August 14th, 2012
11:50 AM ET

Romney-Ryan ticket makes U.S. religious history

By Josh Levs, CNN

(CNN) - In selecting Paul Ryan for his running mate, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has made modern political history: a major party ticket with no Protestant Christian.

Some historians call it the first ever. Others say it's technically the first since Abraham Lincoln. And there is an argument to be made regarding Dwight Eisenhower.

But in any case, "this Republican ticket really symbolizes the passing of an era," said William Galston, senior fellow with the Brookings Institution.

Romney is Mormon. Ryan is Catholic.

It's a trend also reflected in the Supreme Court. Once dominated by Protestants, there are now none among the nine justices, Galston noted. "All the groups that make up the new American population, as opposed to the population of 50 years ago, are now participating on equal" terms, in politics and American society in general, he said.

"It's quietly dramatic."

With or without Romney, Washington’s a Mormon stronghold

For months, it appeared likely that the GOP would choose a non-Protestant for its presidential nominee for the first time in modern history. But the number two slot remained in question.

In choosing a running mate who is Catholic, Romney showed that he is not worried about damaging support among Protestants, "especially those who don't think of themselves as evangelicals," Galston said. "I'm not saying that Romney thought he could afford to take them for granted. But clearly he felt that he could reach out in another direction."

Half the U.S. population identifies as Protestant, while a quarter identifies as Catholic, according to the American Religious Identification Survey from Trinity College, published in 2009. Mormons are at 1.4%, just behind Jews at 1.8%. Muslims comprise 0.3% of the population.

The electorate has reshaped over the last several decades, including along religious lines, Galston said. Conservatives within each denomination have built alliances over core issues that outweigh denominational differences.

Opinion: Paul Ryan provokes debate over Catholic politics

"The old lines between Catholics and Protestants which were dominant in our politics as recently as the 1960 election have been replaced by new lines of division, not between denominations but within them. So you now have a coalition of evangelical protestants and traditionalist Catholics, and Orthodox Jews as well. ... It is a very important fact about American politics today."

In 1960, John F. Kennedy faced questions from some voters concerned he would take orders from the pope. That kind of skepticism is virtually unheard of today, Galston said.

Abortion - particularly the Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that women have a constitutional right to an abortion - played a key role in building the new alliance among conservatives of different denominations, Galston said.

"From the standpoint of conservative Republicans, the fact that Paul Ryan is down-the-line pro-life is much more important than the fact that he's a Catholic rather than a Protestant," he said.

People within each denomination who support abortion rights and take liberal stances on numerous issues, meanwhile, have formed similar bonds on the Democratic side.

Romney's success in the battle for the presidential nomination also reflects how times have changed.

Neither major party has ever had a Mormon nominee.

Mormons consider themselves a Christian religion, but a restoration of the early church and therefore distinguished from Protestant tradition. Some Christians do not see Mormonism as a part of Christianity.

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Protestantism began as a movement breaking off from the Catholic Church in the 16th century.

Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley says Americans have achieved enough comfort with Mormonism to make room for a possible Romney presidency.

"Are we ready for a Mormon president? I think the answer is yes," Brinkley said in an interview with CNN in January.

The Mormon population is growing quickly, and more and more people have Mormon friends, he said. "It's no longer a fringe group growing up. It's a powerful and important religion."

Mormons have been recruiting Southern Baptists and Methodists to join their fold, making inroads in communities across the country and raising money, Brinkley said. "The Mormon Church is booming when some of the other denominations are struggling for cash and converts."

Mark Silk, professor of religion in public life at Trinity College, said most American voters are "prepared to think about people who are not Protestant to be president."

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

On the Democratic side, President Barack Obama is Protestant, while Vice President Joe Biden is Catholic. Obama's race, of course, distinguishes him in another way from the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who have nearly always inhabited the White House.

A survey last month by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found "little evidence to suggest that concerns about the candidates' respective faiths will have a meaningful impact in the fall elections."

Among those who know Romney is Mormon, 60% said they are comfortable with his religion, while 19% said they are not.

Among those who know Obama is Christian, 82% were comfortable and 12% were uncomfortable.

The survey found 60% of respondents know Romney's religion. Only 49% know Obama is Christian, while 17% think he is Muslim.

While some headlines declare Romney-Ryan ticket the first ever major party ticket without a Protestant, there may be an exception from the days of Lincoln.

Lincoln himself "didn't belong to any church, wouldn't have described himself as a Protestant," Silk said. Lincoln did express a deep belief in a God.

His first vice president, Hannibal Hamlin, was Protestant, according to adherents.com, which tracks the religious affiliations of presidents and vice presidents throughout U.S. history.

In his second run, Lincoln took on Andrew Johnson as his number two. While some sources refer to Johnson having Baptist parents, he "is not known to have ever been an official member of any church," adherents.com says.

Among Democrats, Kennedy; John Kerry, who is Catholic; and Michael Dukakis, who is Greek Orthodox, had running mates who were Protestant.

Republican Presidents Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon were Quakers, and Eisenhower was a Jehovah's Witness but converted to Presbyterianism after his inauguration, according to adherents.com.

The Quaker tradition grew of Protestantism, though Quakers generally reject the Protestant label. Under that reading, one could argue that the Eisenhower-Nixon ticket of 1952, before Eisenhower's conversion, did not include a Protestant.

While the two presidential tickets this year reflect a religious pluralism, it remains centered only on Christian denominations - setting aside the question of whether Mormonism fits a traditional definition of Christian.

Just how much of a chance a candidate of another religion would have at the presidency is another question.

Some believe that Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000 who ran for the party's nomination in 2004, was not hampered by being Jewish. "I don't think that the classic triad Catholic-Protestant-Jew makes a difference at all," Galston said. "Joe Lieberman's candidacy foundered, but not because he was Jewish."

But there has never been a Jewish presidential nominee. And just how a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or member of any other religion would fare is another question.

And analysts agree that voters would quickly reject a candidate who does not believe in God - even if he or she had been raised Christian.

"Whether anyone would accept a professed out-of-the-closet atheist, no," Galston said. "You'd probably have a better chance as a former member of the Taliban."

Weigh in on this story at Facebook or Twitter.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: 2012 Election • Christianity • Mormonism • Paul Ryan

soundoff (410 Responses)
  1. Otis Gregory

    President Obama attended a Christian church for 20 years in Chicago (Rev. Wright) does that suggest that he is a Christian / Protestant? He headed a ticket in 2008...

    August 14, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • VIKKI

      Obama was raised a Muslim, and even attended a Muslim religious school (Madrassa) during his formative years in Indonesia. He can quote the Quran accurately and in perfect Arabic, and he can also sing the Muslim call to prayer, the Adhan, in perfect Arabic. In fact, in March of 2007 he said that it is "the prettiest sound on Earth at sunset" (look it up-www.nytimes.com /2007/03/06/opinion/06/kristof.htm/. i would hardly consider his membership in Jeremiah Wright's church as evidence that he is a Christian, since Wright preaches his own brand of a gospel of hate, primarily towards this country and all white people in it. I advise you to take a closer look at Obama before you enter a voting booth on 11-06-12. At least read his memoirs 'Dreams From My Father', as I have, which has now been proven to be full of lies by his own biographer, David Maraniss. Do some research about this man and stop relying on what you hear from him or from the networks, because none of them will tell you the truth about this man. Do it for your sake and for the sake of this country.

      August 14, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • Bob

      VIKKI, it's an embarrassment to thinking people everywhere that the POTUS has ANY religious beliefs (or has to claim to have such, to be electable). However, times are changing and hopefully soon America will rid itself of the horrid mind disease known as Christianity.

      August 14, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • PerceivedReality

      American mainstream culture has been moving away from the principals of Christianity for the last 4 decades. We have went from shows like "Little house on the prarie" to "the jersey shore" I am sure you think that is a good thing. No friend, I think that athiesm is a symptom of the degradation of our culture, a child's innocence doesn't stand a chance of lasting more than a few years in this current culture. People like you want to suckle the sm.ut and dare anyone to get in your way. You don't want to think about the collateral damage you cause with your ev.il desires. Our culture has become so decadant that I cannot watch TV or hope for a decent movie out of hollywood. No sir, nothing is taboo and nothing is sacred to an athiest, not even his own life or his own flesh and blood. Athiesm (Hed.onism) is the true disease of the mind.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  2. James

    Posts like this do nothing but serve the medias aim of casting us against each other in class/race/religious warfare instead of focusing on substance which is the ONLY way Obama can win.
    In other NEWS, Biden just told a crowd full of minorities that Romney/Ryan would put them back in shackles. What a sham.

    I say this again Obama: WHERE IS YOUR PLAN?

    August 14, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  3. IslandAtheist

    Why would Romney want to be a mere President when his faith tells him he gets his very own planet to rule over?

    August 14, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  4. Jon

    I figured when I saw the article that the blog would be filled with a lot of religious bigots ... I was right. Thanks liberals for not letting me down.

    August 14, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Ask a billion minorities who the bigots are.

      Right wing wins by a land slide

      August 14, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  5. Rags

    Frankly, as far as I'm concerned, religion choice is little if anything of an issue with holding the Presidential office. What's compelling this time is the Republican choice of a person with no morals at all. He has shown repeatedly that he cares little about anything but making himself and others of his ilk, richer and richer. He cares absolutely nothing about us, therefore, anybody with half a brain or more will not just walk, but will run as fast as possible away from him!

    August 14, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • Jon

      You talk about Romeny saying he doesn't care about anyone but himself ... please answer me this question ... How many hours have you dontated of your time to non-profit endevors? A mormon friend of mine told me that Romney dontated about 30 hours per week for the 5 years he was the pastor of his church and another 30 hours per week for nine years as the pastors regional leader. Plus 2.5 years serving in France ... then there was the 3 years he dontated to the Olympics, and 4 years he dontated as Governor.

      I think that Romney has given a lot back to the people that he comes into contact with. Before you open your mouth to put him down ... tell us how much time you have dontated.

      August 14, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  6. Greg

    Protestants gave religious freedom even tough Catholic Inquisitors killed them for centuries. They tried to escape the zealots who gave us the Bartholomew's Day Massacre and the polygamists that get rid of younger rivals that threaten their harem. No Protestants sit on the Supreme Court even though the US was born a Protestant country. More unionized religions have taken over our country. Is it any wonder we keep slipping?

    August 14, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • William Demuth

      A protestant country?

      Are you illiterate or merely indoctrinated?

      August 14, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Lindsey


      August 14, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Lindsey

      William: America was born a protestant country. Look at the signers of the Declaration and see how many of them were protestant. Nearly all of them.

      August 14, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • rAmen

      because protestants NEVER oppressed religious freedom. *cough* Salem Witch Trials

      August 14, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      the Declaration of Independence is not the law.

      The Const'tution is the law. Where is Protestantism listed in the Const'tution?

      The signers of both docvments whether they were Protestants or not (this is irrelevant) created a new country with the founding principle of freedom of religious exercise – a radical departure from the norms of their day.

      Ignoring Jefferson and his letters on the doctrine of separation, George Washington's letter to the Jewish congregation in Newport and the Treaty of Tripoli help make this abundantly clear.

      From the Treaty of Tripoli:
      Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen

      August 14, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • wow

      Wait ... who wrote the Declaration of Independence? Oh yeah, some guy who was definitely not a protestant. Get thyself to a history book!

      August 14, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Greg

      One dude says Thomas Jefferson wan't Protestant and says to read a book. Jefferson was a Deist which would fit under the Protestant blanket of religions. Catholics sure though the US was a Protestant country. Read about Max Weber's Protestant work ethic. I'm Agnostic, not religious and even that fits somewhat under the Protestant name because the "protest" was against Catholics.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Jared

      @I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      You do realize that the US wrote treaties back then (*cough* and probably still do *cough*) to get whatever we wanted. We'd say anything, just ask the Native Americans how reliable treaties written during that time from are.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • Greg

      I'm not saying Protestants re great,but they own up their wrongs more often than Big Religion Catholics. Hawthorne writes about the wrong of the Salem witch trials and the sins of this ancestors. John Robinson the man the Pilgrims looked to for guidance scolded Standish for his bad actions against the Indians. Catholics want to call Standish a Catholic , so they can horn in on the founding of the US. Very debatable, what faith he belonged to. Mormons have a big banking system like the Jews and the Catholics. Big Religion = Big Money. Now, we have 2 bad candidates.

      August 14, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • save the world and slap some sense into a christard today!

      wow. this is the problem with our country. too many people (like greg and lindsey here) that have never had a high school government course, or who slept through it, or who were not listening. In effecting the ratification of the const'itution, the founders put aside their own personal religious leanings. Not only does the const'tution not involve itself with a particular religion, but it makes a point that religion should not interfere with government, and be separate from government. The country's foundation was simply liberty for all. They were brilliant and had the foresight to put future generations ahead of their own individual tendencies. Too bad these simple concepts are lost on many "citizens" today who lack proper education.

      August 14, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  7. Peter

    OBama a protestant????I think not!

    August 14, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Rags

      Peter, why not? Please be specific and show proof, not just lies and imaginations.

      Thank you in advance for being honest in your reply.

      August 14, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  8. James

    I'm proud to be a conservative and offer PLANS and SUBSTANCE not FEAR and DEBT.

    August 14, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • cchristi42

      Not fear and debt.

      He doesn't get rid of the deficit, and he wants to increase military spending, which is purely based on fear.

      So again how do they get rid of fear and debt?

      August 14, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  9. James

    Let CNN's attack of Romney/Ryan begin. Wow.

    August 14, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • cchristi42

      presenting some facts is an attack?

      August 14, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  10. jeff

    It's also historic since Romney is the first cult member to be on a major party ticket for president.

    August 14, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • VIKKI

      Oh, the joys of liberal ignorance. Barack Obama is a Muslim and Joe Biden a Catholic. Talk about religious history!

      August 14, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • rAmen

      obama's a muslim? cool story

      August 14, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • wow

      Vikki – you may want to loosen your tin foil hat. Seems it's screwed on a bit too tight.

      August 14, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  11. sensecommon

    Second ticket of non-Protestanst. We have a Muslim and Catholic now. LOL.

    August 14, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • TheZel


      August 14, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • derp

      only retards spell retard with a 3

      August 14, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Rags

      You and Vicki are liars or else you're brainless trolls. Do your homework and don't just spout what you may have heard on Faux.

      August 14, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  12. Jim

    Anyone who believes America would support a Mormon/Catholic alliance probably foolishly believes that America would also support a black man for president.

    August 14, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  13. An Atheist's Perspective

    It really says something about our nation when "making religious history" means both candidates are a different flavor of Christianity. That's us, the Land of the Free and a beacon of democracy for the world, choosing our leader from the wide open field of two rich Christian dudes every four years.

    August 14, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  14. IslandAtheist

    I would like to see a Pastafarian President or maybe even a Jedi or Wiccan .

    August 14, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Kira

      I personally feel that a Klingon would really help restore our country to balance right about now.

      August 14, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Bob

      May the farce be with you.

      August 14, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • WDRED

      Anything would be better than the Ferengi we have had running the country for the last 40 years.

      August 14, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • basketcase

      Pastafarian? Is that like spaghetti with dreadlocks?

      August 14, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  15. Kira

    "Whether anyone would accept a professed out-of-the-closet atheist, no," Galston said. "You'd probably have a better chance as a former member of the Taliban."

    This is very saddening to me. Why is it that we can accept drug users, alcoholics, and otherwise morally unsound people into leadership positions, but we immediately shun upstanding citizens who happen to be nonbelievers? Is believing in no God really that much more extreme than believing that you will become one, or that there are multiple deities controlling our fates?

    August 14, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      "I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God." – George H. W. Bush.

      August 14, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • An Atheist's Perspective

      @ Kira

      "Why is it that we can accept drug users, alcoholics, and otherwise morally unsound people into leadership positions, but we immediately shun upstanding citizens who happen to be nonbelievers?"

      Simple. To believers their belief makes them moral and righteous, it comes with their label of believer. If you're a believer then the other believers automatically attach that "moral and righteous" label to you. It's "honor by association". If you aren't a believer those who are aren't going to accept you're a good person since in their eyes belief and being a good person are inseparable. To them it's both or none.

      August 14, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  16. Dyslexic doG

    So we have 2 christians (Obama and Biden) against a Mormon and a Catholic (Romney and Ryan).

    Guess it'll prove that Republican Christians are Republicans first and Christians second.

    August 14, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • FYI

      Joe Biden is a Catholic.

      August 14, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • VIKKI

      Obama/Biden – a Muslim and a heretic who claims to be a Mormon...This is unreligious history.

      August 14, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • VIKKI

      Correction: Biden is a heretic who claims to be a Catholic, just as madam Pelosi. Harry Reid is the Mormon in the bunch, but liberals ignored their 'religion'. A candidate's religion is not supposed to be an issue in politics, but both the media and liberal voters respect that only when the candidate is a Democrat.

      August 14, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  17. highplainsparson

    Among conservative politicians, Catholics have better success than Evangelical Protestants because they are able to moralize without evangelizing, thus having a wider appeal. This traces back to the Catholic view of natural law from St. Thomas Aquinas. Protestants with their doctrine of salvation by faith alone are seen as too preachy and talking about Jesus too much.

    August 14, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Lindsey

      "I am the way, the truth and the light. No one comes to the father but through me." Why can't Catholics understand Jesus saves and not the Pope etc?

      August 14, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  18. Randy, San Francisco

    No big deal. Their trickle down supply side economic plans for Medicare and the Budget is of more concern, especially when it benefits the wealthy at the expense of seniors and the middle class.

    August 14, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • VIKKI

      As a resident of the socialist state of California, tell us about the great prosperity of your state. Not even the networks can hide any longer the fact that so many cities in California are bankrupt because they cannot get their spending under control, and businesses are leaving in droves due to over regulation and taxation. Explain to me where does the state get $$$ to 'share' with the proletariat when those who used to create prosperity and wealth leave? Answer: by taxing those who are left behind for even the air they breathe.

      August 14, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • PerceivedReality

      You cannot tax the rich! The rich people did not get rich by being stupid, they will just tack the extra tax cost onto the price of their product/service. Why do libs have the mentality that they deserve what some else earned? Go make your own friggen money and stop being a bum! All this talk about republicans not caring for the poor or seniors is BS. Truth is most poor people are needy because they made bad decisions and seniors should have managed their money so they wouldn't have to be a bum when they got old. It is no the govt's job to save people from themselves, you make poor decisions you pay the price, a rich person shouldn't have to. By the way I am a poor person, but I get by, me and my family do not need or want much, just food, clothing and shelter. If you cannot support yourself you are one sorry individual, hell, even a one celled ameoba can support itself, so leave the rich alone, when was the last time you got a job from a poor person?

      August 15, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  19. California Gary

    Politics should be a religion free zone. Unfortunately, the GOP has built up and then relied upon a hard right religious base of voters. Although a candidates religious beliefs should have no impact on an election, the GOP has made it an issue in the past. They will suffer from that in this cycle, as some of their base supporters will simply refuse to vote for a Morman.

    August 14, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • VIKKI

      Correction: Religion SHOULD NOT be an issue against a political candidate, and it is Democrats who make it an issue. The Obama/Biden ticket consists of a Muslim (who considers all Christians as infidels) and a heretic who claims to be a Mormom.

      August 14, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • VIKKI

      Correction: Biden claims to be a Catholic, as does the Pelosi dame.

      August 14, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • California Gary

      Unbelievable Vikki.......you correct me by saying religion should not be a political issue (which was the point of my post), and then you go on to misrepresent the religious beliefs of our current president and make it an issue. Are you for real? And are there more out there like you?

      August 14, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • J.W

      Vikki seems like a senile old lady.

      August 14, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  20. Bob

    It will be a great day when all religion is just history.

    August 14, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Ned

      very true Bob, get rid of religion and get Jesus!

      August 14, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      Another 10 or 20 generations and the human race will look on God and Jesus the same way as we look on Zeus and Thor and Ra (and santa claus and the tooth fairy) today. What a giggle!

      August 14, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • IslandAtheist


      August 14, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Bob

      Ned, getting your Jesus disease is one of the worst things that could happen to anyone. Go get some medical help.

      August 14, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Ned

      Bob, I dont think they can properly treat endless joy and love.

      August 14, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • PerceivedReality

      Hey dog,
      in ten or twenty generations no one will even know you ever existed, but at the name of Jesus every knee will bend and every tongue will say "Jesus is lord" People have loved Jesus for over two thousand years and his sheep (Including me) know his voice and follow him. The name of Jesus will be spoken by his people for all eternity, yours on the other hand, not so much.

      August 15, 2012 at 11:34 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.