Chads and dimples aside, in the 2000 presidential election, race and religious commitment were the key determinants in whether one voted for Republican George W. Bush or Democrat Al Gore.

A study conducted by the University of Akron (Ohio) reveals sharp partisan divisions between black and white evangelicals, as well as between religiously observant and less observant voters.

"There is a strong cultural split within religious traditions, not just among evangelicals but also among [observant] Mormons and Catholics, versus the modernists and those who are a lot less orthodox," said study coauthor Lyman Kellstedt, a political science professor at Wheaton College (Illinois).

Election in Black and White

Bush's strongest constituency was white evangelical Protestants who attend church at least once a week. Eighty-four percent of them voted for Bush, providing nearly one-third of his total. Evangelicals made up only 13 percent of Gore's vote. Gore did much better among black Protestants, those who claim no religious affiliation, and those who attend church less than once a week. White evangelical Protestants also voted much more strongly for Bush in 2000 than they voted for GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole in 1996.

The Akron study, however, painted with a broad ecclesiastical brush. It defined evangelicalism and mainline Protestantism by denominational affiliation, using the official positions of the denominations to categorize respondents. For example, all Southern Baptists were classified as evangelicals, while all United Methodists were called mainline Protestants.

The increase in white evangelical Protestants voting Republican is consistent with trends showing a gradual shift away from the Democratic Party—with which evangelicals ...

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