That’s not an ironclad truth, mind you. Consider South Carolina, a Deep South state that rates high in most states-and-religion surveys and is a critical campaign stop for candidates wanting to secure Southern voters and evangelical voters, or both.
Nevertheless, new polling data released this week by Gallup shows two distinct issues: the Deep South remains the nation’s most religious region, and states near the center of these rankings — states that are a mixture of religious, somewhat religious and non-religious — are those in which candidates are most likely to concentrate.
That political-science logic isn’t ground-breaking, but it is worth noting. Gallup points out that the common trends of political parties and religion continue to be entrenched in the United States’ demographics. States where residents claim strong religious beliefs are solidly Republican. States with a low percentage of highly religious residents are solidly Democratic.
In other words, Mississippi, Utah and Alabama — the states with the highest percentage of very religious residents — are GOP strongholds. The three states with the lowest percentage of very religious residents — Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine — traditionally go to Democratic candidates.
States that have mixtures of very religious and not very religious residents are the ones that should expect high attention from candidates this summer and fall. Who’s among those states? A sizeable number of traditional swing states, such as Virginia, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Illinois and Michigan, among others. States with a heavy population of undecided or on-the-fence voters are too politically valuable for presidential candidates to miss out on.
Put simply, don’t expect President Barack Obama to spend much, if any, time this summer campaigning in Mississippi or Alabama. But Florida? That’s a different story.
Even Gallup admits that these state-by-state patterns “have remained stable in recent years,” so don’t consider this an inference of sweeping change in America’s religious and political tendencies.
Do consider this, however, a confirmation that the Deep South remains firmly entrenched in its role as the nation’s Bible Belt. Eight of the top 10 very religious states are in the South. No Southern state is in the bottom 10. Likewise, no state from the Northeast ranks alongside Alabama and its religious brethren.
In fact, only six states have less than 20 percent of their residents claiming to be non-religious. Those six: Mississippi (11 percent), Alabama (16), Louisiana (16), Arkansas (19), South Carolina (18) and Tennessee (18).
We’re not surprised by any this.
As Gallup points out, more than two-thirds of Americans say they are very religious or moderately religious. Being human, presidential candidates normally fall into those same categories: men and women who claim some sort of religious affiliation.
Thankfully, there is no religious requirement for elections. All are welcome. But religion is nonetheless part of a majority of Americans’ lives; keeping it out of political discussions, as we’ve seen time and again, is impossible.