Haynes: In presidential race, the religious test that wasn’t

2012-08-16T11:14:00Z 2012-08-29T09:50:08Z Haynes: In presidential race, the religious test that wasn’tBy CHARLES C. HAYNES | Guest column Chippewa Herald
August 16, 2012 11:14 am  • 

WASHINGTON -- Remember all the media chatter during the primaries about how the “Mormon factor” could undermine Mitt Romney’s candidacy?

Forget about it.

American voters, it turns out, are mostly unconcerned about Romney’s religious affiliation or have no idea what it is.

Only 60 percent of voters are aware that Romney is a Mormon, 9 percent think he is something else and 32 percent can’t identify his faith, according to a survey by the PewResearchCenter released last month.

Of the people who correctly identify Romney as a Mormon, 60 percent say they are comfortable with his practicing that faith and another 21 percent say it doesn’t matter. Only 19 percent claim to be “uncomfortable” with the Mormon connection.

But according to the Pew study, even white evangelicals who say they are uncomfortable with Romney’s faith plan to vote for him anyway — although their level of enthusiasm is weaker than those who have no problem with the Mormon affiliation.

The Pew results suggest that despite predictions to the contrary, religious affiliation may not be much of a factor in the 2012 presidential race. This finding tracks with the First Amendment Center’s survey showing that only 17 percent of Americans say a candidate’s religious affiliation will be “very important” in determining their vote in November.

According to the center’s State of the First Amendment survey, also released last month, 58 percent of respondents describe religious affiliation as either “not too important” or “not at all important,” with another 23 percent responding “somewhat important.”

Among voters who do focus on religious affiliation, Obama may have more of a religion problem than Romney.

In the Pew poll, only 49 percent of respondents correctly identify the president as a Christian. An astounding 17 percent still believe he is a Muslim, including 34 percent of conservative Republicans. Another 3 percent say “other” and 31 percent “don’t know.” This despite repeated assertions and symbolic gestures from the White House underscoring Obama’s Christian faith.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, of the 17 percent who wrongly identify Obama as a Muslim, 65 percent are uncomfortable with it. But since most of the discomforted aren’t likely to vote for Obama anyway, this finding may have little effect on the election.

What I find most disturbing about the Pew survey is how uninformed many American voters are about the two men running for president. Is it really possible that 40 percent of voters don’t know Mitt Romney’s religious affiliation? And how can 17 percent of voters continue to believe the canard that Barack Obama is a Muslim?

It can’t be healthy for the democratic process when so many people aren’t paying attention (or, in the case of Obama’s religion, paying attention to false propaganda).

But let’s not lose sight of what may be the silver lining: Informed or uninformed, a strong majority of Americans appears to reject making religious affiliation a threshold requirement for office.

Could it be that the United States is moving closer to the day when any qualified candidate can be elected regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof?

One can only hope.

Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum.

Copyright 2016 Chippewa Herald. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(4) Comments

  1. Enlightenment
    Report Abuse
    Enlightenment - August 17, 2012 10:19 pm
    When politicians stop using religion to garner support, to gain votes, and manipulate religious people, I will stop being biased.
  2. dfnewburry
    Report Abuse
    dfnewburry - August 17, 2012 3:30 pm
    And with your comments you showed your own bias .
  3. GBrown
    Report Abuse
    GBrown - August 17, 2012 4:31 am
    I have never worried about anyone's religious affiliations when voting and I am all for democracy; however, this time around I wonder about that select group of people that do not know either Romney or Obama’s religion.
  4. Enlightenment
    Report Abuse
    Enlightenment - August 16, 2012 12:08 pm
    "Could it be that the United States is moving closer to the day when any qualified candidate can be elected regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof?

    One can only hope."

    Unlikely with elected conservative officials using religion as a vice to push their agenda. Take a look at Perry in TX, Brownback in KS, Walker, and Santorum.
Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick