Reading the political landscape is a difficult job for most of us. As a person of faith you may have great difficulty navigating the terrain. Part of the tension in the political environment is that we have been taught by platitudes from every direction that we should discuss neither politics nor religion. Most certainly, we should not mix them!
These statements are made with great force and intimidation, but are they true? Should the two greatest influences on our lives be silenced in private conversation, let alone in the public forum? Should we never mix them? Should we pretend that one is better off without the other?
We will address some of these questions more thoroughly in future articles throughout the political season. Here, I want to share some important insights on preference for religion’s role in the public forum and how it is perceived in public opinion, largely through the eyes of Republicans and Democrats.
This article will neither condemn nor uphold either Party. You may be disturbed by some of these numbers but nominally each party is proud to claim their findings as represented here. These are not hidden secrets but may provide clarity between the two parties and the tension so often expressed at every turn. In fact, you may come to the conclusion that Faith and Politics are a much more desirable combination than we are led to believe.
1. Wanted: A Person of Faith for President
In spite of our love-hate relationship with the water and oil mixture of faith and politics, it is important to voters that the president have strong religious beliefs. In fact, it appears that a potential candidate’s greatest perceived shortcoming is to be be considered an atheist. Someone who is not religious is not likely to be elected to the office of President.
This is a perception in decline, however.
Perception may matter. Americans, and to a greater degree, Republicans specifically, view Clinton as not a religious person. Black Protestants and religiously unaffiliated voters, on the other hand, do consider her somewhat religious.
All in all, two-thirds of Democrats say she is “very” or “somewhat” religious, while two-thirds of Republicans express the opposite view, saying that she is “not too” or “not at all” religious. Quite a sharp divide between parties.
Ironically, in spite of not being perceived as religious, Trump has much favor with the Republicans who most value this asset.
Also ironic: the slate of Republican hopefuls which almost unanimously expressed strong religious views were rejected outright for the nomination. Something different more is going on in this election.
2. Loss of Religious Influence is Mourned
The loss of religious influence in American Society is generally perceived as a bad thing. This seems to contrast the normally perceived din against faith being expressed in the political arena.
Consider that 4 out of 10 survey respondents think there is too little expression of religious faith and prayer by political leaders. Only slightly under 3 out of 10 express that there has been too much of religious talk by candidates. This biggest measure of loss has occurred mostly between 2012 and 2014.
3. Perspective Matters
Each party’s view of the other party is much different than the how each party views itself. Partisans are split, in that a large number of Democrats feel that the GOP is overly influenced by religious conservatives. Alternately, Republicans think non-religious liberals exercise too much influence over the Democratic party.
4. Washington Experience Matters
Democrats view Washington experience much more positively than do Republicans. Plain and simple.
5. Faith Friendliness
42% think the Republican Party is friendly toward religion. Less than 30% see the Democratic party as a friend to religion. Most Republicans and about a third of Democrats agree with this assessment. Democrats are evenly split about their own party’s perception of friendliness toward religion: (46%) neutral, (46%) toward. Republicans largely perceive the Democratic Party as unfriendly toward religion.
THE SUPREME COURT AND CONGRESS
Two major elements under hot dispute in this election are the composition of the Supreme Court and the Congress. Congress gives or impedes the president’s momentum. A party’s majority controls the direction of that momentum. The president appoints the Supreme court. All three are intricately tied together in both a balance of power and a tug-of-war. Let’s look at what the survey revealed about religion in these two branches of government.
6. Supreme Court
Roughly half of the public views The Supreme Court is viewed as neutral toward religion by roughly half of the respondents. This is about the same as in 2014, with a slight decline in the share of Americans who say the Supreme Court is friendly toward religion.
7. Congressional Composition:
Faith is a larger component in the present 114th congress than may be readily noticed. In the House and Senate combined, 92% are Christian. Of these about 57% are Protestant. The 113th Congress had a very similar distribution: 90% and 56%, respectively. Catholic adherents make up about 31% of the 114th Congress; about the same as in the previous Congress.
Even if we don’t like to mix faith and politics it seems impossible, and many would think, unwise, to separate the two. From the beginning of our country both have been partners in shaping our country.
The core question is, “Whose religion or whose secular views deserve the greater representation?” Your vote determines that. That’s why your vote counts.