Mark A. Smith is professor of Political Science and an adjunct professor of Comparative Religion and Communication at the University of Washington. His research focuses on economic and religious groups, ideas, and influences in American politics. In his new book, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics, Dr. Smith argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is and is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them.
This Thursday, Mitt Romney will accept the GOP’s nomination as the 2012 Republican Party candidate. In his speech, however, Romney will have a significant challenge: discussing his Mormon faith without delving into the specifics of Mormon theology. In other words, he will need to employ the familiar rhetoric of civil religion. However, a misstep could damage the support among white evangelical Protestants that he has taken more than a year to build up:
It’s clear that Romney will need to talk about his faith this week. White evangelical Protestant voters nearly unanimously (93 percent) agree that it’s important for a presidential candidate to have strong religious beliefs, while almost 8-in-10 (78 percent) Republican voters and two-thirds (67 percent) of voters overall hold the same belief. For some of these voters, however, mere religiosity is not enough: over one-third (39 percent) of white evangelical Protestant voters and nearly 1-in-5 (19 percent) voters overall who say that it’s important for a presidential candidate to have strong religious beliefs also say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who had strong beliefs if those beliefs were very different from their own. Worryingly for Romney, two-thirds (68 percent) of white evangelical Protestants say that Romney’s Mormon faith is different from their own.
To read the full piece, head to “Figuring Faith,” Dr. Robert P. Jones’ Washington Post blog.