Research Shows Growing Republican, Democratic 'God Gap'

A new report by Pew Research Center shows more evidence of a growing religious divide between Republicans and Democrats.

For the last couple of decades, election exit polls have shown a partisan divide based upon religious participation. Those who attend religious services frequently have been more likely to vote Republican while those who attend religious services less frequently, or are nonreligious, have been more likely to vote for Democrats. This split is sometimes called the "God gap."

Pew Research Center finds further evidence for this growing partisan split in its values survey, conducted every five years.

Respondents were asked whether or not they doubt the existence of God. Republican answers have remained high and stable since the first values survey in 1987. Ninety-two percent of Republicans in 2012 said they never doubt the existence of God, which is about the same as it was in 1987 – 91 percent.

Whereas Republicans and Democrats used to be nearly identical in their belief in the existence of God, Democrats have seen a steady decline over the past decade. The proportion of Democrats saying they never doubt the existence of God has dropped 11 percentage points to 77 percent in 2012.

Among white Democrats, the change is even more dramatic. (Blacks, who comprise 25 percent of the Democratic Party, have higher levels of religiosity than whites.) White Democrats dropped 17 percentage points – from 85 percent in 2002 to 68 percent in 2012. Independents have seen a similar decline and match Democrats in their belief in the existence of God.

The difference is greater still when looking at non-Latino whites and adding two more religious values questions. Eighty-three percent of non-Latino white Republicans agreed that prayer was an important part of their daily life, "we will all be called before God at Judgment Day," and they never doubt the existence of God. Only half (50 percent) of non-Latino white Democrats felt the same way.

Also, Pew Research asked respondents if they "have old-fashioned values about family and marriage." In 1987, 86 percent of Democrats said they do, nearly as much as the 92 percent of Republicans who agreed. By 2007, only 70 percent of Democrats said they have old-fashioned values about family and marriage. That number dropped further to 60 percent in 2012. Republicans, meanwhile, only dropped slightly, to 86 percent in 2007 and 88 percent in 2012.

Pew Research concludes that the growing "God gap," which is one part of an increasing divide between the two parties on a wide range of issues, is due to the trend toward secularism among Democrats.

"From 1987 through the end of the 1990s Republicans and Democrats expressed roughly equal levels of religious commitment. But since then, Republican commitment has held steady, while a declining majority of Democrats hold traditional religious views. The trend away from religion has become substantial among liberal Democrats in particular," the report states.


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