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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. Pam

    Anti discrimination legislation may as well be re worded to say that anyone who is a white Protestant male is excluded – after all, that is the reality of life in Western society today. We are being conditioned to accept double standards and utter hypocrisy in the treatment of people who are white, Protestant and male. The last Presidential election amply demonstrated it was perfectly acceptable for the vast majority of black or Latino people to vote for President Obama – no racism there. But any white American voting for Romney was frequently portrayed as racist or reactionary while white Americans voting for Obama were portrayed as progressive and non racist.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:59 am |
  2. Veritae

    So;
    Mr. Prothero, how would you choose to represent the unaffiliated? Makes as much sense as trying to represent the political unaffiliated. Do you have a paradigmatic schema in mind?

    Just wondering...

    November 17, 2012 at 12:53 am |
  3. Randomguy

    The problem is democrats give all the power to minorities. I'm all for equality, I support gay marriage and the ability to not be judged by your race or beliefs, but that's where the problem occurs. Democrats believe you should be judged by what you look like and believe. Too many times have I seen whites treated unfairly. Schools expel a white child for getting attacked by a black child. White men are fired and lose their retirement because something made up by a greedy boss. Minorities that prove to be bad employee can't be fired because there needs to be a percentage of them. I've seen many scenarios of the laws that democrats pass where innocent people are treated unfairly, and sadly no democrat seems to care. Now should the minorities continue to act like children trying to hurt white males for what their forefathers did, a generation soon gone, or should they be the bigger person and attempt to educate children of diversity and stop passing laws that can so easily be misused.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:53 am |
    • Mrs. Pepperpot

      What utter bullsh!t. Generalize much? Just vote for whoever the f*#k you want to and stop the stereotypical garbage!

      November 17, 2012 at 12:57 am |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      Yeah, this country has a long history of minorities in power and poor white men being cruelly oppressed. I'm tired of it, too (sarcasm).

      November 17, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • Ryan

      Uh this country was made by white men, so obviously, they would be the leaders.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:04 am |
  4. menemenetekel

    The bottom line is that Stephen Prothero wants to see our government throw out the Bible and all who trust in it as the foundation this country was built on and stands on.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:52 am |
    • Mrs. Pepperpot

      This country was not built on the beliefs of the bible. Get over it.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • Ting

      You should read the Bible sometime. That is not what our government stands for and never should. Keep your ancient book of hate to yourself.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:01 am |
    • Rekenstrana's Homunculus

      This country (nor its government) was founded on the principles of the Bible.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:03 am |
    • everyknee

      @Ting
      Sorry you have been offended in some way in the past about the Bible. There are many wonderful kind, loving verses. "..love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! If you love only those who love you, what good is that?" Sending a spirit of love your way, from a Christian. May God bless.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:11 am |
  5. Christopher

    There is so much bad mouthing of white males on CNN you would think white men were vampires sucking peoples blood and eating babies. Not a day goes by that CNN doesn't right a hostile article about white men. Wow, so much hatred.

    I'm white and male and have as much a right to live as anyone else. I'm young and I'm not going anywhere, you need to get over this hate CNN.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:52 am |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      Wow. Now consider how angry you would be if you were actually discriminated against...

      November 17, 2012 at 1:01 am |
    • Ryan

      No black alive under 50 has been discriminated against, you know nothing of discrimination.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:03 am |
  6. DMac1131

    Scandalously underrepresented in the 113th Congress – seriously? What makes you think that Protestants are bad? Is it the Ten Commandment or that they believe that Jesus Christ is who he said he was. Much more of this phoney every religion is real stuff is sending the US into never-never land. The Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims didn't build the US – just have a look at where they all came from and tell me if there country measures up to the USA. Hey Stephen ... just because you're educated doesn't mean you're smart and for your information 'old America' was a pretty nice place. Why do people like you always find some way to ruin things just bit more. Maybe try reading your bible and believing what is says in there ... that might be a good start.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:51 am |
    • jkflipflop

      If you're looking for "truth". . . the last place to look is in a bible.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  7. barnboy

    How bout this....Congress may be too protestant, but government is TOO religious. We are the New Atheists and we are ready for you. Bring it.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:48 am |
    • jkflipflop

      I'll never understand why people keep forcing their fairytale stories of religion into the lawmaking system. The two don't go together in the least.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:51 am |
    • Ryan

      I'm an atheist and in no way support left wingers. Just because I'm an atheist doesn't mean I don't have morals. Think again if you think all atheists are on your side.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:07 am |
  8. massoud

    Divide and conquer, the left right paradigm at its best by this tabloid journalist.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:48 am |
  9. DenverDean

    Since Congressional Representation happens at the LOCAL level, districts will likely elect people who are like them (e.g., Mormons from Utah). You can't take the entire US population and then apply it to a system that doesn't work that way. If it was a national election for these representatives, it would be different. Just like the electoral college showed a blowout by President Obama, (61.7 v. 38.3%), but the popular vote was 50.7% – 47.7% – a 20 percentage point swing.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:47 am |
  10. P.M. Loftus

    While on the subject of over-representation, the author stated that there were 32 Jewish Senators or Congressment. This would comprise 6% representation in Congress for 2% of the population.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • massoud

      AIPAC will buy off any politician it can just ask "independent" Senator Joe Lieberman.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • Andy McGill

      Plus the Supreme Court is 6 Catholics and 3 Jews, with zero Protestants.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:34 am |
  11. BeeAccountable

    What a lame article – he sites the percentages by party, but no overall percentages? Total slant job.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:40 am |
  12. rhscnative

    You never know what is going on in someone's head regarding religion. I think many, many politicians go to church and claim to be religious because an atheist would have a very difficult time getting elected. I knew a guy in college who I knew wasn't very religious but later on became a preacher so he could move up in the NAACP.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:40 am |
  13. Armani Nelson

    Oppinion: CNN too anti-Christian

    November 17, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • jesus saves

      This article is alarming...reminds me of the French Revolution when anti-establishment is attacked and murdered. They don't represent me!

      November 17, 2012 at 12:44 am |
    • Ken Drive

      jesus has never saved – a dime or a person. And who the fock cares if you are represented?

      November 17, 2012 at 12:51 am |
  14. pflatman

    We need more agnostics and atheists in government.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      definitely

      November 17, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • everyknee

      Actually, I think you just need to know that there are Christians who do love and seek to love those who find fault in them. Best regards

      November 17, 2012 at 12:59 am |
  15. Chris

    Dam, left wingers are terrified of white males, everyday there is an article whinning about white men. Whatever you white guys are doing to make these marxists and blacks so scared, keep it up. This article is nothing but pure fear to the bone.

    White male, this white male that.... haha

    November 17, 2012 at 12:38 am |
  16. Financial Lawyer

    I have never commented on an internet article before, but this is the worst article I've ever seen in my life. The author needs to be fired.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      Begging the question, why?

      November 17, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • Gabe

      I agree! It is a lousy article designed to draw out the religious people (I am 1), but only to make them look nuts and to cause divisions.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • Hugo

      Why do you think this is the worst article? Why do you think the author should be fired and fired what which job? (Why should it be necessary to ask someone (apparently) with a J.D. to explain?)

      November 17, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • BeeAccountable

      I agree. He only quotes percentages by party. What are the overall percentages? Very lame, very slanted.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:43 am |
  17. Gabe

    Its all good and OF COURSE the media and liberals want a Godless government. Thats socialism at its finest. Tell me a little riddle though... How is socialism working out in china with huge factories with suicide nets and forced abortions and barracks for the workers? Dont get me wrong our congress and gov is Godless already, they are protestant in name only. I have never seen any of them show me any Christ like characteristics whatsoever. its so over though, even the churches have been destroyed at this point.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • BE A SALAHFI TO BE TRUE AMERICAN, DUMP HINDU ATHEISM, WAY OF hINDU, filthy ANIMALS.

      quality of hindu Magi's, criminal tricksters.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • FreeFromTheism

      It could be argued that Jesus was a socialist... I am not sure what your point is.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • Hugo

      Um Gabe, you are a member of the media and so am I because both of us have posted.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:43 am |
    • Mrs. Pepperpot

      China is Communist, therefore, everything you have written is moot.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:44 am |
  18. Ben

    The distribution of flavors isn't important. Congress and the country at large are actually identical in the key respect: they're both too religious, full stop.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:32 am |
  19. John

    Protestants founded the nation and are the only reason it has done as well as it has. If this idiot would look at history he would see that Protestants are the only ones that believe in separation of church and state, in fact they came up with it! If Catholics church had their way it would be just like Vatican city. The USA hasn't changed or gone liberal. It's just become apparent that Romney didn't get elected cause he planned to drive the middle class off the fiscal cliff. And the people in congress mostly aren't of any religion, if we are honest. They're liars, and there most certainly is a difference.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:32 am |
    • Ben

      Hang on, so we're calling deists Protestants now? It doesn't just mean "not Catholic", y'know.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:35 am |
    • BE A SALAHFI TO BE TRUE AMERICAN, DUMP HINDU ATHEISM, WAY OF hINDU, filthy ANIMALS.

      no, please correct your hinduism, absurdity, founding fathers were not what you hind, lie.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:38 am |
  20. Lomunchi

    Cripes, CNN, "gee, there are a slightly disproportionate number of people that claim a religious affiliation in congress..." Lord help us, it's a bloody overthrow of my tender, sensitive, neo-pseudo-scientific-newly-decided-tradition!!!!!
    ...freakin' whiners.

    November 17, 2012 at 12:30 am |
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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.