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home : opinions : commentary December 17, 2014


8/15/2012 12:30:00 PM
Commentary
Presidential race: religious test that wasn't
Charles C. Haynes
First Amendment Center

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 percent think he is something else and 32 percent can't identify his faith, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center released July 26.

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, 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C., 20001. Web: firstamendmentcenter.org. Email: chaynes@freedomforum.org.


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Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, September 2, 2012
Article comment by: Citizen Atheist

Being Mormon, Catholic or any other type of Christianity isn't a problem for most voters - but when do you think we'll actually have an Atheist president? Probably not any time soon. Therefore, the religious test, which is banned in the US constitution, is ignored by most Americans. A pity too - knowing that the guy in office is using his brain instead of a 2000+ year old book that tells you if you put a black-and-white striped stick in the ground for sheep to look at that you'll end up with some black sheep and some white sheep.

Posted: Saturday, August 25, 2012
Article comment by: HARRY REID IS ALSO A MORMON

Seems the Democrats only walk in a one-way trail. Look at your own politicians, Harry Reid (D) Nevada is also a mormon. No one really knows what Obama is since he lived in Kenya for four years and attended a very racists (church) of who knows what religion. Our country needs to stick to Christian beliefs or we will all suffer greatly. We need a sound foundation or we will all fall.



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