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The Role of Religion in the U.S. Presidential Election

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The Role of Religion in the U.S. Presidential Election

By Dr. Mary Segers //

November 1, 2012

What role might religion play in Election Day decisions by the nation’s voters as they choose between President Obama or Gov. Romney? Dr. Mary Segers, a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark who is a respected analyst on the inter-action of politics and religion, shares some thoughts.

This brief consideration of the role of religion in the 2012 election reviews, first, the religious identity of both presidential candidates, President Obama and former Governor Romney. Second, I briefly describe those religious and ethnic groups which typically align with one of the two major political parties, and then suggest how they might vote in 2012. Third, I discuss two large religious groups who might be described as swing constituencies in the upcoming election. Finally, I note that the 2012 election could present citizens with a dilemma in which both sides claim to be defending the religious freedom of Americans.

Some 17 percent of the electorate think President Barack Obama is Muslim (this has increased since 2008)---despite the fact that Obama identifies as a Christian and was a member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago from 1992 to 2008. He and his wife were married in that church and their two daughters were baptized there.

Gov. Romney's Mormon affiliation does not seem to have had a negative effect on his candidacy, despite the fact that, in 2008, according to a poll by the PEW Forum on Religion & Public Life, 30 percent of Americans said they would never vote for a Mormon for president. Perhaps American society has become more tolerant of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints in the last four years. On the other hand, Gov. Romney has seldom referred to his Mormon faith, despite pleas by some that he be more forthright in discussing his values and vision for the country. Apparently, he has been concerned about alienating members of the GOP's evangelical base (some of whom do not accept LDS as a Christian religion).

While some analysts claim there is a “God Gap” in American politics between religious Republicans and secular Democrats, the data do not support this view. On the contrary, large majorities of Hispanic Catholics, African-American Protestants, American Muslims, and Jewish voters are likely to vote Democratic in the 2012 presidential election. In addition, while Mormons and Evangelical Protestants are reliably part of the GOP base constituency, a large majority of secular voters---the unchurched, those who profess no institutional religious affiliation---are likely to be in the Democratic column.

Since 1976 (for the last nine presidential elections), a majority of Jewish voters have supported the Democratic presidential candidate. In 2008, the Jewish presidential vote split 78 percent for Obama and 21 percent for McCain. This is not to minimize the periodic attraction of the Republican Party for Jewish Americans. Neoconservatives were prominent in the coalition supporting George Bush's election in 2000 and also were prominent in the administration of President Bush. However, the influence of Christian Right organizations in the Republican Party has frightened some Jews who strongly oppose the agenda of evangelicals on abortion, gay rights, and church-state issues.

Although American Jews number 1.5% of the voting age population, voter turnout is high in the Jewish community. Moreover, Jews are strategically located in electoral-vote-rich states such as California, Florida, New York and Illinois. In the 2012 election, key issues for Jews are the national security of Israel facing the prospect of a nuclear Iran, the Arab Spring and stability in the Middle East, the conflagration in Syria, and the stalling of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

That leaves two large religious groups, Mainline Protestants (14% of the voting age population in 2008) and Roman Catholics (25% of VAP in 2008), who might be described as swing constituencies in the upcoming election.

Mainline Protestants include Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, and United Church of Christ congregants. Once solidly Republican, they have increasingly moved over to the Democratic Party. On issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, these Protestants are more liberal than Evangelicals and Catholics. A majority also hold relatively liberal views on social justice issues such as poverty and care for the environment. In 2004, Mainline Protestants voted 51% to 49% for Bush over Kerry. In the 2008 election, they voted 54% to 46% for Obama over McCain. It is difficult to predict how they might vote in 2012.

American Catholics constitute 22 percent of the population but 25 percent of the electorate. They are present in significant numbers in the nine battleground states, Florida, Ohio, Nevada, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Colorado, Virginia, Iowa, and North Carolina. In the 2008 presidential election, 54 percent of Catholics voted for Obama while 46 percent went for John McCain. The vote will be much closer this election---for several reasons.

First, the two vice-presidential candidates (Rep. Paul Ryan and Vice President Joseph Biden) are both Catholic, yet they represent two wings of the American church. Biden represents an older generation of Catholics who voted Democratic, were working class, stressed responsibility to community and tended to emphasize the social justice teachings of the church. Ryan represents a more recent generation of Catholics who tend to be affluent suburbanites, praise a capitalist market economy, stress individualism, and emphasize the church's moral teachings on reproductive matters such as abortion. In a sense, Biden and Ryan represent the two wings of a polarized Catholic church.

Romney may gain a majority of white Catholic voters, but this will be offset by the Latino vote. Latinos and Latinas now number some 50 million, two-thirds of whom are Catholic. The most recent polling shows Latino voters going for Obama by a margin of 3 to 1.

Second, Catholic church leaders – specifically, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops -- have strongly opposed some aspects of President Obama's Affordable Healthcare Act, namely the provision that church-affiliated hospitals and universities must provide health insurance that covers contraception. The bishops contend that this puts Catholic employers in the untenable position of violating Catholic moral teaching against artificial contraception.

By contrast, the Obama administration contends that since Catholic employers in hospitals and universities provide health insurance for non-Catholic as well as Catholic employees, then depriving the non-Catholics of coverage for contraceptives, which they view as moral, is an infringement of their religious freedom.

While churches are exempt from this particular federal regulation, church-related hospitals, universities and social service agencies are not exempt---chiefly because they serve non-Catholics as well as Catholics. In this way, the Obama Administration seeks to protect the religious liberty of non-Catholics. However, the bishops claim that the government has no right to define churches and religious institutions so narrowly, and that in so doing, the government is infringing upon the religious liberty of Catholics.

For the last 10 months, church leaders have been on a crusade to defend the religious freedom of the American Catholic Church. This campaign against the Obama administration may influence some Catholic voters to vote Republican; it may also alienate other Catholic voters.

This is obviously a very important election and a close, hotly contested race. Voter turnout will be decisive, so the GOTV drives are very important. I worry that we might suffer a repeat performance of the 2000 election recount, which delayed for six weeks any resolution of the actual Florida vote as well as the final victor in the presidential election.

Finally, I must sound a cautionary note. Religious voters should be cautious and realistic about the ways in which religious beliefs shape voting behavior. We may want to translate our religious beliefs and values into sound public policy for the common good. But we must be prudent and realistic about the risks involved. This is, after all, a complex, pluralistic, and highly diverse society. As the Founders James Madison and Thomas Jefferson acknowledged, there are negative consequences to being sectarian.

Mary C. Segers, Professor and Graduate Director

Rutgers University Department of Political Science, Newark

Author:

Dr. Mary Segers.

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Great idea to make a thread for this discussion.

My long-winded rant is as follows:

All of the mention of God in politics is a humongous turn-off. Religion should be a personal matter. The fact that all of the candidates absolutely must be religious, mention God every paragraph, and saying that God loves America is one of the reasons I have never voted.

Religion seems to have its hand deep in politics. Look at Proposition 8 in California, and the Mormon church for an example.

I made the case that a non-religious candidate could, in modern America, win a presidential election, and I stand by that. I think that the people who are currently in their 20s-early 30s are generally as sick of all of the religion in politics as I am.

I have heard people say that God likes America the best, that God will bless our great nation, etc. etc. It makes me sick. If there is a god, shouldn't every nation be equally blessed? Or, considering that in many religions, the god's word must be spread, perhaps a country in the middle east where religious adherence is mandatory would be God's favorite? In my opinion, there's no reason to think that there is any god, and politics must be based on people helping each other, not people receiving divine blessings.

Long-winded rant finished.


What would Xenu do?

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Some 17 percent of the electorate think President Barack Obama is Muslim (this has increased since 2008)---despite the fact that Obama identifies as a Christian and was a member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago from 1992 to 2008. He and his wife were married in that church and their two daughters were baptized there.

I think this is my favorite part. 17% PEOPLE!

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I made the case that a non-religious candidate could, in modern America, win a presidential election, and I stand by that. I think that the people who are currently in their 20s-early 30s are generally as sick of all of the religion in politics as I am.

you didn't really make a case. i'm 34 and the majority of people my age i know who shunned religion in their teens and early 20's hopped right on the religious wagon once they got married and/or started popping out kids.

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I find it interesting that a country that roared for the "freedom of religion" campaign in its constitution, and claims to exercise "separation of church and state", relies as heavily as it does on religion for political decisions.


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you didn't really make a case. i'm 34 and the majority of people my age i know who shunned religion in their teens and early 20's hopped right on the religious wagon once they got married and/or started popping out kids.

I guess my definition of 'make a case' is 'presented my opinion.'

I don't mean that I made a good or convincing case, and you very well may be right. But with that said, I do think that, little by little, there is movement away from religion in the masses. The more educated people become, the less sense religion will make.

After all, it wasn't long ago that you would need to be white and male to be the president.

Edited by duraaraa

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you didn't really make a case. i'm 34 and the majority of people my age i know who shunned religion in their teens and early 20's hopped right on the religious wagon once they got married and/or started popping out kids.

Yeah they did

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I find it interesting that a country that roared for the "freedom of religion" campaign in its constitution, and claims to exercise "separation of church and state", relies as heavily as it does on religion for political decisions.

What political decisions have been based on religion?


R.I.P Spooky 2004-2015

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What political decisions have been based on religion?

Uh...who to vote for in a presidential election? The topic of this thread is about religion and how it plays in the presidential elections, hence decisions potentially based off of religion.


I am the USC/petitioner.

Our K-1 Journey
12/19/2012 - Mailed I-129F via USPS Express
12/21/2012 - I-129F arrives in Lewisville, TX according to USPS tracking (delayed because it's the USPS)
12/21/2012 - NOA1 date of receipt
12/26/2012 - NOA1 received via text/email
12/27/2012 - Checked cashed by USCIS
12/31/2012 - Alien Number changed (NOA1 hardcopy in post, but was away for 2 weeks prior)

05/16/2013 - NOA2 received via text/email

05/20/2013 - NOA2 hardcopy received in post

05/28/2013 - NVC receives packet and assigns London case number

07/15/2013 - Sent all paperwork/medical complete

08/23/2013 - Receive Interview Date

09/19/2013 - Interview

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Uh...who to vote for in a presidential election? The topic of this thread is about religion and how it plays in the presidential elections, hence decisions potentially based off of religion.

I thought you were actually talking about political decisions by the government.


R.I.P Spooky 2004-2015

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I guess my definition of 'make a case' is 'presented my opinion.'

I don't mean that I made a good or convincing case, and you very well may be right. But with that said, I do think that, little by little, there is movement away from religion in the masses. The more educated people become, the less sense religion will make.

After all, it wasn't long ago that you would need to be white and male to be the president.

the more educated people become? is that what you think is happening in this country?

the majority of people need and want religion in their lives. i'm not sure exactly why, but society shows this is the case. maybe it's because there is no sense of community, one you reach a certain age, outside of church community. i'm not really sure..but comparing race and sex to religion is kind of pointless. you don't choose your sex or race - you do choose your religious association. and politicians best choose wisely.

lemme put it this way, we should see an actual muslim president or buddhist president or hindu president before we see an atheist president. you do know that an atheist candidate for president would literally equate with the antichrist? can you imagine the uproar?

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