Our Take: Biggest moves in religion and politics in 2012
December 31st, 2012
07:10 AM ET

Our Take: Biggest moves in religion and politics in 2012

Editor’s Note: Robert P. Jones, Ph.D., is the CEO at Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Daniel Cox is the Director of Research at PRRI and specializes in research on millennials and the religiously unaffiliated.

By Robert P. Jones and Daniel Cox, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Considering that 2012 saw the first presidential contest in which there was no white mainline Protestant anywhere on the presidential ticket, religion played a surprisingly subtle role in the election cycle. But even if religion played more of a supporting than a leading role in the election, the religion factor was nonetheless alive and well this year.

Here are the 10 most important ways religion influenced politics and culture in 2012, trimmed out with findings from 16 surveys and over 22,000 interviews conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute research team in 2012.

1) The Mormon question is finally laid to rest

We, too, thought the speculation would never end, but the “Mormon question” was essentially answered by May, when white evangelicals fell in line behind Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee. This answer was confirmed at the ballot box in November, when white evangelical Protestants, who made up nearly one-quarter (23%) of all voters in 2012, turned out at a rate comparable to 2004 and supported Romney (79%) over Obama (20%) by nearly 60 points.

The bottom line: partisanship and antipathy toward Obama ultimately trumped theological concerns about the Mormon faith among white evangelical Protestants.

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2) The end of a white Christian majority

Obama’s decisive victory in 2012 was largely the result of his strong support among the growing number of non-Christian, nonwhite Christian, and religiously unaffiliated voters. While white Christians made up the vast majority (81%) of Romney’s vote, they comprised only 39% of Obama’s coalition. Over the past few decades, Democratic presidential candidates have relied less and less on white Christian voters (e.g., white Christians were 60% of Bill Clinton’s 1992 coalition), while Republican presidential voting coalitions have continued to rely on coalitions that are approximately 8-in-10 white Christian.

The bottom line: In presidential election years, there simply are no longer enough white Christian votes to overcome deficits among other demographics for Republican presidential candidates.

3) The religiously unaffiliated are not all 'nones'

Americans who identify with no particular religion now represent nearly 1 in 5 (19%) Americans, but they are not all “nones” or nonbelievers. Although more than one-third (36%) of the religiously unaffiliated are atheist or agnostic, roughly 4-in-10 (39%) of the unaffiliated identify as secular, and nearly one-quarter (23%) belong to a newly identified category of “unattached believers.”

These groups differ significantly not only in their level of religious commitment and belief - most secular Americans believe in some type of God and unattached believers overwhelmingly believe in a personal God and pray with some regularity - but in who they are.

Unattached believers are more likely to be Hispanic and African-American, while the vast majority of seculars and atheists and agnostics are white. As a whole, however, religiously unaffiliated voters are fairly unengaged, politically. They strongly supported Obama (70%) over Romney (26%) in 2012, but despite representing nearly 1 in 5 Americans, they made up only 12% of voters in 2012.

The bottom line: The growth of the religiously unaffiliated is changing the American religious landscape, but it has only partially been felt at the ballot box due to lower turnout rates.

4) Jewish voters unswayed by rhetoric on Israel

Despite strenuous efforts by Republican leaders and strategists to convince Jewish voters to abandon Obama because of his record on Israel, only 4% of Jewish voters reported that Israel was the single most important factor in their vote this year.

A majority of Jewish voters reported that the economy was the most important issue in determining how they would vote. The proof was in the pudding on Election Day: Obama won 69% of the Jewish vote, a result that was lower than his support among Jewish Americans in 2008 (78%), but only slightly lower than John Kerry’s level of support in 2004 (74%).

The bottom line: GOP leaders will have to expand their outreach strategy beyond the topic of Israel to reach into the American Jewish community; this will present a challenge on the domestic policy front, since American Jews strongly favor economic justice and are among the strongest supporters of rights for women, immigrants, and gay and lesbian Americans.

5) Failure to launch: Contraception mandate as religious liberty violation

Bishops sought to raise Catholics’ ire against the “contraception mandate,” a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires religiously affiliated organizations to provide no-cost birth control to their employees through health insurance plans. Yet, throughout the year, most Americans (55%) and a majority of Catholics (52%) agreed that religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should have to comply with this requirement.

White Catholics were more divided, but white evangelical Protestants are notably the only religious group that remains staunchly opposed (66%) to the mandate.

The bottom line: Rank and file Catholics strongly support the principles of religious liberty, but most do not have moral objections to contraception and failed to see the religious liberty threat in the ACA.

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6) Shattering the myth of the “Catholic vote”

While it’s a much-repeated fact that the winner of the Catholic vote has won the popular vote in every presidential election since 1972 (Obama led Romney 50% to 48% in 2012), this fact hides the presence of at least two Catholic votes. Three-quarters of Hispanic Catholics voted for Obama, while nearly 6 in 10 white Catholics supported Romney.

The bottom line: While Catholics maintained their bellwether status again this year, the shrinking number of white Catholics coupled with the rapid growth of Latino Catholics promise to tip the scales toward Democrats in the future, if current voting patterns continue. Look for delicate negotiations as the laity drifts left while the bishops tack right.

7) Millennials not their parents’ 'values voters'

Upending many likely voter models in pre-election polls, this 75 million-person cohort flexed its political muscle once again this year. On Election Day, millennial voters under the age of 30 outnumbered seniors (19% vs. 16% of all voters), and strongly supported state ballot initiatives on marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage. Fully 6 in 10 lined up behind Obama. Pre-election polls found that more than two-thirds (68%) of millennials nationwide favor same-sex marriage, and 6 in 10 (59%) favor legalizing marijuana.

The bottom line: Using traditional models, most polling firms underestimated millennial turnout; this generation is sending analysts back to the drawing board to understand both their style of political engagement and a new generation of “values voters.”

8) The sea change on same-sex marriage

Same-sex marriage advocates went from a 13-0 losing record on state ballot measures in 2004 to 4-0 winning record in 2012. Before a single vote was cast, it was already clear the landscape on the issue of same-sex marriage had shifted considerably over the past decade. Most notably, Obama’s support for same-sex marriage before the election was not a prominent theme in negative campaign ads. Three states (Washington, Maryland and Maine) legalized same-sex marriage through popular referendums, and a ban against same-sex marriage was defeated in Minnesota, marking the first time this issue has ever triumphed by popular vote at the polls.

The bottom line: Look for this issue to fade at the national level as a campaign wedge issue. The polling shows that it’s not just America’s youngest voters who favor same-sex marriage – a majority (51%) of Americans age 30-49 now support allowing gay and lesbian people to marry.

9) The perils of staking out extreme views on abortion

Republican Senate candidates Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin seemed not to realize just how far outside the mainstream their comments about rape and abortion were, even among their base.

While 69% of white evangelical Protestants say abortion is morally wrong, two-thirds (66%) nonetheless believe that women should be able to obtain a legal abortion in cases of rape.

The bottom line: While the issue of abortion continues to divide Americans, political leaders on both the left and the right would do well to remember that Americans hold complex views on this issue, that they distinguish between moral disapproval and legal prohibition, and that few on either side are absolutists.

10) Americans support Second Amendment, but also strict enforcement

Earlier this year, just after the mass shootings in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, we discovered that although more than two-thirds (68%) of Americans perceive the right to bear arms to be as important as other constitutional rights, majorities also want both stricter gun laws (52%) and stricter enforcement of existing gun laws (67%).

Furthermore, roughly three-quarters of Americans believe that concealed weapons should not be permitted in churches, on college campuses, or in government buildings. While support for stricter gun control laws has generally waned since the 1990s, there is early evidence that in the wake of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, support for stricter gun control laws is now in solid majority territory and at a 10-year high.

The bottom line: Still to be seen. The Columbine High School shootings resulted in an increase in support for stricter gun control laws for about a year before support began to flag and continue its downward trend.

Finally, the 2013 religion and politics forecast:

Look for religious groups and themes to appear in debates over immigration reform, economic policy as the “fiscal cliff” fight spills over into 2013, implementation of the ACA, and LGBT rights as the Supreme Court hears challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Robert P. Jones and Daniel Cox.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Opinion

soundoff (256 Responses)
  1. Science

    Free speech helps educate the masses................politicians too !

    Where do morals come from?

    By Kelly Murray, CNN


    Gravity is not up for debate !

    BY the way ...................Splat goes a fairy in the sky !...............bye bye tinker bell !

    Einstein's Gravity Theory Passes Toughest Test Yet

    Apr. 25, 2013 — A strange stellar pair nearly 7,000 light-years from Earth has provided physicists with a unique cosmic laboratory for studying the nature of gravity. The extremely strong gravity of a massive neutron star in orbit with a companion white dwarf star puts competing theories of gravity to a test more stringent than any available before


    Hey James Madison................religion has none it looks like.............with the comments on this blog.

    The Big question is ETHICS ! does religion have any ?

    The Ethics of Resurrecting Extinct Species

    Apr. 8, 2013 — At some point, scientists may be able to bring back extinct animals, and perhaps early humans, raising questions of ethics and environmental disruption.


    April 30, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |

    May 1, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |

    Dinosaur Egg Study Supports Evolutionary Link Between Birds and Dinosaurs: How Troodon Likely Hatched Its Young


    And NO ANGELS the pope KICKED them OFF the TEAM last year !

    From Soup to Cells—the Origin of Life


    the wrong path is Adam and Eve !

    Human Y Chromosome Much Older Than Previously Thought

    Mar. 4, 2013 — The discovery and analysis of an extremely rare African American Y chromosome pushes back the time of the most recent common ancestor for the Y chromosome lineage tree to 338,000 years ago. This time predates the age of the oldest known anatomically modern human fossils.


    No god(s) needed or required to graduate from public schools in the US

    Remember : Adam had to POKE himself hard with his OWN BONE to create Eve.

    No god(s) needed................... Old. DNA works..................also catches crooks !

    Ancient DNA Reveals Europe's Dynamic Genetic History

    Apr. 23, 2013 — Ancient DNA recovered from a series of skeletons in central Germany up to 7,500 years old has been used to reconstruct the first detailed genetic history of modern Europe.


    Ca-nabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®) – National Cancer Insti-tute


    Mar 21, 2013 – [1,2] These plant-derived compounds may be referred to as phytocannabinoids. ... have a protective effect against the development of certain types of tumors. ... In lung cancer cell lines, CBD upregulated ICAM-1, leading to ...

    Good stuff !

    The fact...............the earth is to old for this nonsemse ! Time to EVOLVE !

    Ancient Earth Crust Stored in Deep Mantle

    Apr. 24, 2013 — Scientists have long believed that lava erupted from certain oceanic volcanoes contains materials from the early Earth's crust. But decisive evidence for this phenomenon has proven elusive. New research from a team including Carnegie's Erik Hauri demonstrates that oceanic volcanic rocks contain samples of recycled crust dating back to the Archean era 2.5 billion years ago. Their work is published in Nature.


    For what...................... ? Make sure to read what the pope said !

    Where do morals come from?

    By Kelly Murray, CNN


    Learning is fun with facts.......................... and facts work when teaching children.

    Atheist Prof. Peter Higgs: Stop calling Higgs boson the ‘God particle’

    Professor Peter Higgs said recently that there is no God and so people should stop referring to the theoretical partial that
    bears his name as the “God particle.”


    Pope praises science, but insists God created world updated Thur October 28, 2010
    Stephen Hawking is wrong, Pope Benedict XVI said Thursday – God did create the universe. The pope didn't actually mention the world-famous scientist, who argues in a book published last month that the laws of physics show there is no need for a supreme... \



    Heaven is 'a fairy story,' scientist Stephen Hawking says updated Tue May 17, 2011
    By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor The concept of heaven or any kind of afterlife is a "fairy story," famed British scientist Stephen Hawking said in a newspaper interview this week. "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when...


    April 7th, 2012

    08:32 PM ET

    The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth


    Make sure to read comments

    April 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |

    Breaking News

    NASA: Three planets found are some of best candidates so far for habitable worlds outside our solar system.


    NASA: Mars could have supported life

    Star Dust we are



    May 3, 2013 at 3:55 pm |

    What happen to freedom of speech on both sides of the fence. One ball player can promote " Gays" on nat. TV and its OK. But another ball player can talk against it, and you want to fine him and make him apologize. A black man cancall another black man what ever he wants, and that is ok. But a white man can say the same thing to a black man, and you call that prejudice.

    February 1, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • Saraswati

      "But a white man can say the same thing to a black man, and you call that prejudice."

      When a word is used as a weapon to degrade a group of people there are several ways that word can be disarmed. One is be "reclaiming" the word, essentially defusing it. This is a very well-known linguistic phenomenon across cultures and you maybe, if you were raised somewhere with a poor educational system and illiterate parents, need to have finished a freshman year college curriculum to know how it works. I only mention that last bit to give you some idea of how ignorant you sound writing that kind of thing.

      February 1, 2013 at 10:30 am |


    February 1, 2013 at 10:08 am |
  4. Johny R.

    As usual CNN gets it wrong. A large number of white evangelical Christians fell behind Romney because his religious beliefs were more in line with Christianity than whatever religion Obama is or claims to be. 79% of African Americans are "religious" as some polls claim, but 95% of them voted for Obama simply because he is black. Not a good year to make claims about religion and percentages...

    January 1, 2013 at 9:28 pm |
    • Saraswati

      So the whites voted for someone "like them" because he shared their values and the blacks voted for someone "like them" just because of the color of his skin? Why don't you look at the black voting record for Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Are you under the impression that the black vote was 50/50 Republican/Democrat before Obama ran?

      January 2, 2013 at 10:06 am |
  5. PeterVN

    As the great quote says,

    "Religion is for the ignorant, the gullible, the cowardly, and the stupid, and for those who would profit from them. "

    May we have less religion in 2013. I see hopeful signs that America is trending that way.

    January 1, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
    • Thinker23

      Every human being with a functioning brain believes in SOMETHING. Most of us also believe that our own beliefs are the "true" ones but others should be allowed to have other beliefs as well. Less educated and more radical ones demand other beliefs to be eliminated. Sometimes they go as far as the physical elimination of those having "wrong" beliefs.

      As an example, you may consider the Soviet Union, the Communist China, North Korea and some other countries where religion was eliminated. Are you sure tat THIS is what you would like the US to look like?

      January 1, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
    • Johny R.

      Communist China and the USSR couldn't agree with you more...

      January 1, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
    • nah carpuss

      @Thinker23 and Johny (idiots of the day): Do those countries have Const itutions based on freedom?

      January 1, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
    • Albert Rogers

      There is a widespread belief that the Leninist state had no religion. This is false, if you characterise a religion as a set of dogmatic beliefs, and a state religion as the enforcing of those beliefs. Leninism, which is no more like Marxism than the Christian Right are to the teaching of Jesus that those who cared for money could not enter the Kingdom of God, was sufficiently dogmatic and unscientific that it interpreted the equality of all, as implying that there could be no hereditary virtues in plant strains. Stalin's Russia, as interpreted by Lysenko, was as anti-Darwinian as the folk who hide their ignorant religious dogma under "Intelligent Design".

      January 4, 2013 at 11:06 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Albert, using your logic a case could be made that some atheists are religious. They usually disdain that kind of thought.

      January 4, 2013 at 11:10 am |
  6. Reality

    The biggest religion/morality story of 2012:

    Why the Christian Right no longer matters in presidential elections:

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country did not help the "pro-life" presidential candidate, i.e Mitt Romney, in 2012 as the "Immoral Majority" rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The "Immoral Majority" you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies" whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million "IM" voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for "pro-life" JM.

    And the irony:

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe they should be called the "Stupid Majority"?)

    The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and S-TDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.


    December 31, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • E 101

      What We Learned About Humanity in 2012

      January 1, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • Johny R.

      95% of black americans voted for Obama simply because he is black. It had nothing to do with his religious beliefs.

      January 1, 2013 at 9:30 pm |
    • nah carpuss

      And you are truly an idiot if you think that, Johny.

      January 1, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
    • JPX

      Oh Johny, racist much?

      January 3, 2013 at 10:28 pm |
    • Albert Rogers

      I'm not sure how long ago, but there was a study about the availability of abortion and its social effect. They found that, in a number of States where abortion became available in different years, there seemed to be a correlation between a drop in teenage crime and the number of years from the date abortion became available. The USA has just voted NOT to perform the obvious control experiment, which would have been to let the Romney folk ban abortion again, and wait for teenage violence to escalate again when the unwanted offspring become teenagers.

      January 4, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  7. frank

    It has been an interesting year for religion. Old salesman Billy de Graham Cracker & Sons, Inc. taking on a new product: Planet Kolob and Co., Inc. to add to their conglomerate of folklore wares. Who knows, maybe Chick-fil-A will come out with a happy meal with a little toy planet Kolob to commemorate that partnership. Then of course there was the juicy NT scandal: finding out that the carpenter was actually gay and into feet evidently – and that he kept a wife, no less. I suspect the wife was all for show, so it was probably someone like Michele Bachmann, you know, very reptilian.

    And of course, the guy with the pointy hat in Rome was feeling left out, so he felt compelled to try to lift his idle (and idol) flock out of boredom by clarifying what kind of pets were around when the carpenter was born. Perhaps the big surprise was Pat Robertson becoming more sane – refuting the goofballs who keep trying to write a new screenplay for their little book of fable ever time we learn something new in science. So all in all, it was a fun year, religiously speaking.

    December 31, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  8. Really Now

    Freedom FROM Religion

    The day cannot come fast enough when the "non-believers" largely outweigh the "believers" to the point of irrelevance.

    Only when that happens will we truly have a

    free, What are u having freedom from.. Exactly what is it that is binding u. You can have freedom from what are you having freedom TO?

    ethical, What drives the ethics you want to have and who sets the standards

    moral, Please define the Moral you are so willing to follow that those evil religous people do not?

    tolerant, Please define the limites of tolerance and are you being intolerant of my intolerance?

    accepting, Define the parameters to what is accepting and what is not. is there a limit?

    and rational society. Rational according to what society culture and mindset. Whos rational will take precedence and lead the one for all.

    Religion and hard drugs are one in the same, both are addicting and destroy individuals..... sometimes entire societies

    Please give examples of where Hard drugs and Relgions are the same.

    Please give examples of Religion destroying societies

    Please Give me far more information then all of the above blatanty over simplified Hate mongering with no proof..

    Its all cheap rhetoric until one can make case and point.. This unless your just being an online TROLL.

    December 31, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  9. Nick Gonzalez

    We are a Nation of hypocrites. We hear people say, my Religion says only a man and a woman can marry.
    What about the Rights of the Non-Religious? What gives you the right to impose your beliefs on others? This also applies to Abortion etc.
    Every one has a right to pray, but you do not have a right to impose your prayers on others.
    This is what the Establishment Clause is all about.

    December 31, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Thinker23

      Nick... Marriage is a union between one man and one woman BY DEFINITION. I personally believe that other types od unions should be allowed (man-man, woman-woman, one-man and several women, one woman and several men, man-goat, woman-horse and so on) as long as children younger than 18 are not involved and no one is forced into it against his/her will.

      This being said, however, any union except a union between one man and one woman is NOT marriage just like a kitchen table on wheels is NOT an automobile.

      January 1, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • nah carpuss

      But, Thinker, because that DEFINITION is so intertwined in civil law, it now is unfair legally to other types of unions. So either the same rights and advantages have to be extended equally for two distinct names of such unions, or the definition of the term legally has to be relaxed. You're not going to keep civil rights down once in motion.

      January 1, 2013 at 9:36 pm |
  10. Michael

    I am a retired white male who voted for Obama for the one reason. I DO NOT want a bunch of religious fools running our country.

    December 31, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • Rational Humanist

      I guess you missed hearing the religious sermon Obama gave after the school shooting. He's a religious nut. Oopsie!

      December 31, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • Mrs. Pepperpot

      Aw, sorry, but the POTUS is wise enough not to even TRY and legislate belief into law.
      His Sandy Hook speech was made to comfort a grieving country. He has empathy.
      "Oopsie", indeed, if one cannot see that.

      January 1, 2013 at 12:14 am |
    • Rational Humanist

      Mrs Pepperpot, thank you for describing to us what you see with your head up your ass. Thank you very very VERY much!

      Should you attempt to actually refute my statement with facts, you will fail, for the truth is that Obama has very much violated his Oath in blatantly using his office as a vehicle to promote his religion, as well as promoting it in other ways.
      He is not acting in the best interests of the country when he turns the Office of the President into a one-man show of personal ego, either. Nor is he representing anyone but himself when he does so.
      You are in error.

      January 1, 2013 at 1:41 am |
  11. Eternal Wonder

    The stars in the night sky, a mountain when seen for the first time, the breadth of the oceans, giant redwoods, hearing your child say " you know sometimes it feels good to pee" and laughing. Watching an eagle in flight or a kitten at play. Sunset on a summers day, I don't have an answer to why, or how, I do know that all we truly have are moments in time, and there fleeting, it cost more of a person to carry anger and hatred, then joy and laughter. Health, happiness and hope that you have many of these moments in 2013.

    December 31, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @Eternal Wonder

      Thank you !! And the same to you, as well !


      December 31, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  12. Bootyfunk

    the internet is killing god. education, information, fact checking and alternate ideas will be the death of christianity and all religions. the youth are not so easily fooled. christianity will fade away and we will study it as a mythology in the future. guilt, fear and ignorance are the pillars of christianity, and they are crumbling. they will be replaced with logic, compassion and understanding. care for your brothers and sisters across the world. do good when you can. the god fairy tale is unnecessary in the equation.

    December 31, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • JPX

      Well stated!

      December 31, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  13. Daniel

    There is no future in an illusion.

    December 31, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
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About this blog

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.