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My Take: 113th Congress looks like old America
November 16th, 2012
12:01 PM ET

My Take: 113th Congress looks like old America

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

(CNN) - The 2012 election has been widely hailed as a diversity moment — a coming out party for an American electorate no longer dominated by white men. And it was a triumph as well for religious diversity, thanks especially to Hawaii, which is sending the first Hindu to the House and the first Buddhist to the Senate.

But is this religious change more symbolic than real? In “Faith on the Hill,” a study on religion in the 113th Congress released Friday by the Pew Forum, the story seems to be static rather than change.

For all the talk of the election of 2012 inaugurating a new era in American politics, Protestants will continue to be overrepresented on Capitol Hill, where they will account for 56% of our representatives versus only 48% of American adults.

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Moreover, the religiously unaffiliated will continue to be scandalously underrepresented in the 113th Congress. Though 20% of American adults are “nones,” there is only one “none” (Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema) in the new congressional delegation.

That said, there are striking differences between Democrats and Republicans in the incoming 113th Congress.

The GOP delegation will be 69% Protestant, while Protestants will account for only 43% of the Democrats. Mormons also lean heavily Republican, with three Democrats versus 12 members of the GOP.

Catholics, by contrast, lean Democratic, accounting for 36% congressional Democrats and 25% of congressional Republicans. Moreover, all the Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists in the incoming Congress are Democrats. And all but one of the 32 Jewish members (Virginia Republican Eric Cantor) are, too.

The bottom line? I see two takeaways.

First, this data provides evidence for the now common wisdom that Republicans represent old-fashioned America while Democrats reflect new demographic realities. In the 113th Congress, Republicans will be disproportionately male and disproportionately Protestant. Democrats, by contrast, have a higher portion of women and minority religions.

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Second, this data shows that the much heralded “new America” is still years away. Yes, the Senate will be 20% female, but women are more than 50% of the population. And the U.S. Congress will still be far more Christian (87%) than U.S. adults as a whole (70%).

At least when it comes to religion, the U.S. Congress doesn't yet look like the voters who are sending them to Washington.

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

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Catholic Church • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • Judaism • Politics • Polls • United States

soundoff (1,540 Responses)
  1. TC

    Poor article – the author assumes that politicians actually live out some sort of moral code.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
  2. SPower

    "scandalously underrepresented". . . According to CNN's own reporting standards, based upon this opinion essay, Protestantism Must be a mandate.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
  3. Scott

    Articles like this are useless because they use cherry-picked data and are overly aggressive in labeling everyone. The Supreme Court has no Protestants on it. Why not complain about that? The media is trying to divide us to make it easier to write juicy stories

    November 16, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
  4. jomamaxx

    By this logic Congress is WAY too Jewish – the supreme court is WAY too Jewish and WAY to Catholic.

    Nice bigotry.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  5. Unafiliated

    Too Protestant? Wow. I'm not a Protestant, but if I were, I'd consider filing hate-speech charges against CNN. Imagine if this article said that a city were "too black" or that there were "too many women" in a given industry.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  6. jomamaxx

    By the same logic, Congress is WAY too Jewish.

    The Supreme court is WAY WAY too Jewish – and WAY WAY too Catholic.

    Now CNN is on the side of bigotry.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  7. FedUpwithLA

    Iran has just doubled its nuclear enrichment capabilities, and you are arguing about whether Congress is too Protestant? Go soak your head, Jack . . .

    November 16, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • priceofone

      Amen, in a roundabout way, just what I was thinking. I thought this article and many of the roused posted below were a collosal waste of headline space.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  8. Bob

    Christianity and many other religions are anti-American. They are anti-capitalism since they oppose a free market and optimal pricing of goods, and they are anti-free speech. True conservatives should oppose Christianity, as should reasoning liberals. Christianity is also racist and bigoted, given that it presents a "chosen race" and is unfair to women, among other reasons.

    Christianity, particularly that flagrantly practiced and grossly over-preached by evangelists, is also anti-science and is therefore putting our young people and our future workforce at a disadvantage relative to competing nations that now have better science education without religious bias and without the ancient supersti-tions that block modern understanding and technological and medical progress.

    Therefore, if we want to keep our great country the greatest in the world, a status that is increasingly questionable and under threat, Americans need to overthrow the power that Christianity has in the US, and ultimately get past religion entirely. We need to take our freedom back from the power-holders and practitioners of Christianity, and push back hard against the idiocies that religion represents.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
    http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

    November 16, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
    • FedUpwithLA

      You can also argue your way to Hell, also . . .

      November 16, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • jomamaxx

      It seems like you don't understand what either 'Capialism' or 'Christianity' are.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • Bob

      Really? I suggest that you try to point out what it is about capitalism, or Christianity, that I don't understand. I'll wager that I understand both subjects vastly better than you do.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
    • Unafiliated

      Bob, I'm sure that you think of yourself as intellectually superior, but even you should be aware that calling people that don't agree with you "anti-american" is resorting to the lowest form of debate. I'm an Atheist, and I find many frustrating things about religion, but Christianity will not be the downfall of the US.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
    • Leroy

      Bob might be though....

      November 16, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • Bob

      "FedUp...", hell is merely a fictional place where it is claimed by certain deluded folk that a nasty "god" unfairly sends those that do all manner of mortal offenses. Such a god could fairly be convicted of human rights abuses by any reasonable modern court. Think about that. Eternal torture as punishment? Absurd.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • FedUpwithLA

      We'll see . . .

      November 16, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • Bob

      Unaf, my claims were supported within what I said. Present support for yours, or else retract your cowardly remark about me.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • Bob

      "FedUp...", google Pascal's Wager and learn, you ignorant fool.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • Unafiliated

      Bob, you have the intellect of a 14 year old. Please stop embarrassing your fellow Atheists.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • priceofone

      These remarks demonstrate an amazing level of ignorance, as well as intellectual bigotry. I saw this as trite provocations from someone who takes great pride in ridiculous generalizations. I am Christian, very much so, and I voted libertarian. I like countless other Christians I know own a business and seek the preservation of what economic freedoms we have left. I am not an exception. The fact that I am responding to your rant is actually embarrassing.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • Bob

      Unaf: Again, present any support for your cowardly insults directed toward me, or show at least a smidgen of honor and retract them. I doubt that you have the guts to do the latter.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • OTOH

      FedUpwithLA
      "We'll see . . ."

      Uh, you might just see Muslim hell, or Mormon hell (if they have one?), or the Egyptian underworld, or you'll be back as a chipmunk...

      November 16, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • Unafiliated

      Bob, sorry, I don't debate with people who use hate-speech based on race, orientation, gender or religion.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • Bob

      Unaf, again, you make unsupported statements about me. So, I say again to you, coward, my claims were supported within what I said. Present support for yours, or else retract your cowardly remarks about me.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  9. db

    Hopefully there are a lot more "nones" who just said they are religious so dummies would vote for them.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • Mark Taylor

      Have you ever tried looking some of the names in the science community, particularly physicists, who acknowledge or when living acknowledged theism. I think you would be very surprised by some of the names if you took the time to look. Guys like Max Planck for starters. To claim that spiritual belief is for dummies only is... well pretty dumb really.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
    • Mark Taylor

      guys like Freeman Dyson, Werner Heisenberg... yeah, they are real dummies. Try doing a little research on the topic.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • Debbie

      Try doing some research on "Appeal to Authority"...

      November 16, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • J_L_B

      Debbie,

      Try doing some research on argument structures and when fallacies actually apply

      November 16, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • Mark Taylor

      Debbi – I'm not taking a stand on Theism either way. I'm simply pointing out that to assert spiritual belief is for dummies is very misinformed.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
  10. J_L_B

    The anger of this CNN echo chamber is directed more at the "white" than the Protestant; once the demographics bring more Hispanic Catholics into the house, the criticism will cease lest they be considered anti-Hispanic racists.

    Remember the PC laws: race > everything, everything > religion > Christianity

    November 16, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  11. DJ

    In reality most democrats are in fact athiest, agnostic, or have a religious affiliation in name only. The party chose to exclude God from it's platform, except for a last minute reprive from it's leadership in order to sway unsuspecting, uninformed, or token Christians during the election. The same could be said for some republicans. They did not jump on opportunity to sway ethnic catholics or hispanic catholics, this is 25% of the population of the US. Instead they chased the moderates, and lost out..

    November 16, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • Leroy

      Yup, they had to play up the "Obama is a Christian" lie to continue to deceive the 95% black voters who voted for him. It is better for the conscious to vote for a "backsliden" Christian leader. Have to justify voting for a non-Christian somehow...

      November 16, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • CalmDog

      Obama apparently IS a Christian. But I don't hold that against him. Nobody's perfect.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • Mark Taylor

      Another ignorant assertion. How do YOU know what most Democrats are with respect to faith?

      November 16, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
  12. db

    Hopefully there are a lot more "nones" who just said they are religious so dummies would vote for 'em.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  13. Smukers

    It's about time we get some splibs, crips, and al queda into congress to "even things out". It would make life so "equal" for all of us. Agreed?

    November 16, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
    • helen

      This story highlights that religion and in particular the 'bible" are becoming rapidly obsolete. Its time to end the nonsense and move on. RIP, Hitch, you were right all along.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • 2322

      What a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. Is this guy for real?

      November 16, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • 2322

      I mean the author of the column. I agree with the op's post. The only good thing about Obama's win is it will now show just how nutty the left really is. The mask is off. No more faking who they are and what they believe.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  14. Mr Howdy 2 u 2

    The Supreme Court however has six Catholics and three Jews, how many protestants does it have? Protestants are by far the biggest majority and this is just another instance of the Media trying to plant an idea into the mind of the ordinary person for the purpose of manipulating the social hierarchy towards the few.....the fact is Protestants per se are not at all well represented no matter how you look at it. Catholics are actually far better represented and the Jews are well above being overly represented. So I really dont see what the meaning of this article is other than an attempt to distort the truth and hand yet more power to a few people at the top.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • jomamaxx

      Don't try to rationalize with CNN. Logic has no place in the thoughts of these communists.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
    • W8fourmi

      I agree. On what POLITICAL platform are candidates' religious backgrounds made public? I can think of few candidates of interest for me in the past 30+ years where I knew, much less cared about their religion. It may be a stretch, but to me, it's part of the separation of church and state.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  15. Steve

    For politicians, religion is more about appearances. Some of them are practical "nones" and simply show up at a church or claim a religion because of a stigma with being godless. I would trust an atheist politician over a religious one any day.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • jomamaxx

      No – for a atheist life is merely an experience for the ego. There can be no good in atheism. Of course, so many think they speak for 'God' that can be just as much a problem.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
    • christians and their egos

      How about the ego of the christian who thinks that everyone apart from themselves believes the wrong thing (70% of the world's population believes in something other than the teachings of christianity). How egotistical is it to believe that those who are different in their beliefs are going to some place to suffer eternally while christians get to spend an eternity in paradise? You are not morally superior to atheists or anyone else even if your ego doesn't want to let you realize this.

      November 17, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  16. Frank Aplomb

    I was pleasantly surprised by this article, which states what I know to be true. We have far too many religious people in office and far too few athiests. Let's all remember this at the next election!

    November 16, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • jomamaxx

      As America goes 'athist' it will also crawl into the toilet.

      America is turning into Brazil, but without the hot girls, great music, and God.

      Enjoy your cardboard box homes and favelas.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
    • CalmDog

      Some of the nastiest, most bigoted people I know are "proud" Christians and claim to know what God wants. Christianity and goodness may not be mutually exclusive, but they are certainly no longer synonymous.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
  17. Nietodarwin

    I'll take the twisted xstians over the mormon any day. Now he's embarrassing himself and his party further with these tapes revealed today. He's not just the worst Pres. candidate EVER, he's a really shallow heartless human being. Hope CNN prints the transcripts to these tapes soon, guess I'll have to go to another site for now. LIAR

    November 16, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  18. RLF

    CNN – Why don't you quit pushing your anti Christian agenda? I will pray for all who work there,. No nation or people that turns its back on the one true God will prosper, Anybody can hire some cheap blogger, why don't you publish real news instead of pushing liberal agendas? What's that? I don't have to visit your site? You're right, nor do I have to watch your biased TV channels. Good luck as you circle the drain.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • ORLY

      CNN is not anti-christian. You are ultra mega christian.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
    • delhommed

      Truth hurts!

      November 16, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
  19. sosimplyput

    Well, at least the Middle East won't have to worry about the Christians riding to the defense of Jerusalem, will it? Religious professors are ALMOST as irrelevant as CNN.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • jomamaxx

      Thankfully 'religious' people founded Harvard, Yale, Coloumbia, Princeton, Oxford, Cambridge ... you know – education as we know it at all levels including all the best schools in the world. Stupid 'religious' people!

      November 16, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
  20. Bigboard

    Poorly conceived article and poorly written. "this data"!? Give me a break.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
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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.