how will religious belief influence voters?
Next week, Americans will vote in midterm elections, which some commentators see as a test of democracy. An editorial comment in the National Catholic Journalist told its readers to “vote as if your country’s existence depended on it,” urging them to run and opt for candidates who will uphold the rule of law and accept election results.
“A constituency of voters has come to endorse what we in the United States call ‘The Big Lie’ – this idea that the election [of President Joe Biden] was stolen, that there was widespread fraud, and that we can no longer trust our democratic system in the United States. And, and so the big question is, will we have an electorate in the United States that trusts the results, that accepts the results?
Research from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that 58% of Republicans and 54% of white evangelicals believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump. If Republicans do well — as opposition parties typically do midterm — they will no doubt celebrate. How will Democrats respond to the idea that elections are only valid when they come out on top?
They hope that the Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing the constitutional right to abortion will work in their favor. In a Pew Research Center polling after the decision, 75% of Democrats said it would be a very important election issue for them, compared to 39% of Republicans.
“It’s different from past patterns in many elections where Republicans have been more motivated to vote on the issue of abortion than Democrats,” said Alain Coopermandirector of religion and research at Pew.
Robert Jones, founder of PRRI, said that among religious voters, white evangelicals are no longer the people who rank abortion as the country’s most critical issue. “It’s actually non-Christian religious groups like the Jews, who rank it much more to the right than them. And the African American Protestants and the unaffiliated… And I guess it’s the worst kept secret ever in the American Catholic world that Catholics support abortion rights and have for decades.
Six in 10 white and Latino Catholics say abortion should be legal in the United States. “Catholics as an electoral bloc are not a monolithic group,” said Heidi Schlumpfeditor-in-chief of National Catholic Journalist. “I think what happened to abortion is a sign of whether you belong to this or that group. It becomes a totem that represents something else.
Kim Jackson, a Democratic senator from Georgia, says abortion is a problem in her state. “We see people who consider themselves pro-natality going to the polls, and then we also see a number of people who are very pro-choice. And we are seeing more and more women coming forward to vote. And we think that’s an indicator that women show up because they want a choice.
Reverend Brandee Jasmine Mimitzraiem, Director of Institutional Engagement and Public Theology at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choicesaid the coalition reflected on what the Supreme Court’s decision means for the lives of all American women.
“What does this mean for our Muslim members?” she says. “What does this mean for traditional African religions in this country? What does this mean for black women, whose mortality rate when we carry pregnancies to term is so much higher than anyone else’s? What does it mean if we can access what we need to stay alive?
“And our main concerns as our [coalition] since the summer, there is not only abortion, but the rise of Christian nationalism and its predominance.
Dr Jemar Tisby, professor of history at Simmons College of Kentuckyand best-selling author The color of compromise, said Christian nationalism was “chilling” in terms of the threat it posed to democracy.
“There are a lot of people who buy into this subtle idea, this underlying or underlying idea, that the United States is a Christian nation for Christians, and should favor a certain type of Christian, and they are ready to do all sorts of things, including subverting democracy in order to establish this vision.
Mr Jones told the briefing that half Republicans and half white evangelical Protestants believed God wanted America to be a new promised land where European Christians could create a society that would be an example to the rest of the world.
“When we look at white Americans who believe this idea…we find that two-thirds of them also agree with the so-called ‘great replacement theory’, that immigrants are replacing the so-called real Americans. And on the issue of violence, white Americans who believe in this idea…are four times more likely than white Americans who don’t believe in it to say that true patriotic Americans might resort to violence.
Doctor Hicham Hellyer, from the Center for Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge and a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said he would examine the impact of elections on religious hate crimes. He said there was evidence that Islamophobia increased during election campaigns.
The Pew Research Center found that 45% of Americans believe America should be a Christian country, but Mr Cooperman cautioned against alarmist readings of the finding.
“We shouldn’t give too gloomy a view in which we see the whole country as openly racist, misogynistic, homophobic and prone to violence,” he said. “When we ask Americans about this term Christian nationalism, 54% of American adults say they have never heard of it. Five percent say they have heard a lot about it.
“The notion of a Christian nation has a lot of bargaining chip and a lot of support. And progressives don’t necessarily have to imagine that this is pure racism or a desire for theocracy. Forty-five percent of Americans say the United States should be a Christian nation. But when asked what they mean by that, they still support the separation of church and state.
“And what Christianity is, for most people is a good thing. These are generally good moral values.
Father Tom Reese SJ, a Jesuit priest and senior analyst for the Religion News Service, said the Democratic Party and white progressives have failed to engage with religion.
The Republican Party has made a concerted effort for decades to use religious language to appeal to voters, he said. “Democrats don’t know how to use religious language or social gospel language. Black Protestants do this very well and use it to motivate people to go to the polls.
“But Democrats are very nervous about using religious language. And as a result, they very often get tricked by Republicans into calling out Christian nationalism, a term like that, which, like Alan [Cooperman] points out, 50 percent of the public didn’t even hear about it, until Democrats called it out. And then they say, “Well, I’m a Christian, I’m a patriot, I have to be a Christian nationalist.”
Senator Jackson said Tom Reese’s criticism does not apply to all parts of the country. “Because we are in the south of the Bible Belt, you see Democrats coming out very openly with religious positions.
“I made it very clear that I’m a pastor and a priest and I use religious language, especially when talking about affordable housing, because that’s my area of expertise. And I talk about the ways God calls us to care for one another, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, and to visit those in prison.
According to Mr. Cooperman, the most disturbing aspect of these elections was that everyone seemed to think that there was something to lose.
“If we break that down by religious groups, 75% of white evangelical Protestants say they think their camp has lost out recently on things that matter to them,” he said. “If you look at the religiously unaffiliated, which is a very liberal group, about equal in size to the white evangelical presence, 75% of them say they feel like they’ve lost. And Catholics and Jews feel they have lost.
“Across the spectrum of identification in the United States. 72% of the general public feel they have lost. How come everyone can lose? I do not know. But the fact that everyone feels they can lose is part of the poison of our politics. Everyone feels defensive, everyone feels aggrieved.
“And when you feel wronged, you allow yourself more to do things and treat others in ways that you otherwise wouldn’t.”
Watch the full briefing here >>