer McCain over Obama by a 20 percentage point margin (47 percent to 27 percent).

Then there is the Religious Left, which makes up 12.7 percent of the voting-age population. This group is made up of theologically liberal Catholics, mainline and evangelical Protestants.

An overwhelming majority of this group says the economy is their top political concern. They are also the group most focused on foreign policy. Two-thirds of them say the war in Iraq was unjustified.

Not surprisingly, a majority support Obama (56 percent), some support McCain (26 percent), and a significant portion remains undecided (19 percent).

But perhaps the most interesting shift is the one that occurred in the Latino population. Although the group is said to be mostly conservative on social issues and voted Republican in record number in 2004, a huge shift in alliance took place this year.

The change is being fueled mostly by Hispanic Protestants, who shifted to the Democratic side because of what experts explain is their perception that Republicans are hostile to immigration.

In 2004, Bush won 45 percent of the Latino vote and 50 percent of the Latino Protestants vote. Four years later, McCain has only 33 percent of the Latino Protestant vote compared to Obama's 48 percent.

Overall, McCain is the preferred choice of only 23 percent of the Latino population compared to 60 percent that support Obama.

The latest Gallup poll out Thursday shows that Obama is leading McCain by five percentage points nationwide. Registered voters currently prefer Obama (48 percent) to McCain (43 percent) for president.

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