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.
Just before the 2012 election, I was interviewed by Religion & Politics’ Tiffany Stanley, who asked several important questions about what I will be looking for in the post-election data:
R&P: In terms of numbers, what will you be watching closely for on Election Day and in the subsequent exit poll data?
RJ: As the race between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney comes down to the wire, each candidate’s path to success, including in key states like Ohio, is impacted by the religious composition of the electorate in ways that are often overlooked. Especially important to watch are Catholic voters, white-working class Americans, Millennials, and the religiously unaffiliated.
R&P: Your organization’s research has shown that the economy is by far the most important issue for registered voters this election year. After the economy, what are the most pressing concerns for voters?
RJ: After the economy, the most important thing is, well, the economy. In PRRI’s pre-election American Values Survey, when given the option of six issues, more than six-in-ten likely voters say the economy is the most important issue influencing their vote. Nearly one-in-five say health care, another domestic issue that is an economic issue, is the most important issue influencing their vote. All other issues, including the social issues we hear so much about, were in single digits. Only 4 percent of likely voters cite abortion and only 1 percent of likely voters cite same-sex marriage as the most important issues influencing their vote.
To read the full interview, head to Religion & Politics.