Like It or Not: Religion Is Part of Politics, Even in 2016

Eric Thayer-Pool/Getty Images

Eric Thayer-Pool/Getty Images

You may not bring up politics and religion at the dinner table, but today we’re going to talk about both. Despite the separation of church and state, and despite the importance of an objective, logical, and tolerant government, religion is irrefutably and probably permanently woven in with American politics. Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive, but the fact remains that for many, religion is an important part of the political equation. Based on data collected by Gallup, it looks as though religion is not only a political issue, it may also be a partisan one. The poll shows that “very religious Americans are more likely to identify with or lean toward the Republican party” than the Democratic party.

Democrats, on the other hand, tend to be more moderate in their religious views, or identify as non-religious. About 49 percent of very religious Americans are Republicans or lean right, and 52 percent of non-religious Americans are Democrats or lean left. The statistic is particularly interesting and notable given that, firstly, it has been a steady trend over time, and secondly, it’s visible across demographics such as race, ethnicity, and gender, age, region, and socio-economic status.

Politicians’ religious beliefs have time and time come up as a matter of interest; something to be displayed for the sake of votes and sympathy, or something to be defended, often when people voice concerns over bias or question the judgement calls influenced by religion. Many topics, including healthcare, same-sex marriage, and even education have a religious influence tied into how they’re morally and practically understood by individuals. Intelligent design in education certainly has a religious angle, and anti-birth control and abortion outlooks are often religiously defended and justified in politics.

Looking back at President Barack Obama’s election run and the debates surrounding his religion at that time — conspiracy theories, really — it’s clear that Americans really do care about religion when it comes to their political leadership. Should it matter? No. If Obama was the best candidate for the job, whether he was Muslim or Catholic or Christian, as is actually the case, it should not limit his ability to lead and govern well. But, ultimately, it does matter — just as family ties, money for ads, and physical appearance also play a role. Considering that, it seems only logical to look at the religious affiliations of politicians who might be making a bid for president in 2016. If nothing else, it’s interesting to consider if politicians match Gallup‘s categorization of party membership and degree of religiosity.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton

Religion figures in my earliest memories of my family. Our spiritual life as a family was spirited and constant. We talked with God, walked with God, ate, studied, and argued with God. Each night, we knelt by our beds to pray before we went to sleep,” wrote Clinton in her book It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us, according to The Washington Post. Hillary Clinton is actually rather open to religious rhetoric in her politics, more so than many in her party. A Methodist, she relates her own religious ideology to the political need to help the less fortunate and unempowered.

In April of this year, she spoke to the United Methodist Women Assembly, saying that, “I have always cherished the Methodist Church because it gave us the great gift of personal salvation but also the great obligation of social gospel. And I took that very seriously and have tried, tried to be guided in my own life ever since as an advocate for children and families, for women and men around the world who are oppressed and persecuted, denied their human rights and human dignity.”

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Joe Biden

“My religion defines who I am and I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life and it has particularly informed my social doctrine.”

In 2012, Vice President Biden outlined quite clearly where his religious views start and end as they relate to politics. In debate with Paul Ryan, he stated that he ascribes to the idea that Catholics must “take care of the vulnerable,” and admitted that he personally believes that life begins at conception. However, he also stated that, “I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that, women, that they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor, in my view, and the Supreme Court. I’m not going to interfere with that,” he said.

“No religious institution, Catholic or otherwise — including Catholic social services, Georgetown Hospital, Mercy, any hospital — none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact.”

Chris Christie

Chris Christie, a Roman Catholic, has been most public about his views on religion and same-sex marriage. “I’ve been very clear on my view on this since I ran for office that I’m not a supporter of same-sex marriage,” he said, during a radio interview with WCBS 880. “But on the other hand, the fact is that this is a huge society change that we’re talking about here and I think that we need to do this in a very deliberate and thoughtful way and get the most input from the public we can before we overturn hundreds of years of societal and legal and religious tradition.”

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

Marco Rubio

The New York Times reports that while Marco Rubio’s spokesperson has said he’s a “practicing and devout Roman Catholic” who “regularly attends Catholic Mass … was baptized, confirmed and married in the Roman Catholic Church,” he’s been reported as an attendant at all sorts of services; the Christ Fellowhsip; King Catholic Church in Tampa; Coral Gables; Southern Baptist Convention. All of this has left some questioning whether he’s Protestant, Catholic, or something else.

Others, such as Fernand Amandi of Bendixen & Amandi — which looks at Hispanic opinion polling — says he doesn’t think many really care what religion specifically Rubio ascribes to. “I don’t think there is any such consciousness of it at all. If he came out as an atheist, there would probably be a huge backlash,” he told The New York Times, but added that inside “the Hispanic community is respectful enough of diversity that I don’t think this matters.”

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