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. Rick

    How many Protestants sit on the supreme court? (none)
    How many Protestants were on either major party ticket for the presidential nomination? (one)

    This guy must be hard up for something to write.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      do you willfully ignore what he's talking about just so that you can make your own political point? The answer seems yes.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:33 am |
  2. albie

    That is because in order to get elected at all, these people have to say they are religious to get the votes of the Christians who are idiotic enough to only vote for someone if they go to church - the more we educate our populace, the less this will happen - can't wait for the day when religion and churches are no longer mentioned in the same sentence as politics

    November 17, 2012 at 12:29 am |
    • objecttothis

      Wow. I'm in awe by the brilliance here... you've just managed to blanket an entire large group of people. How interesting. So how is it, by your calculation, that still a majority of the population consider themselves protestant totally sent all their vote to the same candidate and he lost... oh wait, but that's not really true is it? Clearly the protestants did not all vote for one candidate did they?

      November 17, 2012 at 12:34 am |
  3. randy

    "At least when it comes to religion, the U.S. Congress doesn't yet look like the voters who are sending them to Washington." Who do you think voted them in?

    November 17, 2012 at 12:29 am |
    • Lucas

      Brilliant, logical point. Are they not the representative that we the people chose?

      November 17, 2012 at 12:31 am |
  4. Ken

    Why is it liberals are so obsessed with trying to have everything be in equal portions. They look at something and whine "oh, there aren't enough jews or enough hispanics or enough females or enough ... on and on and on. If liberals were a truly enlighted people, then they would be past looking at race or gender or religious preferences. They would care about what a persons skills are, their abilities, and for politicians, do they promise to carry out actions they believe would be best for this nation. This writer even whines the with 56% of representatives as Protestant compared to only 48% of Americans are of that faith .. that a new America is many years away. Why? Just because the PEOPLE elected individuals into office but not in the perfect representation you are obsessed with having? What's next, some proposals to vet candidates and ban some from running unless the perfect balance of religious faiths are present ... sort of like how Iran's council of clerics removes politicians who are to lacking in faith? It's a good thing more people in this country are not a biased towards others and their beliefs like this writer. If people were focused on the religious makeup of candidates, then with 48% of this country being protestant, they would win hands down in almost every election. The makeup would be 97% Protestant as they would vote as a block only for protestant candidates .. meaning the other faiths voting for their candidates would never get close. The absurd views of this writer make me sick to think people like him are in this country, trying to spin information to support their views and holding the people of this country back from reaching a time when such considerations did not matter. This writer is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:27 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      I must admit I couldn't stand reading everything you wrote. Why do people (or, as you call 'em, 'liberals) think that diversity is necessary? Because who you are factors in in how you think and so on. Does that solve your problem?

      November 17, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • Gabe

      agreed! so true

      November 17, 2012 at 12:37 am |
    • callnews

      To FreeFromTheism: So should we just resolve to from forget about who each of us is, and our choices, to follow what you or some multicultural statistic says is correct? No! What you purport really is Communism.

      November 17, 2012 at 3:15 am |
  5. Gabe

    Thats how u know we are in the end times. God haters. "Dont mix the Bible with politics" you better start mixing the 2, but you wont, in the last days people will wax more and more evil. Go for it, manifest what you really are. They hate God and people that fear God. So be it. I will deal with the ridicule now, you must deal with it later. Deal.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:27 am |
    • albie

      time to take your meds

      November 17, 2012 at 12:31 am |
    • jikfive

      Funnily enough, when religion and government are mixed there seems to be an increase in witch burning, stoning, and torture in the name of "God." Go stuff your fairy tales somewhere else and leave the rest of us in peace.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:35 am |
  6. Mucker

    I don't mind if a politician wants to talk to God. I just don't want to hear about it. If a politician says God is talking to him/her, I definitely don't want to hear about it, and he/she will definitely NEVER get my vote for anything. Jesus only left 2 commandments. Everything after 33AD was written by religious politicians who saw a chance at controlling a LOT of people, and making LOTS of money. Gee, just like today!

    November 17, 2012 at 12:27 am |
  7. Lisa

    I didn't even read the article. The subject looked too stupid and I just wanted to see what you people were saying about it.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:26 am |
    • FreeFromTheism


      November 17, 2012 at 12:28 am |
  8. The truth

    I'll take the "old" protestants over Muslims and blacks anyway who are too hostile and anti american to be representatives in this country. Left wingers have a mental disorder. You are intensely stupid, ignorant and racially suicidal. I will never support anything a left winger supports, period, ever. If you leftists thought you could get away with it, you would make murdering white people legal. Whites who are leftists have an extreme mental disorder. Whites voting for left wingism is like blacks in south Africa voting for apartheid or jews supporting hitler. You have a serious mental disease.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:24 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      so much bigotry and nonsense in your post, it is extremely difficult to know where to start addressing the problems with it

      November 17, 2012 at 12:27 am |
    • Pffft

      Ha ha ha ha! Oh, you were serious? Never mind.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:32 am |
    • Really?

      I think it's obvious who has the mental disorder.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:35 am |
  9. Matt


    The people voted for protestants...and the dominant religion in this country is Protestantism. Are you saying we need to trick the public into voting for more females and "nones" as some sort of solution to our political problems? We have come to the point where diversity has zero critics and everyone is blind to the potential problems in facilitating diversity. Accept the fact that everyone is different and we will vote for whomever we choose. This cookie cutter, perfectly random sample of delegates and representatives is a fairy tale and your article is nothing more than divisive propaganda...intentional or not.

    Try to be a little more objective in the future.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:23 am |

    Your comment is awaiting moderation. hindu's, cry babies.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:22 am |
    • objecttothis

      Just a note but Hindu's are polytheists, not atheists.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:29 am |

      Polytheism is not of truth absolute but of hindu atheism, filthy secularism, denial of truth absolute. Self though of in denial of truth, or being a hindu ignorant goon.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      Your claims are unsubstantiated and nonsensical. How is it that you know what the truth is and everyone else does not?

      November 17, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • Really?

      This article SHOULD be about the over-representation of idiots in religion in general.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:37 am |
  11. Vartan

    What a f' stupid article... Changes are happening... woopdy doo. Takes a f'in genius to make that statement ... geesh. These antichrists would love for nothing more than Christ and religion in general to become a relic of the past. They will continue to paint this picture as though science has figured it all out. But wait, when the four horsemen of the apocalypse begin to ride, we see how far your empty faith in humankind will get you. For over 4k years people have believed in the Messiah of Israel. Though persecuted, Christianity will endure not because of protestants or Catholics.. but because Christ has risen and He reigns with ALL power! Let's all place our bets and see what the future unfolds. I will gladly stand with Christ in the face of every so-called progressives foul-mouthed tirade and laugh my @ss off KNOWING your future. It's a big fat, whatever! The healthy have no need of a physician so I'm going to watch the tares continue to grow knowing that the Lord of the Harvest stands ready to reap. 🙂

    November 17, 2012 at 12:21 am |
    • Derp

      Yo, Christianity has only been around roughly 2000 years...get a clue.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:26 am |
    • objecttothis

      You're not winning anyone over by getting in their face. I think you might be mixing up who the enemy is here. I'm not saying I disagree with you in the sense that I think Jesus was clear that he would return and that no one would go to the Father except through him, but I'm pretty sure that you've just turned everyone off by your tone.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:28 am |
  12. jimbo

    I feel that many of the representatives that profess to be Protestant are in name only. Being categorized Protestant is an easier path for being elected in many regions than professing to be non-religious.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • objecttothis

      I concur. I am a religious protestant, and from the voting records of protestant senate and house members I think many of them are "protestant" because that gets them a percentage of the vote.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  13. objecttothis

    So how is I that this is a scandal? The house and senate are voted in by majority, so if non-religious are under-represented then the non-religious people need to turn out and vote for a candidate that will reflect their views. When the US becomes a dictatorship and the government decides who gets assigned to the house and senate then you can cry foul, but until then... get over it please.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:20 am |
  14. Lucas

    How frightening is this? In a self righteous stupor, you write an article openly advocating discrimination based on race and religious affiliation, determined by only by demographic statistics. Even more disturbing, is the implication that people are unable to reason, think critically and make judgements but rather are robots who can act and think only in light of their genetic structure and religious affiliation. Your cynicism and the world you are advocating is nothing short of a living hell. May I suggest you take some time off from writing and study history. Perhaps you will learn that you are advocating that we repeat the worst mistakes in the history of civilization.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:19 am |
  15. Psh

    Oh my, really? 87% of Congress are Christians when only 70% of the US adult population are Christians! How whacked is that... if Congress is going to be majority Christian, it should only do so if the majority of the US adult population are Christians! Oh wait, they are... dummy.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:18 am |
  16. Karl

    If you start gathering statistics about which members of congress have no religious affiliation, doesn't that become an affiliation itself? Separation of Church and State means that Church is irrelevant in the practice of Statesmanship, and should not be a point of discussion.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:17 am |
  17. Congress would work a lot better if it had a KING!


    November 17, 2012 at 12:14 am |
  18. roadkilled

    Affirmative action!!!

    November 17, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  19. Nick

    I can't believe he's making a big deal about an 8% difference for the representatives. He should take a look at the Supreme Justices. There should be 4 to 5 protestant justices, yet there are none.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  20. Dale

    The Congress and Senate; they say a lot but say nothing they are narcissistic windbags, they will promise almost anything to get re-elected once they are re-elected it all turns to smoke, business as usual back to insulting each other yelling and fighting blocking each other so they can get their way, to hell with the American people who they are supposed to be representing, they are in there for themselves and their good old crony buddies.

    Something needs to be done about career politicians in both parties Senate and Congress the old opinionated snarky once, you know the ones who I'm talking about, when they sit close to each other at press interviews or meetings, you can see the pure dislike oozing out of them.

    Term limits TWO are needed like the presidency, TO solve this problem of the Snarky Opinionated Old Farts, once there two terms are up let someone else take over. Some of these people in the Congress and Senate are just too damn you know what.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • Absolutely

      Yes to term limits.
      Career politicians do not make good politicians.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:22 am |
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