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.
Where is religion in the 2012 election? At NPR, I, along with Dr. David Gushee, a PRRI Board member, and Dr. Mark Rozell, a PRRI Affiliated Scholar, offer some insight into why religion has disappeared as a central theme of both candidates’ campaigns.
Mitt Romney currently needs to appeal to voters in the middle, which requires less overtly religious language than earlier in the campaign, when Romney was courting evangelical voters in an attempt to win the nomination. As I pointed out, religious language hasn’t always helped Romney, who allied himself with the Catholic bishops in their struggle against the contraception mandate. This doesn’t appear to have swung Catholics toward Romney – in fact, the opposite is true. According to NPR reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty:
Jones’ polls show that Romney has seen his 20-point lead among white Catholics — critical swing voters — completely disappear. There are a lot of explanations for that — primarily, that voters are focused on the economy above faith. But Jones and others say the effect is that 2012 election is more like the days before George W. Bush — when candidates wore religion lightly, not on their sleeves.
To listen to the full segment, click here.