Pro: Religion dictates how candidates view the world

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

Sept. 9, 2012 at 4:09 a.m.
Updated Sept. 10, 2012 at 4:10 a.m.

CON: Many think religious beliefs should take a back seat

Religious diversity among American political candidates has steadily increased since John F. Kennedy was elected the nation's first Catholic president in 1961.

Today, political leaders of every faith - Christian, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, among others - abound in every state.

The presidential office, however, is most often clinched by Protestant nominees.

But in 2012, is a candidate's religious affiliation relevant when voters head to the polls? Does it still play a role in the election process?

Eric McDaniel, who has a doctorate and is associate professor in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin, maintains religion continues to play a role in the election process of American politics.

"One thing you see is when candidates make decisions, it's often made on gut instinct, and they make those decisions based on their background," said McDaniel, whose research centers on religion and politics, and racial and ethnic politics. "A candidate's religion can be a cue for someone deciding whether or not a person sees the world as they do."

McDaniel said the Mormon affiliation of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney may dissuade some of his Republican constituents who may not be comfortable with an unfamiliar sect of Christianity.

Of all the candidates, "It's more going to hurt Romney for being Mormon. One of the key things that was done among Romney's conservative (opponents) was to expose Mormonism as a cult and question whether he's Christian," McDaniel said. "But the Mormon church has gone out of their way to say, 'We're just like anybody else even if our faith might be different.'"

Among voters, McDaniel said he expects a high level of Mormon backlash and perhaps some Catholic backlash as well.

Jobby McClanahan, of Victoria, agreed with McDaniel that religion may affect the way he votes in November.

"I don't think I'm interested in religion first ... but it could sway my vote," he said. "Some religions scare me more than others."

Victoria resident Sarah Rivas said she, too, would be inclined to vote for a candidate based on his or her faith.

"I don't really follow politics that much, but religion would sway my decision making because if they have the same morals and beliefs I do, then they would put forth their efforts to change things that I agree with," Rivas said.

McDaniel said religious diversity in politics is increasing, and the country is showing signs of moving progressively forward. But a candidate's religion continues to share a role in the election process.

"I still think it's important that a candidate be Protestant to get elected, but it's not as important anymore," he said. "The image of the proper American (Protestant, white, male) is falling apart, but it's still pretty dominant. It's one of the plastic images we still have in our heads of being an American."



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