For the second Federal election in a row, the Christian vote has been hailed as having a significant effect on the outcome – further highlighting the need for political parties to be mindful of the Christian constituency.

A recent demographic analysis of the 2010 election results by research and demographic marketing group, Australian Development Strategies - headed by former Queensland ALP Senator John Black – reveals that the loss of Kevin Rudd’s pro-Christian profile cost the ALP support in marginal seats, particularly in the key states of Queensland and NSW.

Writing in Monday’s Australian Financial Review (offline), John Black highlighted this fact but also added that, on the flip side, “Gillard’s lack of religious beliefs – or the absence of Rudd’s Christian image – may have led to an increase in the swings to Labor candidates from agnostics and atheists.”

Tellingly though, Christian voters appear to have had a far greater impact.

Mr Black states in his report summary that: “There’s no doubt that the impact of these Christian and family factors cost the ALP more seats than it gained...the ALP did, after all, lose the Rudd majority of some 16 seats in net terms.” Please click here to see the full report.

The results of this research appear to be in keeping with qualitative research undertaken by the National Forum (publisher of Online Opinion) into Christian voting intentions carried out a month prior to the Federal election (between July 18 and 21).

This research found that going into the 2010 election, Christian voters were tending towards the Coalition, reversing the trend of the last election when the ‘Rudd factor’ (Kevin Rudd’s acknowledgement of his Christian faith) appears to have come into play. It showed that 30% of Christian voters who voted Labor at the last election were either undecided or planned to vote for the Coalition at the 2010 election (compared to the 22% of people who fit that category from the total sample).

As mentioned, this research was carried out a month before the Federal election – and prior to Julia Gillard making greater efforts to engage with the Christian constituency. Two weeks before the election, Ms Gillard agreed to address Christians via a video interview with Jim Wallace and made some important commitments on upholding the status of marriage and extending the school chaplaincy program.

Whether these and other commitments affected the size of the swing in the Christian vote is as yet unknown, as is how much having an atheist leader running against a leader of strong faith affected voting decisions.

This election’s research is all the more interesting in the light of that by Australian Development Strategies following the 2007 election, which also highlighted the importance of the Christian vote. As Christopher Pearson commented in The Australian at the time, “The most surprising of his (John Black’s) findings is that the religious affiliation of swinging voters played a more decisive role in determining the outcome than any other single factor.”

These demographic assessments – both in 2010 and 2007 – provide valuable confirmation of the importance of the Christian vote and the fact that it is not held captive by one particular party, but can be won or lost by either side. As the ACL has said in the past, Christians don’t vote in a bloc, but often tend to weigh up their vote and consider the respective parties’ strengths in terms of both moral and social justice issues.

For obvious reasons, politicians tend to listen more to a constituency if it has an effective influence on election outcomes. This new assessment has reinforced the need for politicians to listen to Christian views when developing policies and framing laws. It is a welcome development as we work towards having a more moral, compassionate and caring society.