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Event report: God and Politics: Examining Religion in the 2012 Election at CAP

27 January 2012

The event God and Politics: Examining Religion in the 2012 Election took place at the Center for American Progress on January 24.

Opening speaker, Dr. Robert Jones, Founding CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute gave a broad overview of religious demographics and political preferences in the United States. He noted that the majority of white Protestants in the U.S. has steadily declined as a proportion of the population so that it is now at 36%. America is also on the cusp of being a non-white majority country. There has been a big decline in the number of white Catholics in the country but concurrently the catholic population has been buoyed by increasing numbers of latino Catholics. The bulk of Obama's religious support in 2008 was ethnic christians and the non-religiously affiliated. Over the last few decades white Catholics have moved further into the Republican camp while white Protestants show a slight trend in moving towards Democrats. Recent polls have shown white Evangelicals being all over the electoral map. Critically, Mitt Romney is currently missing a large portion of the white evangelical vote.

Polls asking how important religious beliefs are for the President of the United States show that it is, unsurprisingly, a stronger tendancy of Evangelicals. 4 in 10 say that they would think twice about voting for a non-Christian. Half of Evangelicals say that Mormonism is not a Christian faith. 18% of all poll respondents believe that Obama is a Muslim.  Among those who say that Obama's religion is very different from their own, 8 in 10 say that they would not vote for him and there is a clear correlation among Christian respondents between this sense of how different Obama is from one's own religious beliefs and how willing you would be to vote for him.

Shaun Casey, Professor of Christian Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary said that religion could possibly be a significant factor in the downfall of Obama in the 2012 election but it depends on a few factors. Firstly, if Republicans candidates pull in the support of the Evangelical base. Secondly, if Mainline Protestants and Catholics don't come out to vote for him. Thirdly, if Obama fails to incorparate effective faith outreach in his campaign. Fourthy, if the Catholic bishops come out against him. He noted that it is interesting how since 1960 religious intolerance has shifted significantly. During Kennedy's campain the anti-Catholicism came from secular liberals. Today people are unlikely to be as open about religious prejudice but if you are not a Mainline Christian it is still very difficult to become president.

Rev. Gabriel Salguero, President of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, said that Evangelical latino voters will play a big role in the election. Most religious leaders in the country are asking for immigration reform so it is something that everybody wants. Many latinos talk about not voting because of the government's indecision about immigration policy. It's not in the interest of any candidate to alienate latinos because they will be a big voting block today and even more so in the future.

Joanna Brooks, a columnist for Religion Dispatches said that we need more data on Evangelical voting. It varies significantly between states. She also said that adequate understanding of Mormon's is still lacking in the U.S. Suspicion of Mormons has been significant in American history and that is still showing itself today. She noted how Mitt Romney speaks broadly about Christian and patriotic themes that remove attention from his Mormonism. Speaking broadly to spiritual concerns has always been a powerful way of capturing the imagination of the American people.

A full video of the event is available on the Center for American Progress website. Click here.

Alex Ingrams
SPSSI Policy Coordinator

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