Religion and it’s Changing Role in American Politics

On November 8, 2012, two days after the election, Robert Jones spoke in Schneebeck Concert Hall about the role religion is playing in American politics and how it is changing.

He started off by talking about the issues that voters valued in 2012, which were same-sex marriage and abortion. For the same-sex marriage initiatives, the results were the same percentage wise as public opinion polls taken right before the election. On abortion issues, people were divided on the legality of it, but only 15 percent want it illegal in all cases.

When polled about the most influential issue in the election, likely voters said it was the economy that influenced their vote. 59 percent of those in Ohio want more support for the auto industry. Also, there is strong support for increasing taxes on those who make over $250,000 per year.

Religion is stable among the Democratic coalition. Jones said that Romney’s Mormonism was a bigger factor in the primaries than in the general election because of the number of candidates. In the general election, Romney got about 75 percent of the white Evangelical vote.

Meanwhile, the Catholic vote is complex because of its divisions among race. Latino Catholics support Obama, while white Catholics support Romney. Obama wins the overall Catholic vote. Among Catholics who voted for Obama, 60 percent of those want social justice and more help for the poor over abortion issues. Those who voted for Romney, 67 of those cared more about abortion. Among all Catholics, it is a close race. 49 percent support Obama, while 47 percent support Romney.

The people who are not associating with a religion have increased and now become more democratic in their patterns of voting. Religiously unaffiliated Americans now make up 19 percent of the population. 23 percent of those unaffiliated with a religion voted for Obama while Romney got only eight percent of the unaffiliated vote.

After the presentation, in the Q&A section, Jones stated that two-thirds of Americans want a strict separation of church and state.

A member of the audience asked about the importance of religion in people’s lives. Two-thirds of Americans want a presidential candidate to have strong religious beliefs, but few of those people wanted the presidential candidates to share the same beliefs as they do.

A student in the audience asked about climate change and how it didn’t receive any attention from either candidate. Jones responded with the fact that as the economy becomes the major issue, climate change gets pushed aside and gets no attention. Jones explained that the climate change question is politically charged and heavily partisan. “Democrats want stricter regulation, while the Republicans want more lenient regulations,” he said.

Another student asked about the possibility of an unaffiliated candidate running for office in the future. Jones said that it shouldn’t be a problem. Americans are most scared of an Atheist, Muslim, or a Mormon leader.

Overall, even though more voters cared more about same-sex marriage and abortion issues, the economy was still the most influential factor in the election. Also, more people are increasingly not affiliating with a religion and voting democratic.