Thu, Oct 25, 2012 -- 10:00 AM

Election 2012: The Role of Religion

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Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
People watch the presidential debate on October 22, 2012 at a Muslim community center in the San Fernando Valley.
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
People watch the presidential debate on October 22, 2012 at a Muslim community center in the San Fernando Valley.

Lately they've talked about the economy, foreign policy and tax plans -- but where is religion in this presidential race? President Obama is a Christian, and Mitt Romney is a Mormon. How do their religions play into their campaigns, if at all? Does faith affect their views on controversial issues like abortion or gay marriage? And do voters really care what religion their candidate follows?

Host: Michael Krasny


  • Barbara Bradley Hagerty, religion correspondent for NPR
  • Jim Donahue, president and professor of ethics at the Graduate Theological Union,
  • Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center where he directs the Evangelicals in Civic Life and Faith Angle Forum programs

More info:

Show Highlights

On the Absence of Religion in the Presidential Race

"One of the striking things about covering this beat right now during this election is how conspicuously absent God is. I mean, when you look at when President Obama had the chance to talk about his background, his convention speech, basically, the only reference that President Obama made to God was when he said 'God bless America' at the end. Romney, who had the chance to really introduce himself to the national public, mentioned that he was a Mormon only once, and really in an off-hand way, and he almost never says the word 'Mormon.' And so what you see is this kind of stunning difference from 2008...So, in other words, both candidates are kind of playing to the middle, and they're really not talking about religion at all."

- Barbara Bradley Hagerty

On How Discussing Religion Can Hurt Obama

"Both men have a lot to lose and very little to gain, I think, by talking about religion. I mean, let's look at President Obama. In 2008, he had a chance at wooing liberal and moderate Evangelicals. He spoke their language, you remember in 2004 he talked about [how] we worship an awesome God in the blue states, and he gave his testimony or conversion story, and he sounded Evangelical. He had this big outreach campaign to Evangelicals, but there was a downside. If you'll remember, he got hammered with the tape of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, saying, you know, 'God damn America,' and so this time around he's keeping away from religion. And I think another reason is it's not just the Jeremiah-Wright factor, it's also because of his policies -- he's supported gay marriage, he wants contraceptives offered in insurance plans, and, you know, Evangelicals just simply don't like that. He can't win them."

- Barbara Bradley Hagerty

On How Discussing Religion Can Hurt Romeny

As to the Republicans, in 2008, you know, the Republicans had Sarah Palin on the ticket -- that excited the base of Evangelicals. This time they don't have a traditional Protestant. As you mentioned, Romney's a Mormon, Paul Ryan is a Catholic, and the problem for Romney is that a lot of his base, white Evangelicals, don't think that Mormons are Christians. So he doesn't want to talk about the specifics of his Mormon faith. He talks about his values that were developed at church: family, integrity, hard work, serving others, that kind of thing, and he also doesn't really need to talk about his faith to win his base. I mean, three-quarters of Evangelicals say they're going to vote for him."

- Barbara Bradley Hagerty

On Catholicism and the 2012 Election

We have two Catholics who are vice-presidential candidates, and when you look at those two Catholics, you realize that we are seeing in this election a fight between, kind of, faith values that we've never seen before. We've got Joe Biden, who is a social justice Catholic, working-class and pro-immigration, so a lot of Latinos would favor that ticket. Then you've got Paul Ryan, who is, like Romney, favoring charity, for example, as the way to help the poor. So before he became a vice-presidential candidate, he said that his Catholic faith and, specifically, the doctrine of subsidiarity, was what inspired his budget. And subsidiarity is this notion, in his view, that government shouldn't be helping, but private organizations and charities and churches should be on the front line of helping the poor. And so what you see is Mr. Obama having an attitude that we are our brothers' keeper, we are our sisters' keeper, we need to help those who can't help themselves. And then you've got the other ticket kind of saying no, charity is private, and it should first come from private individuals."

- Barbara Bradley Hagerty

On the Possibility of Having an Atheist President

"How long will it take to elect an atheist, I got to tell you, I think it's going to take a long time. I mean polls show that atheists are the least trusted and least appealing candidates among the American public. Whatever you want to say about that, that may not be very nice, but polls show consistently that they will vote for almost anyone else, including Muslims, before they will vote for an atheist."

- Barbara Bradley Hagerty

On Why Obama Should Go to Church

"There's a lot of survey data that shows that the American people, by over 75 percent, want their president to be what they call a 'person of faith.' And the Pew Forum did this survey a couple years ago, and most people didn't care what kind of faith, they just wanted him to be a person of faith... Ironically, here we have a situation where both candidates are not talking about their faith, when almost three-quarters of Americans want the person in office to be a person of faith. For the life of me, if I was [an] adviser to the Obama campaign, I would've said for the last five or six months, 'Mr. President, you and the first lady must go to church every Sunday. You really must be seen going in and out of a house of worship.'"

- Michael Cromartie

On Romney Bringing Mormonism Into the Presidency

"He doesn't surround himself with Mormons in his inner-circle, and so I would have a hard time believing that he's actually going to bring his particular faith agenda, you know, have a particular faith agenda. I think that he'll bring the values that he develops in his faith to the office if he's elected, but I don't think he's going to bring his specific faith doctrines."

- Barbara Bradley Hagerty

It didn't happen when he was governor. Key point.

- Michael Cromartie


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