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old lines between Catholics and Protestants which were dominant in our politics as recently as the 1960 election have been replaced by new lines of division, not between denominations but within them.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."

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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."

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- CNN Belief Blog

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

soundoff (410 Responses)
  1. Romney/Ryan Angels of Light...

    "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve." 1 Corinth 11:13-15

    August 14, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • True Scotsman

      No true Scotsman fallacy.

      If you call yourself a "Christian", you are one.

      Nanny, nanny, boo, boo.

      August 14, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • Rumpunch

      Actually that is 2 Corinthians rather than 1 Corinth, but maybe that was your plan to prevent us in the age of google to research for ourselves the context of the words given that you started mid-paragraph.

      I was assuming that the rest of paragraph identified who are these "such" referred to in the verse. Maybe an allegory reference to Romney or the LDS. No such luck. Rather it was a warning that there are false apostles and to beware. Moreover, don't believe what someone says just because they say that they are a follower of Christ. The same srutiny applies to all Christians, not just one group.

      As a Christian, I believe that the Bible is a valuable tool. Therefore, it sickens me when people such as yourself use it as a weapon to spread hate.

      August 14, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  2. charlotte

    They're all cults and they base all their "belief" on unprovable mythology. They're welcome to it, but they should stop trying to fool people into thinking they are something they are not. Moromonism is not Christianity. That means it is neither Protestant nor Catholic nor any other so-called "Christian" sect. It's a made-up fake religion from the 19th century that believes all sorts of ridiculous stuff (not that Christianity stuff is any less ridiculous) but people shouldn't be fooled into thnking it is a Christian religion – if that sort of thing matters to you. What terrifies ME is that anyone could get close to the White House who has the intent of governing based on religion. GWB was not really a Christian – we as a nation were lucky that his 'faith' was a mile wide and an inch deep, essentially it was just a crutch to replace his substance abuse problems, and Karl Rove decided that it would be a good card to play up to win Texas and then the Presidency. But Bush really wasn't a Christian, for which we should all be very grateful.

    August 14, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  3. Why_Bother

    Statistics are alarming. 17% believe Obama is Muslim. As far as I know he never attended muslim church and has always claimed to be Christian, however 17% of people BELIEVE he is muslim? Same with 19% being uncomfortable with Romney being Mormon. They don't sacrifice their children, eat their pets or preach about the importance of armed robbery. Ignorance and the uneducated will destroy our country, you can't make up facts....unless you are a politician.

    August 14, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Duh

      I'm all for a mandatory IQ score of at least 110 to be eligible to vote in America. Maybe then we can weed out the idiot in breeders and their kin from having any effect on civil society. Whats an in breeders favorite squash? ...PumpKin!!

      August 14, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  4. open400

    If Romney and Ryan win the election and there is voter suppression in battlegound states, the country will be ungovernable – it will be 1968 all over again.

    August 14, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  5. Rumpunch

    Actually many people believe that the Baptists are not technically protestants. They were formed about the same time and hold many of the same core beliefs, but were not part of the actual movement in which the Protestant churches were formed or were formed out of one of those original churches. Therefore, many of the tickets included one or both as Baptists. Therefore Gore and Lieberman (Baptist & Jewish) and Clinton and Lieberman (both Baptist).

    Another thing which makes you think, of the four presidents who are classified as Baptists (Harding, Truman, Carter and Clinton) only one was a republican (Harding).

    My point is, don't let labels make your decision for you, whether it be political party or religion.

    August 14, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  6. John the Historian

    Willard and Ryan will lose big time. The majority of Americans will not vote for a mormon cult follower. Mormons are not Christian but a pure form of americana. The mormon cult has sold from the freemasons and the whole rapist, polygamist Joseph Smith story is all about America. The 13th tribe of Israel did not come in boats to the New World and Jesus Christ did not preach to the American Indians. Nor is the Garden of Eden in Missouri and Jesus Christ will not appear in Nauvoo, Illinois for some second coming. Mark Twain said it best the book of mormon is chloroform in print. Willard is a giant flip flopper and Ryan doesn't even have the support of Catholics because of all his cuts to the poor. The majority of Catholics do not want cuts to social security or medicare. The majority of evangelical Protestant do not want a mormon cult follower as president. It will be interesting to see the percentage of Christians who vote for President Obama. At least Obama is a Christian as his wife also is. I hope Willard is making plans for the fictional planet of kolob. Ryan can go to purgatory for his mean-spiritedness of cuts. Watch for the President Obama landslide in November. Even the deep South won't be on Willard's side. Find your gold tablet mormons, your magic underwear, your FLDS polygamists, and your non-alcoholic drinks.

    August 14, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • NoDozeGiant

      Change your name to: John the Bigot

      August 14, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Russell Overstreet

      John has your head been in the sand for the last 3 yrs.What makes you say President O'Bama is a christian,he stopped the Christans from having their yearly prayer service at the White House,and instead let the Muslim gather at the White House,and have their day of prayers.President O'Bama was born,and rasied in the Muslim faith.and had you read his books you would know that he still is a Muslim.

      August 14, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  7. N.Shapiro


    August 14, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  8. Nice Interview with Atheist philosopher


    August 14, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  9. Surf4Days

    "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."

    True, and so ridiculously sad. In Europe it's almost the opposite, they mistrust politicians with a strong religious stance. Religion and Politics should never mix.

    August 14, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  10. MrBob

    It amazes me to see the type of comments that are spun within can. It seems some of you have not had "proper raisin'" grow up and act like adults.

    August 14, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  11. Truthbetold


    August 14, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  12. Honey Badger Dont Care


    August 14, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
  13. David Tremblant

    This is very shallow reporting. Anyone would think that we are here speaking of two upstanding religious persons when in reality we're talking of two diabolical members of the demonic elite that is killing this country. The desperation CNN has to get these two perverts elected is showing...

    August 14, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  14. angeson

    King Tuts eyes were close together like that. There was a lot of incest in that family too.

    August 14, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  15. bonnie

    As though it could possibly matter one way or the other when the only alternative we have is a socialist muslim/atheist puppet.

    August 14, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • William Demuth


      It's the devil that makes you think Obama is a camel jockey.

      He is a Jeebus freak just like you, and you need to vote for him or the evil Mormon will kill the baby Jeebus once again.

      You must give the babay Jeebus your vote!

      August 14, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Huebert

      "socialist muslim/atheist puppet."

      dafaq did I just read?

      August 14, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • icowrich

      You may as well call Ryan an atheist because of his Randian leanings. It's at least as plausible as calling Obama one.

      August 14, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • sam

      Come on, now, bonnie, no need to pretend; just go ahead and admit you're afraid of brown folks.

      August 14, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  16. derf

    From the picture it's easy to imagine these men of faith waking up from a tussle in their hotel room.
    "Here's my tie Mitt?"
    "Here. Just wear my coat Paul. We're in a hurry!"

    August 14, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • sam


      August 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  17. MCFx

    uhhhh!...sorry, Obama/Biden was the first non-protestant ticket. At least, Oprah though so.

    August 14, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  18. Papabearvvv

    If elected, Goodby middle class and Seniors just face the reality, you will die sooner without proper health care.

    August 14, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Nah, thats not true.

      Mormons actualy eat old Christians.

      They will be valuable, might sell at a per pound price higher than lobster.

      I am gonna chain a few up in my basement as an investment.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Mass Debater

      If you are 55 or under and hope to enjoy some of those benefits you have been paying into from your paychecks for the last 30 years, of which the Government has borrowed 5 trillion dollars for other spending such as defense and tax breaks for the rich, which is why the current social security system is in jeopardy, then you will be voting for Obama. The idea that we can't pay back the money we took from the social security fund during the period of more payees to beneficiary's ratio and so now the rest of the middle class who have no golden parachutes should get a voucher to buy into a private system with up to 30% more overhead costs is, in a word, insane.

      The only reason the republicans still have any support from the middle class is that they lie to them, all the while enjoying the benefits they claim to hate. If a republican is against government handouts and government funded health care and retirement plans, then they should give up the ones they are enjoying which we tax payers are paying for each and every republican house and senate member. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot serve two masters.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • William Demuth


      You are correct, but incorrect.

      Both sides are corrupt and were bought by special interest long ago.

      I recomend you brush up on your looting skills, I suspect things to go down hill either way the election goes.

      August 14, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Mass Debater

      I'll agree, there is corruption on both sides, but if I had to pick one over the other I would have to choose the one that supports some sort of social safety net for middle and low income workers in America.

      August 14, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  19. j. cla

    prostetant or catholic you think you have caught hell , the orosestant and the catholic will identify it for you in their first one hundered days and we will be at war in six months. The defense contractors needs the money!

    August 14, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  20. Sam

    Ryan is ugly inside and out!

    August 14, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
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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.