My Take: 7 Ways religious diversity played in the election
November 9th, 2012
05:00 AM ET

My Take: 7 Ways religious diversity played in the election

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

“It’s demography, stupid!” is the new mantra for analyzing the 2012 election, in which African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos cast their votes in overwhelming numbers for President Obama.

But religious diversity was another key theme. How so? Let me count the ways.

1. The first Hindu in the House

Thanks to Hawaii’s 2d congressional district, a Hindu has been elected for the first time to the House of Representatives. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat who was born in American Samoa, served in the Hawaii National Guard and was deployed to Baghdad and Kuwait, crushed Republican Kawaki Crowley with over three-quarters of the votes.

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Gabbard is a Vaishnava Hindu, which means she worships Vishnu. The key scripture in her Hindu tradition is the Bhagavad Gita, a meditation on duty in the face of war.

2. The first Buddhist in the Senate

Democrat Mazie Hirono, who vacated the House seat in Hawaii that Gabbard just won, handily defeated Republican Linda Lingle to become the first Buddhist (and the first Asian-American woman) elected to the U.S. Senate. Hirono, who describes herself as a non-practicing Buddhist, and Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) became the first Buddhists in the U.S. House when they were sworn in in 2007.

3. Out with one atheist, in with another

Pete Stark, who has served California’s 13th congressional district for 40 years, came out as an atheist in 2007 and since that time has been a standardbearer in Washington for secular Americans. He lost on Tuesday to Democrat Eric Swalwell, who criticized him during the campaign for voting against a bill that reaffirmed “In God We Trust” as our national motto.

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In a very tight race in Arizona, however, Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, appears poised to win by some 2000 votes over Republican Vernon Parker. If that result holds up, Sinema would become the first member of Congress to identify herself as bisexual. Sinema, who was raised a Mormon, also describes herself as a nontheist. It looks like she will replace Stark as the only openly atheist in Congress.

4. A successful (and relatively uneventful) "Mormon moment"

As Mitt Romney started to home in on the Republican presidential nomination, many Mormons started to ask whether his run would be good for the LDS Church. The verdict right now seems to be yes.

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Although some voters on both the secular left and the Religious Right doubtless opposed his candidacy because of his faith, Romney’s Mormonism turned out to be far less of an issue than many suspected. In the end, 79 percent of white evangelicals (many of whom might have denounced Mormonism as a “cult” in prior years) cast their lot with Romney — the same portion that voted for George W. Bush in 2004.

5.  Evangelicals draw the line

Although it often seems to my friends in Boston and San Francisco that white evangelicals are a majority in U.S. politics, they, too, are a minority, accounting for 24% of the electorate. And though they voted overwhelmingly for Romney, they would not go as far as some on the right wanted to take them.

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Only a quarter of white evangelicals believe that abortion should always be illegal, and opposition of Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana to abortion even in cases of rape seem to have cut into their white evangelical base. According to Robert P. Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute, 57 % of white evangelicals supported Akin (20 points behind Romney’s 77 percent support there) while 69% of this group supported Mourdock (11 points behind Romney’s 80 percent).

6. Jewish support for Obama drops

Of all the religious groups tracked by the Pew Forum, the Jewish vote showed the biggest change between 2008 and 2012. Whereas 78 percent of U.S. Jews supported Obama in 2008, that figure fell to just 69 percent in 2012. Tensions between the president and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over over settlements in Israel and Iran's nuclear threat likely account for at least some of that shift.

7.  “Nones” on the Obama Bus

According to the Pew Forum, religiously unaffiliated voters — “nones” in poll-speak — also went strongly for Obama, but their support was more tepid this year, down from 75% in 2008 to 70% in 2012. The longstanding preference of religiously unaffiliated voters for the Democrats may be moderating as the Democratic Party continues to walk away from its historical aversion to mixing church and state.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Atheism • Barack Obama • Buddhism • Church and state • Hinduism • Judaism • Mitt Romney • Politics • Polls • Uncategorized • United States

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    One of my faves from television is Leif Garrett! He is an all around good person and roll model....just cuz he be blastin massive rails and robbin people/fryin/dosin/posin. Let's all rally behind Leif!! Him and his phat ball sak!!

    November 22, 2012 at 4:03 am |
  8. Charley Wolf

    I iz a bible thumpa and also a pumper of plump rumps!! I like to follow in the footsteps of the priesthood....like the Marines...I am looking for a few good men (or boytoyz)! I will schlobb their knobb for a dolla!! Any of you flamin fruits out there...drop me your digits and I will drop my drawers!!! Bring it. Out!

    November 22, 2012 at 3:28 am |
    • Peteyroo

      Chuckles, is your mother still turning tricks?

      November 30, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  9. jorge washinsen

    To prove how ill informed people are, many still blame Bush for all the mistakes made the last 4 years.Should be looking forward to the one you have just elected for the second time.I have heard some people thrive on abuse as a way of life,many are in jail already.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • jorge washedup-brain

      What the f are u talking about? What a nut-bar!! Sounds like u may need an education. Dropping out of school and behaving like an idiota, of which there is no excuse !!!

      November 22, 2012 at 2:16 am |
    • Peteyroo

      HoarHay, how long did you spend in jail to learn at that?

      November 30, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  10. jorge washinsen

    Until someone explains why there is but one recognized God and thousands of religions----–

    November 20, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      HoarHay, there are as many gods as there are religions. What makes you think there is only one recognized god?

      November 30, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  11. jorge washinsen

    Socialism is what changes people from independence to dependence.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      HoarHay, and changes you from a moron to an idiot.

      November 30, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  12. Mark H

    Google "ExposeRomney" to read several articles on the eponymous site. Christianity was an evolving religion the first several hundred years, but it has been relatively fixed for about 1700 years. We define Christianity since that time by assent to the Creed. I say '"the" creed, because it is so fundamental to all Christians – Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Anglicans, etc. Those sects of Christianity quibble over minor differences, but they can all say the Creed and answer "Yes, that's the God I know" Mormons cannot get through the first line of the Creed, they reject all the basic beliefs of Christianity. We have names for things because they define the concept, the grouping, they tell you what it is. It's a label, but we use them. I own a dog, but if I owned a cat and called it a dog anyone with half a brain could see it was a cat. Mormons just stick the name "Jesus" in their church and call it Christian. They have to. If anyone ever looked up and read what they believe and how they react to criticism you would call them a "cult." If you tell me the Catholic church badly handled the pedophilia cases I say "Yes, I absolutely agree." If you tell a Mormon their church did something wrong they say "That's just anti-Mormon talk, there's no truth to it. While you're at it Google "Joseph Smith Kinderhook Plates" or "Joseph Smith Con Man" or Joseph Smith False Prophecies." So many Mormon friends are deciding to pick up non-Mormon books and finally seeing that the LDS Church founder was a convicted con man that makes L. Ron Hubbard look legit.

    November 19, 2012 at 7:21 am |
    • sosimplyput

      I second that. The Bible is true or it's a lie. Mormons seem to think it can't stand on its own....that there are three gods instead of one. It is impossible for God to lie; so much for Joe Smith the false one.

      November 20, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • jorge washinsen

      As I tried to warn the people in my area when the Tea Party was gaining what looked like a good thing ,that it was a divide and conquer thing, cooked up by Democrats, no one listened.It, along with the woman who could see Russia, it was the end of the Republican party.You now have a dictatorship becasue the vote proved we have moved to a complete dependence on goverment and no one is filling the rapidly emptying pot.We went trillions in debt to buy this election.

      November 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      HoarHay, you have your head so far up your backside, you can't see or think clearly. You're full of horse feathers.

      November 30, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  13. Charley Wolf

    #8. The first Muslim in the White House. Any Real Christian that is not blind to what is going on can plainly see Obama hates Christians and Jews just like his muslim brotherhood does. Therfore I vehemently pray that our Lord in heaven sends these curses upon > Barack Hussien Obama !! 2nd Chronicles 21:15 & Psalm 109:1-20< AMEN !! It is done ..Proverbs 18:21 ..Scholar THAT ..Stephen Prothero

    November 17, 2012 at 5:09 am |
    • End Religion

      Wait... you're praying to an imaginary being that he curse the President because of his apparent (to you) dislike of some other people? Were you home schooled by chance?

      November 18, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • Leif

      Your post is confusing. I am quite sure that you are not a "real" Christian. Your opinion therefore holds little weight with Christians.

      November 18, 2012 at 3:58 am |
    • Leif

      The GOP doesn't understand what the word "diversity" means. You should dumb it down for them.

      November 18, 2012 at 4:01 am |
    • Elaine Wilson

      Charley Wolf-Please don't call yourself a Christian. What a shame people like you spread lies but I guess there is always going to be someone believe them. Sad and hurts real Christianity so much.

      November 18, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Charley Wolf

      I iz a bible thumper and also a pumper of plump rumps!! I like to follow in the footsteps of the priesthood....like the Marines..I am looking for a few good men (or boytoyz)! I will schlob their knob for a dolla!! Any of you flamin fruits out there...drop me your digits and I will drop my drawers!!!

      November 22, 2012 at 2:37 am |
    • Peteyroo

      Chuckles, Obama is not a Muslim anymore than you're an intelligent, thoughtful person.

      November 30, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  14. Athens

    religion cause wars , killing , segerate people disturbe peace and in the US, become tool of money making and power greedy

    November 17, 2012 at 1:24 am |
    • Leif

      People cause wars. They use religion as an excuse. If religion did not exist, they would find another excuse.

      November 18, 2012 at 4:09 am |
    • sam stone

      leif: perhaps, but the inspiration of following god has to be one of the most convincing

      November 20, 2012 at 10:19 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.