CLOSING THE ‘GOD GAP’…. Over the last couple of elections, we’ve heard quite a bit about the relationship between religiosity and political preferences. The phrase “God gap” became surprisingly common, and was identified as another high hurdle for the Democrats to clear.

This year, the Democratic Party, and the Obama campaign in particular, made a concerted effort to turn the tide. The efforts clearly paid electoral dividends.

Four years ago, Bush beat Kerry among weekly church-goers, 61% to 39%. This year, McCain beat Obama with the same constituency, but by a much small margin, 55% to 43%.

The estimable Steven Waldman notes that this reflects a “stunning 12 million person shift,” and speculates on the cause.

No Democrat since Jimmy Carter has spoken as openly, and as often, about his personal faith…. Obama’s campaign distributed literature during the primaries that described “”That day Obama felt a beckoning of the spirit and accepted Jesus Christ into his life.” One panel on the brochure, “Called to Bring Change,” declares, “We do what we do because God is with us.” Another described his belief in “the power of prayer,” and another, labeled, “Called to Christ,” stated, “Kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.”

This had two purposes: one was reaching out to religious voters. The other was to show him as a mainstream, culturally conservative person. Obama might not be able to bowl, but he sure could pray.

The Wall Street Journal added:

The [Obama] campaign wooed clergy in ways small and huge, from personal notes and meetings with Mr. Obama to large Christian “faith rallies” intended to win over young Protestants. It trained thousands of volunteers to frame social concerns such as poverty as moral issues, while benefiting from the work of several small, liberal Catholic nonprofits that separately contacted churchgoers to present topics such as poverty, immigration, war and the environment as moral issues, while downplaying abortion.

“They let it be known, ‘We want their vote, he deserves their vote…and we are not going to automatically assume you are going to vote for the Republicans,’” said the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, a Houston supporter of Mr. Obama and a United Methodist pastor who has had longstanding ties to President Bush’s family.

Not only did Obama win the Catholic vote by nine points, 54% to 45%, but he also made gains among evangelicals, whose support for Republicans dropped six points from 2004 to 2008.

Tony Perkins, president of the far-right Family Research Council, explained the shift this way: “The base is like flypaper, and the undecideds are the flies, and the base has got to be sticky. In this election, the base never became sticky.”

I’m not entirely sure what this means, but I think Perkins believes the Republicans weren’t nearly right-wing enough. I’m pretty sure he has it backwards.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.