Why religion will matter in 2012

After the release of our poll last week showing the impact of perceptions of religious differences on support for President … Continued

After the release of our poll last week showing the impact of perceptions of religious differences on support for President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, I’ve been answering a lot of questions about why religion will matter in the 2012 elections.  There is both a particular and a general answer to this question.

Jay LaPrete

AP

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks in the warehouse at Screen Machine Industries during a campaign stop in Pataskala, Ohio in July 2011.

The 2012 presidential election is more than 15 months away, but Republican presidential hopefuls are already simultaneously burnishing their religious credentials and trying to address potentially problematic religious connections. Although only four-in-ten Americans currently know Mitt Romney is Mormon, as his campaign proceeds, he will need to negotiate negative perceptions of his Mormon faith, particularly among white evangelical Protestants who make up a sizeable portion of the Republican base.  Michele Bachmann has faced criticisms that her former long-time church holds anti-Catholics views and that her husband’s Christian counseling practice offers discredited ex-gay “reparative therapy.” Texas Governor Rick Perry is holding an all-day Christian prayer event this weekend on August 6 in Houston, an event that many see as a de facto presidential campaign launch.  And on the Democratic side, President Obama continues to have his own problems with perceptions of his faith: only four-in-ten Americans correctly identify his religion as Christian, and 18 percent of Americans continue to wrongly believe he is Muslim. 

Ed Andrieski

AP

Texas Gov. Rick Perry addresses the Western Conservative Summit in Denver on Friday, July 29, 2011.

In addition to the specifics of the 2012 horse race, there is a second, simpler answer to why religion will matter in the 2012 election: Americans are generally highly religious, and it is at least one important lens influencing Americans’ views of political candidates.

Sociologists have long noticed that Americans registered much higher levels of religiosity than most industrialized nations. G.K. Chesterton called America “the nation with the soul of a church,” and Max Weber, de Tocqueville, and other prominent observers of America all saw the peculiarly strong religious character of American culture as a mark of its uniqueness.

These earlier observations stand up today in scientific surveys. Gallup found that Americans register higher religiosity scores—as measured by self-reported worship attendance, salience of religion in their personal lives, and confidence in religious institutions—than other residents of North America and every western European country except Ireland. 

Consider these findings from the 2010 American Values Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute:

·         Nearly six-in-ten (57 percent) Americans say religion is very important or the most important thing in their lives.

·         A majority (51 percent) of Americans report attending religious services at least a few times per month.

·         Nine-in-ten Americans report that they believe in God. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) believe that God is a person with whom one can have a relationship.

·         Nearly seven-in-ten (69 percent) Americans believe that the Bible is the word of God, and nearly half of this group (33 percent) believe that the Bible should also be taken literally, word for word.

Moreover, religion is not only a personal matter for many Americans, but it is also something they see as important in evaluating political leaders.

·         A July 2011 PRRI survey found that a majority (56 percent) of Americans say it is very or somewhat important for a presidential candidate to have strong religious beliefs, regardless of whether those beliefs are the same as their own.  Majorities of both Democrats (51 percent) and Republicans (71 percent) agree with this statement.

·         A 2010 survey by Pew Research Center found that approximately six-in-ten (61 percent) Americans agree that it is important that members of Congress have strong religious beliefs, including 55 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans.

While it is too soon to say for certain what will happen in 2012, understanding the religious forces in American culture will be sure to help make sense not only of the twists and turns of the campaigns but of the final tallies at the ballot box. 

 

About

Robert P. Jones Dr. Robert P. Jones is the CEO of Public Religion Research Institute and a leading scholar and commentator on religion, values, and public life.
  • usapdx

    It sure would be great in the USA if our elected members of government would just fully live up to their oath of office and leave their religion and sex life at home. Religion of any kind does not belong in the government of the United States of America.

  • JA6crazx

    I believe that when you purge God or religion from your country. You get a self proclaimed god for your leader .instead of a good man or woman with strong values.( my bud G.W.B). I also don’t believe our nation developed so strong from pure scientific thinking. With out the Bible as a guide who many wild ideas would have taken hold. And may yet. Jesus,God , Budha included. I am for God as you understand him. But right thinking and living don’t just spring up. Our country needs clear thinkers .To get through tough times and lead the world.

  • YEAL9

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country “ain’t” going to help a “pro-life” presidential candidate, i.e Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Ron Paul or Rick Santorum, in 2012 as the “Immoral Majority” rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The “Immoral Majority” you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million “Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers” of aborted womb-babies” whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million “IM” voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for “pro-life” JM.

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe they should be called the “Stupid Majority”?)

    (The failures of the widely used birth “control” methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and STDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and STDs.)

  • persiflage

    Avoid all forms of extremism from the religious and political right – not that there’s any real difference between the two.

    Hold your nose and vote democratic. You’ll thank yourself later.

  • persiflage

    ‘Obama is the pawn of radical extremists and a patron of George Sorros an anti-Christian Marxist Socialist. ‘

    A classic case of projection from the more extreme rightwing theorcratic elements On Faith. Not only that, but as one of the world’s wealthier investors and financiers, I’d hardly classify Soros as marxist socialist – although his politics are more left than right. Probably a function of his Hungarian roots….

    But then, atheists Gates and Buffett are more left than right as well…….Buffett says tax the rich – a whole lot more.

    Believing in 2000 year old fantasies can lead one to the abyss of unreason.

  • persiflage

    ‘And, the Tea Party’s influence isn’t waning. ‘

    Voters now see that the Tea Party was a huge mistake, with their recalcitrant refusal to compromise and willingness to sacrifice the credit standing of our nation for the sake of anti-government ideology.

    Fractious anarchists are not the answer to structural problems that have been building since Ronald Reagan reduced taxes on the rich from about 50% to the present-day 33%. – with capital gains taxes frozen for the last several years at 15%.

    Our two recent and ongoing wars have now cost upwards of 3 trillion dollars – a monumental waste of staggering proportions. By any standards, capitalism today is not the capitalism of the Eisenhower era – when the rising tide of manufacturing and corporate success floated all boats.

    Today, most millionaires are made by trading paper, rather than contributing anything fundamentally worthwhile to society.

    The Tea Party is DOA in 2012……….

  • boblesch

    if religion becomes an issue for the 2 major party candidates, that leaves the door wide open for a third party, or even no party, agnostic to finally have a chance at breaking up washington’s deadlock.

  • allinthistogether

    It is truly depressing to recognize that so many people in the U.S. believe that their beliefs must be true, that all awareness of reality can be accurately filtered through those preconceptions, no matter how extreme, and that anyone who doesn’t believe in the same preconceptsions is wrong and immoral. One of the great risks of religion is the mistake of creating a god in your own image, and trapping yourself in the resulting narcissism. That narcissism causes a downward spiral of judgement, obsession and extremism, and appears to be causing many Americans (and commenters) to be badly distorting and violating the teachings of Jesus, whom they claim to to follow. Jesus did not instruct anyone to preach hate.

    The solution to narcissism and extremism is to pay attention to the reality around us, to the details, and work together toward specific practical, constructive goals that will help everyone flourish.

    What helps people flourish is good/moral. What takes from the poor to give to the rich, takes from the weak to give to the powerful, deceives with exaggerations, sensationalism, half-truths or outright lies,or tears down others for one’s own benefit or pleasure is immoral.

    We can do better if we set aside our pre-judgements and work together.

  • allinthistogether

    It is truly depressing to recognize that so many people in the U.S. believe that their beliefs must be true, that all awareness of reality can be accurately filtered through those preconceptions, no matter how extreme, and that anyone who doesn’t believe in the same preconceptsions is wrong and immoral. One of the great risks of religion is the mistake of creating a god in your own image, and trapping yourself in the resulting narcissism. That narcissism causes a downward spiral of judgement, obsession and extremism, and appears to be causing many Americans (and commenters) to be badly distorting and violating the teachings of Jesus, whom they claim to to follow. Jesus did not instruct anyone to preach hate.

    The solution to narcissism and extremism is to pay attention to the reality around us, to the details, and work together toward specific practical, constructive goals that will help everyone flourish.

    What helps people flourish is good/moral. What takes from the poor to give to the rich, takes from the weak to give to the powerful, deceives with exaggerations, sensationalism, half-truths or outright lies,or tears down others for one’s own benefit or pleasure is immoral.

    We can do better if we set aside our pre-judgements and work together.

  • persiflage

    ‘Those two ongoing wars are Obama Wars, one is unauthorized.’

    Suggest a brainscan for possible damage indicated by profound memory loss. Iraq is still very much in play (since 2003) and US troops have been in Afghanistan since before that time. With all the attention, troops, and financing focused on Iraq rather than Afghanistan, it took until 2011 to finally bring bin Laden to justice. Iraq was a monumental waste that started us down the road to financial perdition………..and it was all about oil. Non-existent WMDs and so-called nation building were smokescreens.

    The Bush-Cheney administration essentially set the economic collapse in motion, and also generated the first federal bailout that ended up in banking industry hands.

    Lybia is not a US war despite all the posturing in congress by republicans – the GOP generally prefers wars that they start themselves i.e. Iraq……….over 100,000 casulties and counting.
    ______________

    ‘The majority of We the People have informed Obama to dump Obamacare’

    The majority of American people believe we need a national healthcare policy – and we could have gotten a much better one without GOP stonewalling in congress on behalf of corporate interests.

    Recent GOP/TP efforts at delaying the debt ceiling increase have now resulted in the USA losing it’s AAA credit rating for the first time in history. There is really nothing fanatics on the right will not do in their mad attempts to secure control of our country for their corporate masters.

    Pandering to religious fundamentalists and their wacko candidates is merely another smokescreen generated to confuse ordinary voters – because the GOP has no candidates that can govern. The fact is, none have even the modest skills of a GWB – since Romney sold out to the Tea Party.

    ‘The word is not theocratic but theocentric that is in accord with the Founding Fathers.’

    The Founders would be aghast at all the religious posturing perpetrated by political candidates on the right these days

  • ThomasBaum

    TTWSYFAMDGGAHJMJ1, a couple of simple questions, they do not need encyclopedic answers:

    Do you believe that Jesus took ALL of the sins of all of humanity (everyone, past, present, future) upon Himself?

    Do you think/believe that anyone’s “badness” can be “badder” than God’s Goodness?

    Do you think/believe that God asked us to be “more forgiving” than God is willing and capable of being?

    I am presenting these simple questions to you as a person not as a search engine, could you answer them as a person?

    One more question: Have you heard the prayer that is sometimes said at Mass: “Lord, by Your Cross and Resurrection, You have set US free, You are the SAVIOUR OF THE WORLD”?

    I happen to believe that simple prayer is true, even tho I do not know if I have met any other human being that believes it, no problem, the truth of anyone’s belief/s is not contingent on whether or not they or anyone else believes it or not.

    And as far a SAVIOUR OF THE WORLD, God’s Plan is not limited to humanity, much less just part of humanity.

    As Jesus taught us to pray “Thy Will Be Done…”, something isn’t it, Jesus asked us to pray for God’s Will even if we don’t believe God’s Will.

  • persiflage

    More TTWSTY nonsense:

    ‘ It’s a symptom of Obama’s penchant for Liberation Theology, a Marxist movement ………’

    The rightwing methane marsh is particularly gaseous today. LIberation theology is a Catholic Latin American movement that was just too leftwing for Vatican tastes – therefore declared ‘marxist’. Popes generally prefer their politics to the right of center. Pious XII ignored the plight of Jews during WWII for such a prolonged period mainly because of his severe anti-communist phobia – the Germans were after all at war with Russia…..good enough reason to ignore their other genocidal tendencies.

    The fact is, Karl Marx was a 19th German social philosopher with a number of good ideas – none of which were implemented until modern day social democracies in Europe, the British Isles, and Canada adopted the general concept. It’s possible that Marx may have even indirectly inspired Roosevelt to create our iconic Social Security program – which later inspired Medicare and Medicaid.

    Communiist countries devolved so quickly into dictatorships and psychopathic personality cults that any kind of Marxian utopia is the last thing either Russia or China could lay claim to.

    ‘Sorry but there’s no war in Iraq, Bush ended that one. Moreover, al Qaeda was in Iraq.’

    You’re delusional………we still have about 50,000 troops in Iraq and a similar number in South Korea. The troop drawdowns have occurred on Obama’s watch. Furthermore, al Qaeda was never in Iraq until long after we invaded – thus creating the perfect environment for a wellspring of insurgent anti-American forces of all kinds, al Qaeda included.

    Bin Laden’s location was fairly well known as the time of Afghanistan’s early troop diversions to Iraq. This brought an immediate halt to the search for bin Laden and was quickly replaced by the hunt for Saddam Hussein – diversion and mis-direction………the hallmarks of the Bush administration.

    I really think the faulty products of your rightwing misperce

  • YEAL9

    There he is again, Thomas, “Moses” “Mohammed” Baum as he continues in his godly mumble talk.

  • YEAL9

    A lot of “hot air” comments considering the following:

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country “ain’t” going to help a “pro-life” presidential candidate, i.e Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Ron Paul or Rick Santorum, in 2012 as the “Immoral Majority” rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The “Immoral Majority” you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million “Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers” of aborted womb-babies” whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million “IM” voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for “pro-life” JM.

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe they should be called the “Stupid Majority”?)

    (The failures of the widely used birth “control” methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and STDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and STDs.)

  • persiflage

    ‘the “Immoral Majority” rules the country and will be doing so for awhile’

    Hot air aside, this is good news, considering the alternative. Besides, morality in the modern age of democracy has always been expressed in the laws of the land. Behavior that follows said prescribed laws passes the ‘morality’ test – like it or not.

    Keeping religious wackos out of office is one way to preserve freedom for all in a secular democracy.

  • YEAL9

    From “More” land:

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country “ain’t” going to help a “pro-life” presidential candidate, i.e Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Ron Paul or Rick Santorum, in 2012 as the “Immoral Majority” rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The “Immoral Majority” you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million “Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers” of aborted womb-babies” whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million “IM” voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for “pro-life” JM.

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe they should be called the “Stupid Majority”?)

    (The failures of the widely used birth “control” methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and STDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and STDs.)

  • persiflage

    ‘And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe they should be called the “Stupid Majority”?)’

    Sounds more like Tea Party behavior to me……..the stupid minority.

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