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Opinion

October 24, 2012

Poll: Religiously unaffiliated less likely to vote

WASHINGTON — The recent boom in religiously unaffiliated Americans may ultimately help explain the results of the upcoming 2012 presidential election, according to a new poll that shows such voters lean heavily toward President Barack Obama but are less likely than the religiously affiliated to turn out.

Nearly one-quarter of likely Obama supporters say they have have no particular religion — a group less likely to vote than those affiliated with an organized religion, according to a poll released Monday by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Sixty-one percent of unaffiliated voters said they would likely cast a ballot, compared with 73 percent of those who are religiously affiliated.

The poll, one of a slew being released in the days before the election, focuses on the overlap — and sometimes contradiction — of a person's faith identity and their views on newsy topics from religious freedom to abortion.

White Catholics, for example, are far more likely than Latino Catholics to favorably view Mitt Romney (54 percent vs. 27 percent). Yet White Catholics also are more likely to believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, a view more in line with Obama's.

The poll shows that nearly six in 10 Americans believe religious liberty is threatened in America, but about the same number believe religiously affiliated institutions should be required to provide employees with no-cost birth control. Ending the new White House mandate for such coverage has been the centerpiece of a campaign by the Catholic Church and conservative religious groups.

The poll, which was co-authored by several senior fellows at the Brookings Institution, highlights the stark difference among faith groups.

Nearly eight in 10 likely Romney voters identify themselves as white Christians — mainline Protestants, Catholic or evangelical — while the number of likely Obama voters who identify themselves as white Christians drops to about four in 10. Other large parts of Obama's base are the unaffiliated (23 percent), black Protestants(18 percent) and Latino Catholics (6 percent).

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