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Obama administration has religion on its side

The current White House is viewed as more friendly toward religion than the overall Democratic Party, a Pew poll finds.

December 06, 2009|By Andrew Malcolm and Kate Linthicum
  • Presidential candidate Barack Obama appears at a forum at Saddleback Church in Orange County last year. In an August 2009 poll, more than a third of Americans consider the president religion-friendly; 29% see his party that way.
Presidential candidate Barack Obama appears at a forum at Saddleback Church… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

President Obama's administration is seen as more friendly toward religion than the Democratic Party as a whole, a new Pew poll has found.

Thirty-seven percent of Americans polled said they view Obama as religion-friendly, and only 29% said they see the Democratic Party that way, according to the poll.

The findings aren't surprising. During his campaign for the presidency, Obama courted religious voters more aggressively than most recent Democratic presidential candidates by putting faith front and center.

In July 2008, during the height of the presidential race, then-Sen. Obama pledged to expand a controversial White House program that gives federal grants to churches and small community groups.

Later that summer, during a forum at evangelical Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in Orange County, Obama, a Christian, spoke of "walking humbly with our God" and quoted from the Gospel of Matthew.

It paid off.

Forty-three percent of voters who said they attend church weekly chose Obama over Republican John McCain, according to the National Election Pool exit survey, a change from recent election trends, in which religious voters overwhelmingly chose Republican candidates. Among occasional worshipers, Obama won 57% of the vote.

The Pew poll found that the Republican Party is still seen as friendlier toward religion than either Obama or Democrats. Forty-eight percent of those polled viewed the GOP as friendly toward religion.

The poll, which was conducted in August by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, also asked people about their views of the news media, scientists and Hollywood related to religion.

Fourteen percent of voters said they view the news media as friendly toward religion, and 12% said they view scientists that way. Only 11% said they see Hollywood as friendly toward religion.

Fewer claim the label 'Democrat'

On Nov. 4, 2008, Americans by a lopsided margin turned over complete control of the federal government to the Democratic Party -- the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House, where a new president promised to change the partisan tone of the nation's capital.

Now, 13 months later, after a turbulent year of rancorous politics, rising war casualties in Afghanistan and unemployment now above 10%, 5% fewer Americans are calling themselves Democrats.

Hardly an enthusiastic endorsement of the record so far of the incumbent president, whose approval rating has also dropped below 50% for the first time. Approval of President Obama's war handling has fallen the most, plummeting from 63% in spring to 45% this fall.

A new poll by Rasmussen Reports finds that despite -- or perhaps because of -- legislative progress on Obama's 2009 keynote issue of healthcare reform, among other issues, the number of adult Americans calling themselves Democrats fell by almost 2 percentage points just in the month of November.

A year after hope, change and jubilation filled the party ranks, only 36% of Americans consider themselves Democrats, according to the poll.

That's the lowest percentage in 48 months.

As of last month, the percentage calling themselves Republican is lower -- 33.1%. However, unlike the Democrats, that number is increasing, up from 31.9% in October.

The number of adults who claim no affiliation with any party is up a half-point to 30.8%.

Other than as possible indicators of approaching trends, the percentages are not concrete, of course, until they're applied in an actual election.

Although George W. Bush's Republican Party gained congressional seats in 2002, historically, the party in control of the White House loses members in its first midterm elections. Only Bush and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934 defied that trend in modern history.

That midterm judgment for Obama comes next Nov. 2, when the normal pattern would suggest GOP gains in Congress and perhaps statehouses, as the party did in off-year gubernatorial elections last month in New Jersey and Virginia.

All the factors are in place for the out-party to make gains among unhappy -- and often unemployed -- voters.

But the one indicator that has caused analysts to hedge their current bets about maintaining that pattern in 2010 has been the low number of Americans calling themselves Republicans after the later Bush years, when the party abandoned its conservative fiscal roots.

However, after an active legislative autumn with Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid prominent in the media, along with immense spending and deficit numbers, November's poll shows the GOP percentage increasing, even with the party still leaderless nationally.

As a result, the current gap in party identifiers is only 2.9%, the smallest since December 2007.

andrew.malcolm@latimes.com

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

Top of the Ticket, The Times' blog on national politics ( www.latimes.com/ticket), is a blend of commentary, analysis and news. These are selections from the last week.

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