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. rone

    Yea, but look at the Supreme Court. For the first time in US history, only one protestant, Anthony Kennedy, to go with
    five catholics and three jews.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  2. ncsam

    In 1776, 100% of all babies were given birth by women in America. In 2012 100% of all babies were given birth by women! Can you believe nothing has changed? Yep, still looks like old America.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  3. james gordon

    Too Protestant ? The catholic community and the protestants just tried to elect a cult member as president , Im not sure what they are any more

    November 16, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  4. Bob

    Religion keeps on dragging us backwards and getting in the way of human progress, as it so often has.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • Leroy

      ROFL! What a joke. Liberal crap is taught in ever school in America, not religion. Yet our education levels compared to worldwide level slips every year...

      November 16, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • Bob

      How did you do in your science classes, cowardly little Leroy?

      November 16, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • Leroy

      Aced them silly. Not difficult at all. Actually I enjoy science, too bad it is twisted by the liberal agenda...

      November 16, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
    • Bob

      An 'F' is not an ace, little Leroy.

      November 16, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • Bob

      Christianity and many other religions are anti-American. They are anti-capitalism since they oppose a free market and optimal pricing of goods, and they are anti-free speech. True conservatives should oppose Christianity, as should reasoning liberals. Christianity is also racist and bigoted, given that it presents a "chosen race" and is unfair to women, among other reasons.

      Christianity, particularly that flagrantly practiced and grossly over-preached by evangelists, is also anti-science and is therefore putting our young people and our future workforce at a disadvantage relative to competing nations that now have better science education without religious bias and without the ancient supersti-tions that block modern understanding and technological and medical progress.

      Therefore, if we want to keep our great country the greatest in the world, a status that is increasingly questionable and under threat, Americans need to overthrow the power that Christianity has in the US, and ultimately get past religion entirely. We need to take our freedom back from the power-holders and practitioners of Christianity, and push back very hard against the idiocies that religion represents.

      Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • Sandy

      DUDE, this country needs MORE prayer to the God Almighty.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • Bob

      Sandy, cite one evidence of prayer ever having impacted what was prayed for. Present valid proof. But note that if you succeed, you will be the first person to ever do so.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  5. ink

    is this really an article? does it matter what faith the people in Congress profess? We need to focus on the real freaking issues.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  6. Dan

    These are elected representatives. What a rediculous article. Please just report the news and CNN is such a joke.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  7. TC

    This article is a non-starter. Our current politicians do not embrace any moral code.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
  8. Leroy

    Where does CNN find these atheist "Bible Scholars" anyways??

    November 16, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • Bob

      Do you claim to be a "bible scholar", little Leroy? Furthermore, what qualifications does the role demand?

      November 16, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • Paula

      It's quite easy. Since the Bible was first printed, everyone and their brother who wanted to make a buck has thought of themselves as a Biblical "scholar". lol.

      November 16, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • Leroy

      Bob you is just one of them white atheist racists...

      November 16, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  9. Robin Jones

    We'd all be better off if we quit worrying about religion, which has no place in our government, and focused more on what needs to be done. Too much time is spent bickering over nonsense and not enough time is devoted to actually solving problems.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  10. Barley

    I'm sure the author of this article believes the only god that should be worshiped is Big Government. I'm an atheist personally, but I respect those who choose to believe in god, whatever their religion. The religious people I know don't attempt to preach to me and aren't the crazy bible thumper types Democrats would have us stigmatize all those of faith as. The so-called Democrat party of tolerance, enlightenment and diversity always amazes me with their blatant hypocrisy and double standards.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  11. Alicia

    What difference does this make?. The globalists that are about to completely collapse our economy and make our gov't a police state anyway, so, why will it even matter?.

    CNN, you are one pathetic news organization that is fast becoming the masters at irrelevancy.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  12. CSX

    It is IMPOSSIBLE to be a Democrat and a Christian. You cannot serve the Lord and approve of baby murder, and sodimites.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • TC

      True – but you cannot be a current repube either because of the party's stance on abortion, war mongering and lack of social justice.

      November 16, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • popeye

      Many do not believe a few day,week clump of cells is a baby let alone a person. As far as sodomy, I pity your wife if you don't sodomize her (orally) and she you.

      November 16, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry "CSX", but your assertions are all unfounded, and display a heightened level of emotion regarding matters of mythology. Using my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE), the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent truths is: "EPIC FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book can help you:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...

      November 16, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
    • EJ&R

      It is impossible to be a child of God and be so judgmental. Impossible.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  13. popeye

    Old, white, men, religious zealots running the country. Some things never change. Ain't tradition great?

    November 16, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  14. Leroy

    Our Protestant congress is the only thing keeping this nation somewhat sane at the moment. Republicans will most likely put forward a black presidential candidate next year to recoup some of the 95(!?!?) percent of blacks that voted for Obama. That combined with the Evangelical Christian vote will place a godly leader back into control along with a protestant congress and we can undo the 8 years of damage caused by Obama. Repealing Gay "rights", gay marriage, DADT, etc...

    November 16, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • Paula

      LOL Gay rights is a civil rights. You'll soon see a repeal – just not the type you're hoping for – DOMA will be ruled unconst!tutional before you can say scratch that anal wart that has been itching you. The rational majority is growing – get comfy.

      November 16, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • Leroy

      LOL, not likely. Once the 95% of black voters and the large percentage of Hispanic don't have glorious leader to vote for next year, your "civic" rights (lol!) will be repealed...

      November 16, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  15. bribarian

    You know what article I'd like to see "Congress Too Jewish"

    November 16, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
  16. Bob

    This is just a bunch of random observations. If you want Congress to be more "diverse" (whatever that means), then more non-white, non-male, non-Protestants need to run for office. Otherwise, you're just whining about a non-problem.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
  17. American

    Amazingly biggotted article. It's funny how when a majority of anyone is Protestant, it's offensive and "old America driven by white guys".

    If 51% were non-affiliated, it would be OK and a "reflection of what the new America stands for". Of course, we can make it that way if we forge it against people's will. Then we can turn around and say "the people have spoken" – when in fact, they were forced, cheated of their will, and had their way of life robbed of them.

    There's nothing I can't stand more than a white guy hating white guys to earn brownie points with his new master. Sycophant. The author of this article is mentally ill.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • An agnostic

      There would be more blacks/hispanics/asians in Congress if Republicans didn't draw the districts in such a way as to water down the minority vote.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
  18. jayh

    I at least wish there were more agnostics.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
  19. James


    You want to know what ethnic group is over-represented in the U.S. Senate?

    Jews. Do the math.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
  20. CSX

    My goddness. Really? Too Protestant? If they were real Christians we would not have the mess we are in.
    Stop having kweer articles attacking Christianity.
    How about the Supreme Court? Too many Jews and Catholics?
    Stop this garbage and report the news. I guess we need more Gimme people, sodomites and theives in Congress.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • popeye

      Um, this section is basically a religious opinion blog. Something you don't understand?

      November 16, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • Paula

      What are "theives" ??

      November 16, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
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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.