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. ankenyman

    Unbelievably stupid article. Don't atheists and non-Protestants vote? Should we have a quota of certain religions and ethicities in the Congress?

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

      I agree 100% There are so MANY OTHER things IMPORTANT, then some writer using this as a filler for his assignments.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
  2. Dorothy

    Protestant-bashing should be as disgusting to modern Americans. The fact that opinion columns feel free to belittle my Calvinist roots is highly offensive to me.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      well boo hoo

      November 16, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • popeye

      Organized religion is offensive to me. Responsible for much of the pain throughout history. I have no problem with spirituality, just keep it to yourself.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • EB Madison

      Calvin felt the same way Dorothy. That's why he murdered pretty much anyone who disagreed with him in Geneva.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "Protestant-bashing should be as disgusting to modern Americans."
      Why? Is it because it isn't nice to make fun of mentally handicapped people?

      You said, "The fact that opinion columns feel free to belittle my Calvinist roots is highly offensive to me."
      You can either shed your infantile beliefs, or grow a thicker skin.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • jack

      Your guys replying are so HATEFUL, ignorant of the fact in your ever "progressive" thinking. You guys disgust me.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • jack

      @ popeye...do your research; more people in the whole of history have been killed because of nonsecular, not religious. In both cases it's the extremist that lead the charge that killed so many. Your so stupid!

      November 16, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
  3. Sandy

    @Mr. answer , you need the love of God...

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

      Sure thing. As soon as that idiot shows up.

      Til then you can scream for all of eternity.

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

      keep the love of your imaginary friend to yourself.

      To All- Help control the zealot population, please have your devout spade or neutered.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • *

      *spayed (not spade)

      November 16, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      thanks * for the spelling tip. I almost spell checked it. guess I shouldve.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • jack

      @ATLmatt; thanks for sharing the philosophy of such a mental giant from our time. Go get your GED sometime soon, your such a HATEFUL person and discriminator!

      November 16, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
  4. sosimplyput

    If you don't have a set of religious beliefs and values before you get to college you are doomed. Professors in that realm are exacly that..professors. Education as lots of us understand it (not the 1200 sat types) has been dead in the drop-out nation for years now. Nice try educating the unwashed masses who have actually read the Bible, CNN.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  5. Johnny Snotnose

    An article devoid of relevant content.... the country is facing huge challenges, and he decides to quibble over small percents of alleged religious beliefs. He apparently needs to spend more time in the real world and focus on making a difference that matter. Complete and Total Fail.

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

      You do realize this is the Belief Blog right?

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

      @LMOA; did you notice he gave this belief in the blog...your a dork!

      November 16, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
  6. Got lost

    Wait, remind me... who was it that started this country again? Oh, that's right, Protestants.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      And deists, agnostics and most importantly, secularists.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • EB Madison

      don't tell that to the Marylanders

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

      @ Rational Libertarian; go back to school and learn history, who knows what corrupted info you got from who knows who?

      November 16, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  7. government cheese

    Congress too black. If you can discriminate, so can I. LOL

    November 16, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  8. Willard Chatham

    I am a Southern Conservative Protestant and I do not wish to have more diversity. There are too many people on welfare and they are talking about military cuts to come up with needed money for social programs. The Democratic administration puts more people on welfare and they call that finding employment. More diversity means social programs, weak military, and loss of strength projection because all they would be interested in is trying to help the needy. Whatever happened to the idea of being self sufficient and if you don't make it don't provide them a safety net.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  9. Richard

    Gosh I don't know. Am I smelling the bigotry here? What, do we need, a litmus test before somebody runs for congress to see if they qualify on a religious basis? Leave it to the looney left to come up with this stuff. You people got your anti-american muslim sympathizer in the Oval Office. Isn't that enough?

    November 16, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • EB Madison


      November 16, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
  10. Scott

    Neither party would accept an atheist, simply because some number cruncher would say they couldn't get elected.
    End the two-party system
    End pay to win office.
    End legalized bribery. (Lobbying)

    November 16, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  11. Russ

    @ Stephen Prothero: care to hold your own insti.tution to the same standards?

    How do Boston University's statistics hold up?
    only 3% African American students... (12.6% of the national population)
    only 7% Hispanic students... (16% of the national population)
    and yet...
    a faculty that's 81% white... (72% of the national population)


    November 16, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • Joshua Farmer

      God BLESS America Stephen Prothers. Seems to me that you've grown addicted to the "fat of the land" and that stupid cellphone you most likely spend your time on. Oh wait, you're probably Atheist...which means that you deny God exists...but if God didn't exist then why would you even have to deny it? These kind of articles MAKE ME SICK. We've already got states legalizing a drug that makes you fat and and a population that trashes the men and women that ensure we are free. How about trusting the founding fathers on freedom? They knew what they we're talking about. Oh, but opinions are like a**holes, everyone has one, but that is a lie–most people aren't smart enough to formulate an opinion that makes sense (like this article).

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

      Why is it an automatic problem for you if every statistic isn't 5% white males?? Seems like you are discriminate against whites but I guess that's ok though because we're all villians.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  12. Sandy


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


      No matter how loud you get that idiot will still be dead.

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

      That idiot never existed.

      And if Jesus were real and alive then he would be a democrat.

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

      @*yawn*- I hope you're aware that you WILL confess before the "idiot" that he is Lord. That's gonna be pretty uncomfortable for you.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • EB Madison

      @ Mark – no we won't.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • ATLmatt

      well, if that hallucination comes to pass, then i will worry about it.

      i believe cows can fly. they just dont do it while we are watching. i have a strong faith this is true. just like your faith that jesus exists. Isnt pretending fun?!?

      November 16, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • Mark

      Just be patient Madison.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • sosimplyput

      There is one thing you can always bet on when it comes to religion, scream the truth and at least a dozen will try to hate you and your Lord down. It's to be expected. That's the *yawn* to everyone that knows Him. They still hate him, and always will.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
    • EB Madison

      ok Mark. But I'll be sure to save a place for you in the Lake of Fire; right next to me.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • Mark

      duh huh, ok madison. don't quit your day job unless it's stand up comedy

      November 16, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • OTOH


      Do you hate Thor? He can be a real jerk at times, I hear.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  13. cowpoker

    This article is so predictable. yawn.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  14. Ronnie Harper

    Religion is a disease of the mind, a pox on humanity. So it is no wonder our Congress is anachronistic, disengaged, and ineffective. The non-religious have been complaining about this for decades, if not longer. I do not talk to (or vote for) religious people except for business requirements.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  15. Your Panties in Texas

    It will all be okay, In The End, somebody's end. After twenty more years, white guys will be one of the minorities.
    Does everyone agree with me?

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

      That sounds a little racist to me. What is your problem with whites?

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


      November 16, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
  16. Sandy

    Everyone's becoming way too arrogant in this country. All things good come from above-how many of you thank the Lord for anything you have or have accomplished? If you think it is only of your own doing, you are greatly deceived!!

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

      I don't think it is of my own doing, I don't think I have to thank some supreme being either. It is just a series of random events that control most of my life. All of my successes, and failures, were heavily influenced by random events, most of them out my control (such as the place where I was born, the social status of my parents, the people I met during my life). Some people call it luck, others destiny, but the truth is that when your life is so heavily influenced by the community in which you live, there are only so many things you can actually control about your life. Most people disagree with this notion, because they are too proud, and too scared to recognize we do not control all of our lives!

      November 16, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • Mark

      ATLmatt- If you don't believe the existence of Jesus because you don't belief the bible maybe reading some secular historical accounts of the existence of Jesus would convince you.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
  17. Canaan

    Couldnt agree with TC any more

    November 16, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  18. Leroy

    Atheism is a religion. It has a creation myth – evolution, a Dogma – science, moral code and even their own evangelists... Right Bob?

    November 16, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
    • Ronnie Harper

      Wrong, that's just an uninformed opinion.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  19. gbroth

    Definition of the democrat left or just democrats in general. Things are only right when they have it their way. Everyone else is wrong and/or a racist. They don't lie they just miss speak. No one is allowed to have any other ideas other than what they believe is correct. Sounds like, what's word I am looking for mmmm oh yeah bull.....

    November 16, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
  20. Pnilsen@pacbell.net

    Aah investigative writers, I would like you to investigate whether the men adjust left or right with their penis's . Also could you check if the women use pads or tampons? That my friends will give us a better handle on what's going on in DC.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
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