Obama got 43% of weekly church-goers vs. 55% for McCain. In 2004, Bush got 61% vs. 39% for Kerry. What this means is that Bush beat Kerry by roughly 27 million among weekly churchgoers, and McCain beat Obama by only 15 million a stunning 12 million person shift.
Hold on a second. I made a pain in the ass of myself over this subject in 2004, and I'm going to do the same thing this year.
First things first. In 2004, Kerry lost to Bush nationwide by 2.4 percentage points. In 2008, Obama beat McCain by 6.3 percentage points. That's a swing of about 9 points nationwide, which means that any group that also swung by 9 points in Obama's favor was doing nothing except following the national trend.
So how about those churchgoers? They went from -22 for Kerry to -12 for Obama. That's a swing of ten points, almost identical to the nationwide swing in Obama's favor. Weekly churchgoers just didn't do anything unusual, which means there's no reason to think that Obama did anything special to appeal to them. More than likely, they voted for him in larger numbers this year for the same reason as everyone else: they were tired of Bush, tired of Republicans, and trusted Obama more in tough economic times. There's really no justification for a special narrative to explain those 12 million extra voters.
But as long as we're on the subject, which groups did Obama do especially well with? That is, which groups did he swing by margins substantially more than 9 points? Based on the 2004 and 2008 exit polls, here are the groups that swung in disproportionate numbers this year:
Income $200,000 or more (+34)
First-time voters (+33)
No high school (+27)
18-29 year olds (+25)
Under $15,000 (+21)
Full-time workers (+19)
Non-gun owners (+18)
Parents with children under 18 (+16)
The swing in first-time voters (which overlaps heavily with 18-29 year olds) and Latinos was especially stunning. Also worth noting, just because they're such obvious swing groups, are Obama's large gains among moderates (+12) and the unmarried (+14).
And which groups did Obama do substantially worse with than his overall national trend? Here they are:
Last minute voters (-8)
Union members (0)
"Other" religions (0)
Gun owners (+2)
White women (+4)
45-59 year olds (+4)
Gays and last-minute deciders are the only groups where Obama performed worse than Kerry. The other five are groups where he did better than Kerry, but not by as much as he did with the country as a whole.
I don't have any special narratives or analysis to offer for any of this. Maybe later. For now, it's just raw data for your noodling pleasure.