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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. Apple Bush

    End Religion said, "You should be thankful you have atheists here to do your thinking for you."

    That is SO true. I don't know why we need this particular balance, but right now, we do. Great insight.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:54 am |
    • Spinbackle

      What the hell does that mean? Are we seeing a wave of puritanical, zealous, religion-laden legislation in this country? Stop acting like only atheists are capable of intellectual thought. That's just stupid.

      November 17, 2012 at 3:01 am |
    • End Religion

      Spinbackle's just upset on page 17 I said having religion was irrational and he tried to correct me only to learn he was wrong. He hasn't recovered yet.

      November 17, 2012 at 3:18 am |
    • Apple Bush

      Spinbackle, if you believe myths are true, you are not qualified to legislate. Atheists are the only people responsible enough to make law.

      November 17, 2012 at 3:19 am |
    • Spinbackle

      Oh please. I never capitulated when End Religion made a fallacious statement about people of religion being irrational. I just didn't want to get into a pointless argument on the semantics of the word "irrational." A belief in a higher power does not mean you are crazy or unfit to legislate. This country has survived well over 200 years with legislators who believe in "fairy tales." Some decisions have been poor, but we've come this far and we're in pretty good shape. Even the founding fathers had the foresight to include the words "separation of church and state" despite the fact that they often did not separate the two. I'm not attacking your beliefs, but statements that say only atheists are fit to legislate has no logical basis.

      November 17, 2012 at 3:29 am |
    • End Religion

      Religion is a delusion. Knowingly delusional people are not fit for office.

      November 17, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  2. Really?

    Wow ... I thought liberals didn't want any talk of religion in their politics. Well, I guess this one does (the author), even if it's just a convenient way to make an unnecessary point.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:48 am |
    • Apple Bush

      It's foreshadowing.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:51 am |
    • joey savy

      why are you a bible thumper

      November 17, 2012 at 3:45 am |
  3. Majav

    The best citizen is an atheist. The best politician is retired. Like God, authority is make believe. Being of service is an excellent way to escape old paradigms. Too bad politicians are overly invested in their authority rather than serving others. Yes, Mavis, atheists can be quite generous and altruistic especially if they don't shy away from booze. And Protestants, like Muslims, are usually the absolute worst tippers. The best tippers are Jews but boy do you have to work for it. I'd rather wait on Catholics myself. Old Catholics before infallibility. But really, atheists who like to throw the dice, they are the best.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:48 am |
    • Apple Bush

      LOL! I drink way too much and tip beyond my means. That made me laugh.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:50 am |
  4. Raymond J

    I love the "now common wisdom" part, by which you mean "me and my Democrat friends say this a lot"

    November 17, 2012 at 2:48 am |
    • MC

      Uh no, dullard, a basic knowledge of demographics and the recent election returns is really all that's required.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:52 am |
  5. rhondajo3

    Well, you just showed everyone how racist and stupid YOU are! You see, the majority of Americans ARE Protestant!!

    November 17, 2012 at 2:47 am |
    • Apple Bush

      rhondajo3, please explain how racism applies to religion.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:48 am |
    • MC

      Actually, you sad little half-wit, he gave precise figures for both the U.S. population and Congress. The problem is clearly on your end.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:54 am |
  6. Bob

    Waiting for the CNN article that says there are "too many" of anything other than non-Christian or minorities.

    Diversity is when there are no Christians left. LOL

    November 17, 2012 at 2:45 am |
    • Apple Bush

      Hey Bob, I have been reading your posts today. I like your takes.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:47 am |
    • MC

      Uh, THIS ARTICLE says there is too much of something other than non-Christians or minorities, genius.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:55 am |
  7. sknmrowley

    Don't be ridiculous. The Congress is not TOO PROTESTANT all of a sudden. If you add all the protestant denominations together they are still a massive majority. AND, who says a protestant can't represent another faith or denomination well...seems to have worked rather well for 235 years. Grow up...and stop fanning the flames of hate.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:44 am |
  8. Cheeses

    The opinions of nonbelievers reflected here must be God's will.

    Why else would they write such nonsense?

    November 17, 2012 at 2:43 am |
    • End Religion

      I write nonsense to follow in the footsteps of the bible.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:58 am |
  9. massoud

    Maybe we should have more Jews in Congress since they already own it. Oh wait that would blow their cover. Nevermind lets scapegoat the Protestants instead problem solved.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:40 am |
    • Apple Bush

      We would all be much better off with sensible atheists, but alas, that ain't happening. Pitty.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:43 am |
  10. Caiha

    Please. It wasn't a democracy in 1789, it was never intended to be, and it never will be. The government represents the wealthy and the powerful, if it happens to help anyone else that's purely incidental. Do you think the average person's life changed in any realistic way because he was paying taxes to Philadelpia instead of London? Give me a break.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:34 am |
    • Apple Bush

      You are incorrect.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:40 am |
    • Spinbackle

      Wow, you are even more cynical that I am.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:43 am |
  11. Caldoc

    Surely no one is ignorant enough to believe there is no master creator. Yes Ethel I know some claim to be atheist but those are scared little men. All we need is more anti-Christian words and the good country created by protestant white men will disappear and we will in a third world with all the other religions who are trying to be like American used to be. Don't believe in God then you are probably stupid or pervert.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:34 am |
    • Apple Bush

      I don't believe in God. I am a nice person. Please tell me why I should believe in God. Thanks.

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

      America wants to be like America used to be. You let Evangelicals convince you education was bad. Now you're paying the price. You should be thankful you have atheists here to do your thinking for you.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:51 am |
    • Raymond J

      I think a better question, apple bush, is why should you be a nice person? isn't waiting for end of life kudos from someone who might not exist just a little more logical than from no one at all?

      November 17, 2012 at 2:55 am |
    • Pep

      There is a creator. Religion is a crunch. My god is better than yours! Please note that those whoe gods word were men. An imperfect being to a perfect world. God makes no mistakes . But we are men therefore our so called gods beliefs are just as flawed . That old saying options are like assh. Everyone has one. I don't give a crap what religion is on top cause they are still corrupt.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:55 am |
    • Apple Bush

      I don't know Raymond J, I just am. It has nothing to do with Jesus or Mithra or Dionysis or Zoroaster, or any other God. I just know being nice is better than being not nice.

      November 17, 2012 at 3:08 am |
    • End Religion

      RayJ, what in the world are you proposing, that it's more logical to only be nice if one expects a pat on the head from god after death? What is wrong with you? It is nice just to be nice for niceness' sake. If you want to make it cold logic, it is logical to treat others the way you want to be treated because it allows us live in tighter-knit societies, which in turn helps us survive.

      Out of all the choices the most illogical is being nice because some imaginary being has threatened you with eternal water-boarding in a lake of fire located in his infernal concentration camp.

      November 17, 2012 at 3:08 am |
  12. redzoa

    It appears many of the comments here reflect a fear of losing majority status (racial, religious, etc) and attack the article as inferring a need for "quotas" or some other such nonsense. What I read is simply a recognition of the divergence in proportionate congressional representation when compared to various demographic measures and specifically, how this divergence compares between the parties. These comparisons are all the more relevant given Jindal's recent response to Romney's "gifts" comments and the future direction and hope for success of the GOP in light of the clear advantage Dems have among younger voters, women and various minority groups.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:32 am |
    • Apple Bush

      redzoa, you are correct. Good take.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:44 am |
  13. Emilio Dumphuque

    There's no Protestants on the current Supreme Court at all! Just Catholics and Jews. Since there's only nine, this seems a dangerous under-representation, and a vast over representation for Jews and Catholics. Only one Catholic signed the Declaration of Independence. Most were Freemasons, consisting of Deists and Protestants. It seems like the Vatican is trying to take over this secular nation.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:31 am |
    • sparky

      That's because the Evangelicals (Protestants) are dumb as rocks. While they're going to Liberty University to learn how Adam and Even rode dinosaurs to church, Catholics and Jews are going to Yale and Harvard Law.

      The Catholics on the court are pinch-hitters hired by the Republican Protestants to do their deep thinking for them.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:45 am |
  14. Rosstrex

    So Congress needs less Christianity and more Atheism, Non-Religious and the GOP takes a hit because they have more Christians in their delegation.

    Nice one CNN you have proven that you can discriminate against Christians with nearly each article.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:31 am |
    • End Religion

      Look, what the world would love to do is once again feed you all to the lions, however for the sake of your feelings we've compromised. We're merely going to cut back your presence in government. That sounds a fair compromise doesn't it?

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

      @End Religion, getting a bit touchy there now, aren't you? Face it, there are still a lot of Christians left. If your local representative is making decisions that are clearly rooted in religion, and it offends you, then vote him/her out.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:49 am |
    • End Religion

      maybe you couldn't pick up on the sarcasm... no one's feeding anyone to lions around here, although there is a zoo pretty close by here.

      November 17, 2012 at 3:11 am |
  15. Mike

    RACIAL OR RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY AND PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION IS NOT AN END GOAL OF DEMOCRACY .... OR EVEN A METRIC OF ITS SUCCESS ... OR EVEN THAT OF SECULARISM ... WHICH MEANS STATE IS BLIND TO RELIGION AND RACE. WAITING FOR DAY, WHEN CNN WILL BECOME BLIND TO RACE AND RELIGION AND STOP WITH THESE DIVISIVE RACIST ARTICLES THAT RUN COUNTER TO THE VERY SPIRIT OF DEMOCRACY THEY CLAIM TO UPHOLD.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:30 am |
    • Apple Bush

      THIS IS A RELIGIOUS BLOG THAT IS WHY CNN BUYS ESSAYS THAT HAVE TO DO WITH RELIGIOUS ANGLES THAT IS KIND OF THE POINT IN MUCH THE WAY TYPING IN ALL CAPS MAKES A PERSON SEEM LIKE A DICK HEAD.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:37 am |
  16. sankar

    They can protest

    November 17, 2012 at 2:30 am |
  17. Mike

    RACIAL OR RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY AND PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION IS NOT AN END GOAL OF DEMOCRACY .... OR EVEN SECULARISM ... WHICH MEANS STATE IS BLIND TO RELIGION AND RACE. WAITING FOR DAY, WHEN CNN WILL BECOME BLIND TO RACE AND RELIGION AND STOP WITH THESE DIVISIVE RACIST ARTICLES THAT RUN COUNTER TO THE VERY SPIRIT OF DEMOCRACY THEY CLAIM TO UPHOLD.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:29 am |
  18. Robert Cote

    Maybe the majority of people of this Country don't vote based on religion, but qualifications! Have you thought of that! What a concept!

    November 17, 2012 at 2:29 am |
    • End Religion

      Don't be disingenuous. Your church tells you how to vote and you hop to it.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:46 am |
    • Spinbackle

      That may be true for a lot of folks, but I certainly don't vote that way. In fact, I'd like to see pure separation of church and State.

      November 17, 2012 at 2:52 am |
  19. gdaym8

    Be careful what you wish for Stephen Prothero, ...............................you may not like it!

    BTW: You look pretty white to me!

    November 17, 2012 at 2:29 am |
  20. Tyler

    One of the most RETARDED articles I have ever seen. Take a guess on what religion built this country? Also look around you.. would you rather muslims linger in congress? Fvcking idiot writer right here

    November 17, 2012 at 2:26 am |
    • End Religion

      Jainism?

      November 17, 2012 at 2:45 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.