Relatively few Americans say a political candidate’s religious beliefs are an important factor when deciding how to vote, according to a poll released Sept. 11 by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Yet Americans hardly ever elect a religiously unaffiliated member of Congress, and atheists claim they are generally underrepresented in public office.
A Union University political scientist says the way Americans vote suggests a persistent discomfort with atheism despite voters’ profession of apathy toward candidates’ faith.
“Many middle of the road Americans are generally most comfortable with people who are religious, but not too religious,” Hunter Baker, associate professor of political science at Union, told Baptist Press via email. “They like the idea that a leader considers themself somehow accountable to God, but they don’t want that relationship front and center. Further, I think they intuitively end up casting atheists as just another category of zealous evangelists.”
According to the AP-NORC poll, 25 percent of Americans say it’s very or extremely important a candidate has strong religious beliefs. Just 19 percent say it’s very or extremely important a candidate shares their religious beliefs.
That a candidate has some faith is most important to white born-again Christians and non-white Protestants. Fifty-one percent of the former and 47 percent of the latter consider it very or extremely important — higher percentages than among Catholics (25%), other white Protestants (18%) and Americans with no religious affiliation (6%).
Thirty-five percent of white born-again Christians say it’s very or extremely important a candidate shares their particular religious beliefs, as do 39 percent of non-white Protestants, 17 percent of Catholics, 11 percent of other white Protestants and 6 percent of those with no affiliation.
Despite the overall low percentage of those who view a candidate’s religious beliefs as crucial, just one current member of Congress — Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. — describes herself as having no religious affiliation, a category dubbed the “nones.” Ten other members of Congress, out of more than 530 total, have declined to state their religious affiliation, according to the Pew Research Center.
Some 98 percent of Congress reports affiliation with a specific religion, including 90.7 percent which claims Christian faith, Pew reported.
The percentage of Christians in Congress is about the same as it was in the early 1960s, according to Pew, despite a decline in America’s overall percentage of Christians and an increase in the percentage of religiously unaffiliated individuals.
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Source: Baptist Press