Experts: Religion to play key role in 2012 election


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Local congregations from various religions meet throughout the week to focus on their faiths. But how much do their religions affect their everyday lives, including their election choices?

Some experts said religion plays an important role in a person’s vote, but issues unaffected by any faith or scripture — such as the economy or job creation — can also have a significant influence.

The Public Religion Research Institute released a report last week detailing various religions’ roles in voting for the presidential election. The study explored many statistics, including voter percentages within a variety of religions.

The report’s breakdown showed 23 percent of likely supporters of President Obama are unaffiliated with a religion, followed by black Protestants with 18 percent.

Among likely voters for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney are white evangelical Protestants with 37 percent, and both white Catholics and white mainline Protestants with 19 percent.

Whether someone chooses to vote based on religion differs from person to person, the experts said.
University of Iowa religious-studies professor Diana Cates said voting for a candidate based on religion comes down to what issue is the most important to the voter.

“The biggest difference it makes is for some people, religion is about the social and moral values,” she said. “They focus on lifting people up, protecting human rights. In some cases, people are focused on maintaining the traditional form of the family, which brings in the issues of abortion and gay marriage.”

UI associate professor of political science Cary Covington said he believes people do not have to define their political stance based on their religion.

Age may also determine which voters cast their ballots based on religion. Older voters tend to identify more with religion, while younger people are becoming increasingly unaffiliated with religion.

“What’s important is that religion taught [older voters] what’s right and wrong, and they can’t separate it from the issues,” Cates said.

Dan Cox, one of three researchers who conducted the Public Religion Research Institute survey, said religion does play a role in voting, although other issues such as job creation and the economy may influence voter’s decisions as well.

“In the current election, with the economy taking center stage, religion is taking a supporting role,” Cox said. “What we see is religion does matter, but you definitely need to understand religion never moves [people of a certain faith] in one direction.”

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