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. Mike

    racial diversity is not a goal of deomcracy ... there is no value in hoping for such an ideal of proportional representation as this author is proposing ... the ideal of democracy is to elect the BEST suited candidates to the congress .. IRRESPECTIVE of race, gender, religion and orientation ... the misplaced value that this author is trying to put on diversity has no place whatsoever in values of democracy .... IT IS A FALSE GOAL CREATED OUT OF A DELUDED AND DISTRACTED MIND.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:25 am |
    • Don't Take The Bait

      Good job Mike. Finally, a comment worth reading.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:28 am |
    • Jeremy

      Except we do not live in a democracy we live in a republic. Either way American history to the majority has become a story of a struggle for relative equality among all citizens, so that there is opportunity for all to achieve the American dream. What the author is talking about here is not meant to be a goal for a mean unto itself. Rather a means of measurement to determine if America is near achieving equality it holds up as an ideal. What the reliability and validity of that measurement is, is altogether another matter.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:31 am |
    • Al Russell

      Except that we do have a REPRESENTATIVE style of government, the entire point of which is to have elected officials that represent the people they are governing. Would you also say that we should never have striven to include women in congress? This is the same concept. Women should be represented in Congress because women live in this country. Agnostics and atheists should also be represented because 20% of the American people fall into that category. Yes, our current officials have been elected through a democratic process. No one is denying that fact. Of course, there used to be nothing but old white men in there until we actively said, "Hey it's about time we paid attention and elected more women." Becoming aware of the problem is the first step in correcting it.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:35 am |
    • Mike


      To attain proportional representation in Congress is IN NO WAY EVEN a metric to measure the success of our democracy. In fact, artificially wishing for or artificially trying to enforce proportional representation will interfere with the very inherent values, ideals and goals of democracy ... ITS IS A FALSE VALUE THAT THE AUTHOR IS TRYING TO PLACE IN THIS CONCEPT ... WHICH HAS NO PLACE IN DEMOCRACY ... except for racist agenda of some vested interests.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:37 am |
    • Mike

      Al Russell

      Goal of democracy is to get the BEST AND MOST CAPABLE representatives elected to the CONGRESS. NOTHING ELSE. Proportional representation along artificial lines we draw to divide our own nation - is neither a goal of democracy not a metric to measure the success of the system. It is only a way to divide the nation and hurt the very democratic system itself.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:39 am |
    • End Religion

      Jeremy gets "Sensible Comment of the Year" award. Jeremy, you have 2 minutes for a speech. Make it quick.

      November 17, 2012 at 3:22 am |
  2. TJ

    Oh... so it is OK that Obama was democratically elected, but it is not OK that this is the congress that was chosen? Just as Republicans need to "man-up" and accept the result, so should you.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:22 am |
  3. Zenitram

    I just want more men and women in congress that don't believe in an imaginary space god friend that demands you love/fear it (sadomasochism) or else you will burn forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:18 am |
    • Spinbackle

      Why does that make a difference? They're not going to force you to accept religion. The Inquisition is over.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:31 am |
    • Freethinker Seeking Reason

      @Spin – You seriously don't think the Christian right is forcing religion on the rest of us? You're kidding, right?

      November 17, 2012 at 3:07 am |
  4. Freethinker Seeking Reason

    Excellent article!! Sorry to see all the anti-atheist bigotry in the comments, though. Some of you seriously need help in overcoming the privilege of prejudice your delusions appear to have afforded you.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:17 am |
    • J2

      Amen. Where's the love, mercy, compassion, kindness?

      Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

      32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?

      November 17, 2012 at 2:20 am |
    • Mike

      These representatives to COngress were elected democratically - you clearly want a dictatorship of the atheists. Get lost!

      November 17, 2012 at 2:26 am |
    • Spinbackle

      Guess you skipped over the anti-religion bigotry, huh? There's quite a bit of both here, I'd say.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:36 am |
    • Freethinker Seeking Reason

      @Mike – You must already be lost yourself! We have just ONE openly secular person in Congress, and you twist my comment to imply that I'm proponing for an atheist dictatorship?! Are you flipping INSANE?!

      November 17, 2012 at 3:02 am |
  5. Oberver974

    ....and the media is dominated by Jews, blacks, and assorted leftist bigots and nitwits and.... but I don't see CNN bellyaching about that. Hollywood? Every major Eastern newspaper, the networks, you can't find anyone but Jews and blacks.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:17 am |
    • End Religion

      Back to your bunker with a case of baked beans. We'll let you out in 4 years so you can cast your losing vote again next year.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:27 am |
  6. tommkatts

    Don't get our hopes up! It's the Christian Right that destroyed the credibility of the Republican Party. Thinking the GOP meant what they said, I voted for Reagan, all the time thinking that if they really do what they say they will do with deregulation, it would great all Americans. Or...they will be able loot and pillage the American worker, like the Vikings in the Capitol One credit card commercial. They took the second choice proving they used the Word of the Bible to line their pockets instead of better humanity. Reagan was a hired actor.

    To elect their actor, the Evangelical cancers were recruited to bring in the vote convincing good people God was not powerful enough without help from MEN to make decisions on judgment day about the choices people have made in life. Cost A LOT OF MONEY to run a mega church you know... and you also know God is old and needs help from people that LIVE for money. Yea...that's it...he's really old.... It's especially expensive if you think you deserve to live like a king because you are the pastor and enjoy traveling the earth to "save souls". Everyone is someones child but they sure don't mind sending them to the battlefield to die and refusing to help them when they get home.

    Fool me once...but...or............ Fool me twice.... and I'm no smarter than George Bush.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:14 am |
  7. Tony

    For the other ignorant bigots besides the author of this dribble; Religion has certainly been used for evil, but what is undeniable is that across this earth, relief for suffering people has come from people of faith. Your bigotry is trash, and your hatred is the same filth you claim to rail against. Be grateful that christian white men saw as your inalienable right, the ability to open your mouth and reveal what a fool you are.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:13 am |
    • J2

      Are these the same Christian men who murdered the Natives and brought captured people here to enslave them and have them work the land? What's Christian about bigotry, racism, Jim Crow, lynchings, segregation?

      November 17, 2012 at 2:16 am |
    • gdaym8

      Excellent..................well said.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:20 am |
  8. rhondajo3

    What would you like Congress to be? ISLAM??? SHARIA LAW???? Oh come ON!!!!!!

    November 17, 2012 at 2:09 am |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Personally, Id prefer it if Congress was firmly planted in reality. Myth as fact is for the easily led. You know...like sheep.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:16 am |
    • babyhannah

      @Just call me Lucifer. If you would rather see Islam rule, why are you still living in the United States of America? I will tell you why. Because of the rights that are granted to you to speak your mind as you have without fear of someone 'chasing down' your e-mail and throwing you in prison or worse, just for the thoughts and words you speak. Go ahead and bash these Christian principles that America was founded upon all you want, but when the Laws of the Land remove these freedoms...Remember, THAT is what you wanted! Believe me. Today it is the Christians who are hated for their beliefs, but the day will come when you will not have the freedoms you cherish so much. Don't believe me? Check out this article in the Washington Post from the other day.


      As for me-I will vote as my conscience leads me, the same as you have the freedom to do, Thank You Very Much.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:29 am |
    • Just call me Lucifer


      @Just call me Lucifer. If you would rather see Islam rule, why are you still living in the United States of America? –
      You must be off your medication.... I never said a word about Islam. Apparently your reading comprehension is extremely low.

      I will tell you why. – I didn't ask. You seem to want to answer your own question.

      Because of the rights that are granted to you to speak your mind as you have without fear of someone 'chasing down' your e-mail and throwing you in prison or worse, just for the thoughts and words you speak. – Look here missy, I'm the last guy you wanna mess with. You know I burn souls for a living, right?

      Go ahead and bash these Christian principles that America was founded upon – Yeah... those Christian principles of slaughtering the people that were living in America before you Eurotrash zealots showed up. Christian indeed.

      all you want, but when the Laws of the Land remove these freedoms...Remember, THAT is what you wanted! – No its not. Its what you said I weanted for reasons only known by you and the other peopl;e in your mind.

      Believe me. – Yeah...that'll happen.

      Today it is the Christians who are hated for their beliefs, but the day will come when you will not have the freedoms you cherish so much. – Ahh...no. You seem to have missed the point. But thats ok, considering your reading comp. skills.

      Don't believe me? Check out this article in the Washington Post from the other day. – My god... I cant believe it. You're right, we're all doomed. Now if there were only a god somewhere to save us.

      As for me-I will vote as my conscience leads me, the same as you have the freedom to do, – Hey thanks.

      Thank You Very Much. – Anytime for you.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:57 am |
  9. All the King's Horses

    Overrepresentation is an oxymoron when referring to politicians who are democratically elected. Any individual, providing they meet the inherent requirements for a government office, can run for said office; an African-American socialist Atheist can run under the Republican banner, but it's up to the voters to choose their leaders.

    It's apparently the will of the people for there to be this "disproportionate" number of Protestant candidates in the legislature, as that is what is literally shown since the candidates were elected to their respective offices.

    The American electoral system doesn't call for a proportional representation of the people in regards to faith, race, or any other personal identifier; it simply exists to allow a vehicle for the people's will to move into the workings of the government.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:09 am |
    • xx4zu1

      Let me add what you forgot in you post : Anyone with enough money to buy the necessary publicity................

      November 17, 2012 at 2:27 am |
    • xx4zu1

      Let me add what you forgot in your post : Anyone with enough money to buy the necessary publicity................

      November 17, 2012 at 2:27 am |
  10. jowl

    hahah this article is hilarious.. and front page friday!

    CNN you don't really need to look very far to discover why your ratings & web hits are the lowest in the industry. It's because you are ridiculous.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:09 am |
  11. Tony Rezko

    Jews are the most over represented group in the legislature. Proving what? Nothing. They were chosen by voters not a synagogue.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:07 am |
  12. Tom

    This may be the dumbest article I've read in some time....

    November 17, 2012 at 2:06 am |
  13. J2

    I'm just happy that we have in the White House someone who actually believes in and practices Jesus' teaching: love, compassion, mercy, serving others, helping others. Are there any real Christians left in the Republican party? The ones who claim to be seem mostly to be self-righteous religious hypocrites who can't stand most people and look down on everyone else for God knows what reason. (Bunch of Pharisees)

    November 17, 2012 at 2:05 am |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      I know the president, and let me tell you, he really doesn't believe in the nonsense that is religion. He just plays along so simple minded folks think he's a man of god or whatever. If Romney were elected, this country would be in trouble. Magic underwear indeed.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:34 am |
  14. FG54

    '113th Congress looks like old America', and you Stephen look and write like a M0ron (with capital 'M').
    'Old', or rather Traditional America was a great country until you, self-hating whites, suffering from eternal guilt syndrom started to destroy it with your cherished 'diversity' mantra and PC. Are you happy now after transforming it into a broke disfunctional 'collection of tribes', often having nothing in common culturally, mentally and otherwise, slowly going down road of 'Balkanization'? No, you are not happy yet. Too many protestants!!! FYI, they established and contributed greatly into building this country into a superpower, you m0ron! Go and do something useful, if you can off course, which I doubt.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:04 am |
  15. ronjayaz

    As a child, raised as a Roman Catholic & never knowing who the "Christians" were, since Protestants and Catholics "pronounced "catlicks", were always bickering, not unlike the Shiites and the Sunnis, I was surprised to lern that Hinduism and Buddhism are interrelated somewhat like the "Protestants and the Catholics" although comparisons can be fatal. For instance, we called "Mohammedism" as kids and the American media reinforced the error by referring to it as such. Both Jesus and Mohammed were prophets but Jesus got elevated to Christ whereas Islam always had a God-Allah. As a convert to Buddhism, I find religion in all us befuddling, even though I dont think Buddhism is considered a religion per se.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:04 am |
  16. i12bphil

    What a bunch of hateful malarky.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:03 am |
  17. Thomas

    Now we have religious quotas for legislative representation???

    November 17, 2012 at 2:03 am |
  18. Justin H

    As an atheist, I take solace in the increasing change toward a secular electorate. While the unaffiliated (including atheists, agnostics, spiritual, none, etc) still remain a minority, our size is growing. As with the Hispanic vote, we are becoming a large enough group that we can not be politically ignored for much longer. It may be a decade or more before we really start to see an increase in more secular minded candidates. But we certainly have enough voices to be considered part of the political conversation.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:00 am |
    • Mike

      You are so IGNORANT ... Secularism IS NOT EQUAL TO Atheism ... Get educated.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:10 am |
    • Justin H

      I did not say secular and atheist were equivalent. In fact, I am very much aware that atheist make up a small percentage of the "unaffiliated". The point that I am making is that the electorate – the people who vote – are becoming increasingly secular. This means they are becoming increasingly non-religion, which includes atheist, agnostic, and all the others I listed.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:19 am |
  19. cheese

    Get this "writer" out of here.

    America is NOT a dictatorship with certain "quotas" to nominate people to serve in the legislature. Americans VOTED for ALL the representatives in Congress, and BECAUSE they voted these representatives into Congress, it indicates either a tacit or overt approval, or else an indifference to the religion of their congressperson of choice.

    If we're talking about China's parliament, then yes, this writer MAY have a point, because the deputies in China's parliament are APPOINTED IN, not VOTED IN – by China's top officials.

    So now, are we going to have affirmative action in Congress too? Fire this writer straight away. There should be NOTHING to prevent Americans from VOTING for the candidate of their choice. There should not be say, a few less protestants or a few less Muslims in Congress because a quota has been maxed out.

    Again, fire this disgusting writer. He knows very little about how America's political system was originally envisaged to work and yet he can unabashedly write nonsense on a national news website.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:00 am |
    • Justin H

      I think you are reading far too much into the article. The writer isn't demanding any kind of change or quota. He's simply commenting that the religious make-up of the 113th Congress is out of alignment with the general population. This is simply a comment about demographics.

      Had the writer been trying to explore this issue beyond the demographics, he might have commented about whether Christians as a whole (Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, etc) tend to show any particular preference a candidate from the same background, or whether they just want the candidate to be Christian. Or he might have commented on how the non-religious do not have enough voting power in most states and districts to elect non-religious candidates in large numbers.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:11 am |
  20. James

    CNN. This is the greatest nation on earth by far. This reporter is a fool and yet you publish?! Go to hell, CNN. Go to hell. I will read your site less now. And others like it. You should all move to Russia and publish there. Might find that world much more suitable to your 'style' of writing. You deserve to go to the gulag for your leftist leaning ways. Perhaps once the liberals spend our nation into disaster then idiots like you will wake up?! On second thought, probably not. Asses all. FU, CNN. FU.

    November 17, 2012 at 1:59 am |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      I believe I speak for all of us when I say...

      Thanks for stopping by James. You seem to have caught a whiff of some liberal bias that makes you uncomfortable. I completely understand, Im not a big tree-hugger fan myself, but hey... they closed the blogs on Fox News, and I had nowhere else to go. Im the devil and I approve this message.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:22 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.