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

    So essentially for all practical purposes, what this foolish author is suggesting is that - if your representative is a protestant and you are NOT a protestant then in the next election you should blindly cast your vote for the non-protestant candidate (on basis of religion) without caring for who actually is a better candidate based on the issues - because somehow proportional representation is a higher goal than sending the best and most capable representative to the Congress. Shame on CNN for publishing such a destructive and divisive article.

    November 17, 2012 at 4:19 am |
    • Leif

      No, he is not suggesting that. You are suggesting that. You are attempting to spin this article according to your own personal fear. Can you point to a single false statement in this article?

      November 17, 2012 at 4:52 am |
    • Leif

      I don't know whether or not my representative is a a Protestant or whether he or she is a believer in Osiris. I don't care. But I do care about his or her education. I care about his or her level of understanding of the REAL WORLD.

      November 17, 2012 at 5:08 am |
    • Mike


      Tell me if there is any other way Plothero's wish of proportional representation could be fulfilled based on his gripe for too many protestants in the current congress? How do we reduce protestants representation in the Congress in next elections? By people voting on basis of someone's religion rather than on basis of who actually is the best and most capable candidate to represent in Congress.

      November 17, 2012 at 5:15 am |
    • Leif

      Mike, you seem to be far more determined than Prothero to achieve that goal. Maybe he should hire you.

      November 17, 2012 at 5:19 am |
    • Mike


      So CNN would spend their time better doing an opinion piece of educational levels of the representatives in Congress. That could be actually constructive ... but dont forget Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are both college drop outs - so even that would not prove much.

      November 17, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  2. Henry

    God loves all of you. Repent and accept Jesus as your savior.

    November 17, 2012 at 3:53 am |
    • Apple Bush

      Henry, why do I need a savior and why should I accept a myth that has been recycled a least 10 times and long before Jesus. Are you retarded?

      November 17, 2012 at 3:58 am |
    • Leif

      No worries, Henry. Jesus forgives you for pretending to speak for him.

      November 17, 2012 at 5:10 am |
  3. Craig

    I wonder what would happen to one of these "journalists" who posted that there were too many women or too many blacks in Congress.

    November 17, 2012 at 3:47 am |
    • Apple Bush

      Craig are you retarded? Really, it's okay just say so.

      November 17, 2012 at 3:55 am |
  4. OkBobOk

    Some more BS from the liberal left. The white men are now the pariahs and the blame for all the ills of the nation. Instead of focusing on our nations problems those blame artists would rather point fingers at white men.

    November 17, 2012 at 3:46 am |
    • D

      ...white America made the bed they lie in....look at history...

      November 17, 2012 at 4:58 am |
    • Leif

      I know some very smart white men. They are all Democrats.

      November 17, 2012 at 5:12 am |
  5. time

    Religion; what an archaic form of mental and physical suppression.

    November 17, 2012 at 3:43 am |
  6. Tarena

    Why does I matter, the people just made their decisions, election time is over...complain in 4 years. This should NOT be the headline of CNN when Israel and the Palestinians are on the verge of full out ground war.

    November 17, 2012 at 3:34 am |
  7. tomnikoly

    Opinion: Congress is too theist.

    November 17, 2012 at 3:32 am |
  8. brich22

    Religion is losing it's grip everywhere. Literacy and science are it's worst enemies.

    As for politicians, the majority are liars and change their colors like a chameleon.

    Anyone that still believes in ghosts, spirits,. souls, monsters, goblins, leprechauns, virgin births, miracles, magic, séance, numerology, astrology, voodoo, spells, witches, et.al. need their damn head examined. They are either woefully ignorant of science or plain stupid.

    November 17, 2012 at 3:32 am |
    • joey savy


      November 17, 2012 at 3:37 am |
  9. GBfromOhio

    He forgot to mention the vast majority of the people in Congress are "religious" only because it's a prerequisite for getting elected in this country. I am so sick of religious dogma and the intolerance and stupidity that is embedded in such beliefs.

    November 17, 2012 at 3:31 am |
  10. Steven B


    Catholics are still outsiders, due to their own perceptions and wishes.

    Thank Christ.

    November 17, 2012 at 3:28 am |
    • FYI

      Erm, Steven B,

      The U.S. Supreme Court Justices:
      66% Catholics – 6
      33% Jews – 3

      November 17, 2012 at 3:37 am |
  11. Armani Nelson

    Oppinion: CNN is on a crusade against Christians

    November 17, 2012 at 3:27 am |
    • GBfromOhio

      Did you even read the article? How is this in any way attacking Christians? If only we could be so lucky to have the media attack the hypocritical, intolerant, violating the principles of separation of church and state, dogmatic, judgmental, selfish, ignorant Christians that are constantly trying to shove their religion in our faces and wanting to create a theocracy ... while simultaneous whining about being "persecuted". Please, give me a break.

      November 17, 2012 at 3:36 am |
  12. FedUpwithLA

    This guy is an a**hole.

    November 17, 2012 at 3:27 am |
  13. Tjfly

    Well that was one of the dumbest articles I've sen CNN green light in sometime.
    So, now the author has opened a can of worms.
    He must now giveus his opinions on his feeling about the other demographic elements of Congress.
    So. Is Congress to white, too black, too Hispanic?
    Is Congress filled with too many men or women?
    Is Congress too gay?
    I'm sure the author has an opinion, or maybe he is too myopic to actually think past his own personal disdain for the majority of Americans who define themselves as Protestant???

    November 17, 2012 at 3:25 am |
    • Graham Krueger

      I don't think the author ever used the phrase "too protestant". CNN did for a cheap headline, while the author focued on the real issue of demographic misrepresentation. Are the 20% or so Atheists/Agnostics getting fair representation when 534/535 members of Congress answer to SOME religious authority? I know I'm sure not comfortable with a person of faith making decisions that affect me!

      November 17, 2012 at 3:28 am |
    • callnews

      To Graham Krueger: "Opinion: Congress Too Protestant" Are we having a problem with what "is" is?

      November 17, 2012 at 3:35 am |
  14. JiminDayton

    We need more gays in congress. Instead of buttfuucking the people they will be buttfuucking each other

    November 17, 2012 at 3:15 am |
    • Apple Bush

      We need representatives from every type of human. We do not need representatives from every type of religion.

      November 17, 2012 at 3:23 am |
  15. HooKares

    The can all say "Hail Satan" daily as long as they take care of the debt, work on schools, enforce trade laws, develop a comprehensive immigration plan and end our involvement in wars. For that matter, either invade North Korea or leave South Korea. Makes no sense to have troops over there for 60 years. No wonder they have a strong economy. They don't have to worry about funding their security.

    November 17, 2012 at 3:14 am |
  16. Lizard Lance

    Big deal. This is a big "much-a-do-about-nothing." Yes the majority of Congress is Protestant. So is the population of the nation. If you want to find an imbalance go examine the Supreme Court where there is not a single Protestant - only Catholics and Jews.

    November 17, 2012 at 3:04 am |
  17. massoud

    Is Stephen Prothero the smuggest looking b@stard you've ever seen ?

    November 17, 2012 at 3:02 am |
  18. Really?

    Like CNN and the rest of the left-leaning media, I can't wait for the day that Muslim Jihadists have a majority in Congress. Only then will rich, white Protestants learn their lesson that "their time" in power is done and all isfinally right with the world.

    Well, C-SPAN will certainly see a boost in ratings.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:59 am |
    • HooKares

      Yeah, a Jihadist becoming a US citizen and raising money to run for Congress. You ain't the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree Bubba.

      November 17, 2012 at 3:16 am |
  19. guest

    A lot of American atheists often have criminal records for things like drug dealing, who wants to elect people like that?

    November 17, 2012 at 2:56 am |
    • dolbyac3

      Nope sorry, most people in jail are Christian. Atheists are very peaceful and understand we only get one chance on this earth so our life and the life of others is short and precious.

      November 17, 2012 at 3:04 am |
    • End Religion

      lol... documentation please.

      November 17, 2012 at 3:14 am |
    • joey savy

      you are a idiot stop putting labels on people with that atheist bs jerk

      November 17, 2012 at 3:40 am |
  20. massoud

    Oddly enough Stephen Prothero has very Devilish looking ears.

    November 17, 2012 at 2:55 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.