Last week, commenter Krystian suggested that flat figures on party support by religious attendance suggested that groups like Hillsong had little influence on support for the Howard government. In the data I have, I can’t directly examine Hillsong, which is buried in the broader category of Pentecostal. But we can roughly estimate the electoral impact of Pentecostal churches.
As the figure below suggests, Pentecostal numbers have been increasing. Between 1996 and 2006, Pentecostal numbers increased by 26%, compared to a 10% increase in other religions. However, they are still a small proportion of all those declaring a religion in the census. In that decade, their market share went from 1.07% to 1.23%.
However, they are a much larger share of those actually attending church. The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2007 and the 2001 National Church Life Survey suggest the Pentecostals make up 8-9% of churchgoers. About three-quarters of them go to church once a week or more.
The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes had 120 Pentecostals in the survey. In a hypothetical question on which party they would vote for the answers were 37% Coalition, 32% Family First, 20% Labor, and 3.5% Green. In the 2007 election, 60% of Family First preferences went to the Coalition. If the Pentecostals are typical of Family First voters, that would make their effective Coalition vote 56%.
Assuming that religion was a major factor in the political views of Pentecostals, and that they otherwise would have otherwise have had the national average of about 42% vote for the Coalition, I estimate they were worth about 20,000 extra votes for Howard in 2007 (after deducting children from the Pentecostal census total). In a tight election, 20,000 votes could be very handy. But they were hardly worth the political attention they received. Krystian’s assessment was correct.