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. The Infidel

    Stephen – Too bad , they were elected. Now take your opinion and shove it up your rosey red. The people elected who they wanted!

    November 16, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • itsathing

      Stephen Prathetic!!!!!!! CNN you su ck

      November 17, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  2. eric

    interesting.....can't wait to see all the "too many jews in _____" articles on CNN, since apparently having a disprportianate amount of people in anyting is bad....like how there's too many blacks in the NBA

    November 16, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
  3. Sumsanity

    Opinion: Stephen Prothero should get a real job. Writing drivel should be left to people with more intelligence.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  4. David

    Interesting that an 'Opinion' article makes the front page of CNN.com. Clearly this article's message fits their agenda. I'm finished with defending the media.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  5. Michael Black

    Very pathetic article. Can't believe you were being serious. What the hell?

    November 16, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • Davester

      Exactly. This article shows that religious bigotry is alive and well in the good old US of A.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  6. singed hairs

    Just farted and woh! Burnt the nostril hairs.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  7. JohnParryJones

    Worthless article. Trust me. There is NO religion on Capitol Hill. Unless getting reelected is a religion.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
    • Josh


      November 16, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • popeye

      Really no religion in the U.S. except greed if you want to be truthful.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
  8. Scott_Frankfort


    Give it time.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  9. vickeyd

    Politics and Religion do not mix .

    November 16, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  10. Josh

    Hmm... voting public votes people into office... CNN puts an article out from a "religious man" saying the voting public has got it wrong. Unless you change the vote, how would you propose to change the makeup of the Congress? Kill off the incorrect voters? Or maybe in the battle for ideology this opinionists sort of thinking is failing while the "enemy" is winning 59%?

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


      November 16, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
  11. PF

    I can't believe how obessesed some people are with tearing down America's Protestant patriarchy. I'm Catholic but I have respect for the people who founded this country. Everyone's day will come, ever heard of putting in your time and waiting your turn? I'm sure we won't think twice about having Buddhist representatives by 2030, and probably much sooner.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • r nadar

      this guy is probably a democrat – more concerned with percentages than with the quality of the people elected (or actually the lack of quality in this election)

      November 16, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  12. Bill Richardson

    We Americans have come to believe that in order to have any chance of obtaining our goals there must be an equally proportionate percentage of people in powerful positions. Was it so long ago that Rosa Parks stood alone and made a difference? How about MLK ? Throughout history we see that individuals, not proportionate percentages, have made the most difference. Why must we continue to divide our country with this type of useless rhetoric? One individual can unite millions of people IF the cause is just. One Ghandi, one Mandella, one Rosa Parks. This is where the power is. America is not made stronger by forced diversity any more than it was made stronger by forced affirmative action. This type of rhetoric is weakening this once great country. During the war between the states we were divided North and South. Today, we are pulled in thirty different directions. Each group with its own agenda and not one of those agendas is for the good of our entire nation.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  13. the AnViL

    delusional americans who believe in imaginary men in the sky should never be allowed to hold public office, vote, purchase/own firearms or teach public school.

    tolerance of religious idiocy has to stop.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • Mark Taylor

      Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, Freeman Dyson... You're calling these men who were all theists (among many others like them) delusional? I'm sick of atheists or wanna be atheists who try to assert that belief is ignorant and childish. It's fine to stake out a position on this but to call those with an opposing view delusional just because you don't believe the same way is pretty arrogant.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • the AnViL


      yes... people who believe in imaginary men in the sky most certainly are delusional. does that mean someone trained in the scientific method who believes in imaginary men in the sky cannot follow the scientific process and discover truths and facts? of course not, stupid.

      yes – their beliefs ARE ignorant and childish. deal with it, princess.

      second – delusional people who believe in imaginary men in the sky should not be allowed to be a part in any decision making process concerning the general public. they should never be allowed to hold public office. they should never be allowed to vote. they should never be allowed to purchase or own firearms.... and above all – they should never ever be allowed to teach public school.

      tolerance of religious idiocy has gone on several centuries longer than it should have. enough is enough.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:18 am |
  14. keliosaw

    Once again CNN shows itself to be the bastion for all politically correct bigots. There may be a reason that there are a preponderance of representatives with their values based in protestant belief in god and work ethic. When looking for someone to represent them people have found people with these values preferable to the alternative – a self serving, self defeating, self absorbed belief in nothing more than one's own ego. Individuals so insecure that they cannot stand the idea that anyone – even God could know better than them.about anything.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • the AnViL

      "There may be a reason that there are a preponderance of representatives with their values based in protestant belief in god..."

      there most certainly is a reason: idiocy

      we need to weed out these zealots and moralists who seek to secularize their theological retardation.

      tolerance of religious idiocy has to end.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  15. JJ

    This is news worthy....The people there were selected by all for all...not sure where this guy is going that they are not representative of the people....the scrutiny that these people go through to make it here is almost unbearable and now we have to make sure we have enough of one thing and not the other....maybe those people who are "nones" should have made sure they had someone running in the first place....as a none, the person running here lost in the primary...but in the end the right person hopefully got the job and will do great....it is about getting your persone you want to run in the first place...

    November 16, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
  16. banlarson

    To listen to some (most on CNN) the problems in this country are caused by white male protestants Christians. Those who work to get an education and good jobs, raise families in a two parent home, pay taxes, go to church where they give 10% to help others. Ya, that's a real problem. We need more single parent families, uneducated or unskilled people, more folks that don't pay taxes, or rely on government assistance. Surely the only reason a hard working white guy gets where he has is because his path is easy. I call b s on that one. Time to stop slamming the one segment of the population that actually gives a damn about this country and contributes more than their fair share.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • Answer

      The white race is coming to an end. Deal with it.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
    • PTNY

      Mitt, is that you?

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

      Except that the majority of you don't actually do any of those things except the church part, WASP. Get back to the assembly line. oh wait

      November 16, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  17. gladnotmad

    I'm glad Congress is made up of WASPS. Although I'm atheist, I could give a damn what the religious make up is.

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

      How about a _NO_ ? 🙂

      November 16, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  18. Congress is too old-school Protestant - it needs to be more like this!


    November 16, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • banlarson

      Excuse me, I just had a little vomit in my mouth.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
  19. Stinky pants

    I have to take a monster crap.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
  20. JC

    Wow! Ever heard of separation of church and state? Has this what CNN has become? Yesterdays article started out interesting about the new incoming congressional freshman but quickly turned into another diatribe about all the white males still out number the members of congress. If I want to read about some ones opinion of hate and divide I am sure I can find plenty on the net somewhere. Give me news CNN. You used to do that very well at one time.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:36 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.