Wright Controversy Deepens Voter Divide

By Jennifer Agiesta and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, May 10, 2008

Religious voters in Indiana and North Carolina held to familiar patterns in Democratic primary balloting Tuesday, with the controversy over Sen. Barack Obama's relationship with his former pastor deepening the divide.

In network exit polling, about the same number of voters in each state said they considered the situation with the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. "very important" to their vote as those who said it was "not at all important." And most who gave the issue a heavy weight voted for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), while those who said it was not a factor went for Obama, the Illinois senator, by wide margins.

In both states, frequent churchgoers were more apt to say they were influenced by Wright than were less actively religious voters. In North Carolina, among those who said they attend religious services weekly, nearly six in 10 called Wright important to their vote, almost double the figure among those who never attend services. Even among Obama's own supporters in the Tarheel state, 45 percent who attend services weekly called the controversy important to their vote; among those, a third who rated it "very important."

In Indiana, the issue also split voters: About half of those who attend services weekly or occasionally rated the Wright issue important, while only a third of those who never attend services said the same.

African American churchgoers were not uniform in their response to the uproar surrounding Wright's controversial views, which the preacher rekindled the week before the primaries. Nearly half of black weekly churchgoers in Indiana said Wright was not at all important to their vote, while in North Carolina, about the same percentage said it was a significant factor. In the Tarheel state, black voters who gave Wright's sermons the most consideration still gave Obama a 70-point advantage, but it was slimmer than his 93-point win among those who said it was not a factor.

Among white active churchgoers in both states, a majority said Wright was very important to their vote, and in each state about nine in 10 of those for whom the issue was very important voted for Clinton.

Beyond Wright, Democratic voters again divided along religious lines in Tuesday's primaries. Clinton carried white Catholics in both states, but by a smaller margin than she did in Pennsylvania two weeks ago. She won about two-thirds of white Protestants in Indiana and North Carolina.The two split weekly churchgoers in Indiana, and Obama held a 12-point edge among these voters in North Carolina. And active religious voters again divided along racial lines: Clinton won white weekly churchgoers in Indiana and North Carolina by 30-point margins, while Obama outpaced Clinton by better than 9 to 1 among blacks who attend church weekly.

The polling, conducted by Edison-Mitofsky for the National Election Pool, included 1,881 interviews in Indiana and 1,916 in North Carolina. Results from the full polls have four-point error margins.

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