Campaign 2012: A guide to religion and politics

The Republican and Democratic presidential tickets were set in August 2012, with Mitt Romney, a Mormon, heading the GOP slate and Paul Ryan, a Catholic, as his vice presidential pick. That was the first time the Republican ticket includes no Protestants. They faced President Barack Obama, a Protestant who worships in different churches, and Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic.

Faith has been central to American politics for years, and 2012’s dynamic is was no different: The two tickets represented a fascinating contrast between a Mormon and a mainline Protestant and between two vice presidential candidates who applied the tenets of their shared Catholic faith in very different ways when it came to policies.

This source guide provides resources on the candidates, their statements and policies related to faith, and political developments and poll numbers connected to the role of religion in politics.

Why it matters

The connection between religion and politics – and church and state – is always fraught, and always provides fodder for intense public debate, especially in presidential election years.

These debates also provide valuable snapshots about where the country is headed, religiously and culturally, and about the issues that are important now, and issues that are emerging as flashpoints and areas of consensus.

For example, the 2012 campaign posed a number of important questions, such as:

  • Can conservative Christian voters in the GOP come to terms with supporting a Mormon candidate? Could a Mormon overcome history and bias against Mormons across the board to win the general election?
  • Do voters care any more that a candidate is a Roman Catholic?
  • How do voters, particularly those who are religious, weigh a candidate’s adherence to his faith’s tenets in deciding whether to support that candidate?
  • Is the “religious right” a relic of the past? Or have social conservatives become more savvy and pragmatic in whom they support for president?
  • Will the growing number of unchurched voters and the “nones” who have no religious belief or preference have an impact?
  • Can Obama project himself as a man of faith and appeal to faith-based voters while also appealing to the religiously unaffiliated bloc?

These questions and more may found answers as the campaigns rolled on toward November.


Surveys, polls

Articles and Web posts

National sources

  • Mark A. Chaves

    Mark A. Chaves is professor of sociology at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He is an expert on religious organizations in the United States and leads the National Congregations Study.

  • Michael Cromartie

    Michael Cromartie is vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., where he heads its Evangelicals in Civic Life program. He is also an expert on religious liberty and Christianity and politics. His books include, as editor, Religion and Politics in America: A Conversation.

  • John C. Green

    John C. Green is a senior fellow at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, specializing in religion and American politics. He also serves as interim university president, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics and distinguished professor of political science at the University of Akron.

  • Thomas Reese

    The Rev. Thomas J. Reese is a Jesuit priest and senior analyst for Religion News Service. He writes and comments widely on Catholic culture and politics. He is the author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church

  • Mark Rozell

    Mark Rozell is a professor of public policy at George Mason University in Arlington, Va., and co-editor of Religion and the American PresidencyReligion and the Bush Presidency and The Values Campaign?: The Christian Right and the 2004 Elections.

  • Mark Silk

    Mark Silk is director for the Leonard Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Silk is also professor of religion in public life at Trinity. He is particularly knowledgeable about religious variances from one part of the country to another; his books include (as co-author) One Nation, Divisible: How Regional Religious Differences Shape American Politics.

    Silk co-wrote a scholarly paper that examined evangelicals’ role in Romney’s unsuccessful 2008 bid for the GOP nomination. The situation this year may be different, he told The Salt Lake Tribune (scroll down in the article).

  • Corwin E. Smidt

    Corwin E. Smidt is a research fellow at the Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics and a professor of political science at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. He is author, editor or co-author of books on religion and public life, including In God We Trust? Religion and American Political Life; Pulpit and Politics: Clergy in American Politics at the Advent of the Millennium; and The Bully Pulpit: The Politics of Protestant Clergy.

  • Robert Wuthnow

    Robert Wuthnow is director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University. He wrote the book Poor Richard’s Principle: Recovering the American Dream Through the Moral Dimension of Work, Business and Money and was the editor of the 2006 Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion. He is also the author of  After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion and Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America’s Heartland. He can speak about hot-button issues including abortion, the separation of church and state and gun control.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Mary E. Bendyna

    Sister Mary E. Bendyna is executive director and senior research associate for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She is an expert on the Catholic Church and religion and politics.

  • Louis H. Bolce

    Louis H. Bolce teaches a course on religion and politics at Baruch College in New York City. Bolce’s research interests include what he calls the anti-Christian fundamentalist factor in contemporary politics, and he and Gerald De Maio (also at Baruch College) are working on a book about the rise of secularist influence in the Democratic Party.

  • Thomas J. Carty

    Thomas J. Carty is an assistant professor of American studies and history and chair of the Social Sciences Department at Springfield College in Springfield, Mass. He specializes in U.S. religion and politics and is the author of A Catholic in the White House? Religion, Politics and John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Campaign.

  • John DiIulio Jr.

    John DiIulio Jr. is a professor of politics, religion and civil society at the University of Pennsylvania and was the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. A frequent speaker and writer on faith-based social services, he is co-editor of What’s God Got to Do With the American Experiment? (Brookings, 2000).

    Contact: 215-898-7641.
  • Michele Dillon

    Michele Dillon is associate professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. She wrote “The American Abortion Debate: Culture War or Normal Discourse?” for the book The American Culture Wars: Current Contests and Future Prospects (University of Virginia Press, 1996). She is the author of Catholic Identity: Balancing Reason, Faith and Power.

  • Walton Brown-Foster

    Walton Brown-Foster teaches a course on religion and politics at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.

  • Susan B. Hansen

    Susan B. Hansen is a political science professor at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of Religion and Reaction: The Secular Political Challenge to the Religious Right (2011).

  • Melissa Harris-Lacewell

    Melissa Harris-Lacewell is the Maya Angelou presidential chair at Wake Forest University. There she is the executive director of the Pro Humanitate Institute and founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center. She is the author of Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought (Princeton 2004).

  • J. Bryan Hehir

    J. Bryan Hehir is the Parker Gilbert Montgomery Professor of the Practice of Religion and Public Life at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is an expert on religion and American society.

  • David Hollenbach

    David Hollenbach is a professor of theology at Boston College as well as the University Chair in Human Rights and International Justice and director of the Center for Human Rights and International Justice. He has written widely on issues related to Christian ethics, religious freedom, church-state relations and the role of religion in promoting the common good. He is the author of The Global Face of Public Faith: Politics, Human Rights and Christian Ethics.

  • Dale Kuehne

    Dale Kuehne is a professor in the department of politics at St. Anselm College, a Benedictine school in Manchester, N.H., and focuses on the intersection of religion, politics and sexuality.  He also is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church of America and is the founding director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.

  • Andrew R. Murphy

    Andrew R. Murphy is an associate professor of political science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. He co-edited the book Religion, Politics and American Identity: New Directions, New Controversies.

  • Jeffrey Stout

    Jeffrey Stout is professor of religion emeritus at Princeton University in New Jersey. He is the author of Democracy and Tradition.

  • Clyde Wilcox

    Clyde Wilcox is professor of government at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He specializes in electoral behavior and public opinion and can comment on the Catholic vote, abortion, gun control, gay rights, church-state issues and other issues involving religion and politics. He wrote “Abortion, Gay Rights and Church-State Issues in the 2000 Campaign” for the book Religion and Liberal Democracy: Piety, Politics and Pluralism and he is the co-author of The Values Campaign? The Christian Right and the 2004 Elections.

  • Alan Wolfe

    Alan Wolfe is the founding director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College and a frequent commentator on religion and politics. His books include The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith, which focuses on the impact of evangelicals on American religious culture. He has written widely on secularism.

In the South

  • Ravi Batra

    Ravi Batra is an economics professor at Southern Methodist University and author of The New Golden Age: The Coming Revolution Against Political Corruption and Economic Chaos (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming January 2007). Batra says journalists should investigate such issues as how political corruption creates poverty and how politicians exploit religion to get elected and then adopt policies to benefit themselves and the wealthy.

  • Allison Calhoun-Brown

    Allison Calhoun-Brown is associate professor of political science at Georgia State University. She specializes in religion and politics and African-American politics.

  • Steven P. Brown

    Steven P. Brown is a professor of political science at Auburn University in Auburn, Ala., where he specializes in religion and politics.

  • John M. Bruce

    John M. Bruce is an associate professor of political science at the University of Mississippi. He specializes in politics and religion.

  • Charles E. Curran

    Charles E. Curran is the Scurlock Professor of Human Values at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He specializes in moral theology, social ethics and the role of the church as a moral and political actor in society. He is a liberal theologian who was dismissed from Catholic University of America for his teachings on human sexuality after an extended struggle, which included meetings with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Curran can also comment on the politics of the papacy.

  • Charles W. Dunn

    Charles W. Dunn is Distinguished Professor of Government at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. He edited The Future of Religion in American Politics (2009).

  • David P. Gushee

    David P. Gushee is a distinguished professor of Christian ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University in Atlanta. He is frequently quoted about evangelical perspectives on ethics and was the principal drafter of the Evangelical Declaration Against Torture. He describes himself as a “Christian centrist.” Gushee’s most recent book is Changing Our Mind: A Call From America’s Leading Evangelical Ethics Scholar for Full Acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church, in which he outlines his change of heart from opposing same-sex relationships.

  • Allen Hertzke

    Allen Hertzke is Presidential Professor of Political Science at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, where he specializes in religious studies. His books include Freeing God’s Children: The Unlikely Alliance for Global Human Rights; Representing God in Washington: The Role of Religious Lobbies in the American Polity; and, as co-author, Religion and Politics in America: Faith, Culture and Strategic Choices. He is an expert on church-based populist movements.

  • Mark Hulsether

    Mark Hulsether, Religious Studies Professor and Director of the American Studies Program at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, has written extensively on religion and popular culture. He wrote the 2007 book Religion, Culture and Politics in the Twentieth-Century United States (Edinburgh University Press). He has also written about North American liberation theologies and the transformation of the Protestant left since World War II.

  • Penny Long Marler

    Penny Long Marler is a professor of religion at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., with interests in the relationship between church and society and religious change. She has written about measuring growth in church attendance.

  • William Martin

    William Martin is the Harry and Hazel Chavanne Senior Fellow in Religion and Public Policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy in Houston. His interests include the impact of religious fundamentalism on politics, and he is the author of With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America.

  • Wilfred M. McClay

    Wilfred M. McClay holds the SunTrust Bank Chair of Excellence in Humanities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he is also a professor of history. He is a widely published author on issues related to religion in America. He co-edited Religion Returns to the Public Square: Faith and Policy in America. He is also a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and co-director of the Evangelicals in Civic Life program.

  • Robin Meyers

    The Rev. Robin Meyers is a United Church of Christ pastor, syndicated columnist and professor of rhetoric at Oklahoma City University. Books he has written include Why the Christian Right Is Wrong: A Minister’s Manifesto for Taking Back Your Faith, Your Flag, Your Future.

  • Laura Olson

    Laura Olson is a professor of political science at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., and is also an expert on women and gender in religion. Her books include, as author, Filled With Spirit and Power: Protestant Clergy in Politics and, as co-author, Women With a Mission: Religion, Gender and the Politics of Women Clergy. She is also co-author of a paper on mainline Protestant congregations and homosexuality.

  • Michael Leo Owens

    Michael Leo Owens is an associate professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga. specializing in urban politics; state and local politics; political penology; governance and public policy processes; religion and politics; and African American politics. He is the author of the 2007 book God and Government in the Ghetto: The Politics of Church-State Collaboration in Black America and numerous articles and essays on faith-based community development and political mobilization by congregations in the United States.

  • Robert Oldendick

    Robert Oldendick is a political science professor at the University of South Carolina and director of its Institute for Public Service and Policy Research. He has said that in the general election, the “faith factor” may grab some attention, but it won’t change how people vote.

  • Michael J. Perry

    Michael J. Perry is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law at Emory University in Georgia and specializes in religious liberty issues and religious influences over politics. He is author of Religion, Politics and Nonestablishment, among others.

  • Mark Pryor

    Mark Pryor is a Democratic U.S. senator from Arkansas. He partially credits his election to the advice of a political consultant who told him to never give a speech without quoting the Bible. He has said Democrats have trouble with people of faith.

    Contact: 202-224-2353, 501-324-6336.
  • Steven M. Tipton

    Steven M. Tipton is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Sociology of Religion at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga. He researches American religion and politics, and the sociology of morality.

  • Melissa Snarr

    Melissa Snarr is an associate professor of ethics and society and a Christian social ethicist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. Her research focuses on political and religious ethics, social change, religion and war and religion and politics.

  • Kenneth Wald

    Kenneth Wald is a professor of political science at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he also teaches on American Jewish culture and society. He wrote the book Religion and Politics in the United States.

  • J. Matthew Wilson

    J. Matthew Wilson is an associate professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. His interests include religion and politics, and voting behavior of religious voters.

  • J. David Woodward

    J. David Woodard is a professor of political science at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., and author of The New Southern Politics.

  • David Yamane

    David Yamane is a professor of sociology at Wake Forest University and expert on American Catholicism. He is the author of The Catholic Church in State Politics: Negotiating Prophetic Demands and Political Realities. Over the last few years, Yamane has shifted his attention to gun culture and studies the rise of armed citizens.

In the Midwest

  • Kevin den Dulk

    Kevin den Dulk teaches political science at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. His interests include American politics, religion and politics cross-nationally, public law and courts and political theory. He has written about free speech and religious liberty and about the legal mobilization of conservative Christians in the United States. He is the co-author of Religion and Politics in America: Faith, Culture and Strategic Choices.

  • Paul Djupe

    Paul Djupe is a political scientist at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, where he specializes in religion and politics. He edits the Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics series and has written about people of faith’s voting patterns, the religious right and faith-based opposition to socialism.

  • Russell Arben Fox

    Russell Arben Fox is a political science professor at Friends University in Wichita, Ks. On In Medias Res, a blog of his writings, he has written that the Democratic Party has abandoned religious progressives. He has called for transformation of America’s political and party system.

  • Timothy R. Johnson

    Timothy R. Johnson is assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis-St. Paul. He wrote the entry on Roe v. Wade for the Encyclopedia of American Religion and Politics (Facts on File, 2003).

  • Vincent J. Miller

    Vincent J. Miller is a professor of Catholic theology at the University of Dayton. Miller is an expert on religion and politics and the Catholic Church’s role in politics and public policy.

  • Mark Noll

    Mark Noll is Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame and one of the most cited authorities today on evangelicalism in America. He co-founded the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College, where he taught for many years. Noll’s many books include America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln.

  • Brendan Sweetman

    Brendan Sweetman is a professor of philosophy at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo., and the author of Why Politics Needs Religion: The Place of Religious Arguments in the Public Square.

  • Paul Weithman

    Paul Weithman is a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame University and the author of Religion and the Obligations of Citizenship.

  • Gleaves Whitney

    Gleaves Whitney is director of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., and co-editor of Religion and the American Presidency.

  • Rhys H. Williams

    Rhys H. Williams is a professor and chair of the sociology department at Loyola University Chicago. He has done research on immigrant college students, including their attitudes toward religion and spirituality. He was also co-director of the Youth and Religion Project, funded by the Lilly Endowment, which did field work in the Chicago area to see how religious institutions can meet the needs of teenagers and young adults.

In the West

  • Philip Barlow

    Philip Barlow holds the Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University. During his days as a graduate student, Barlow was a top aide to Mormon Bishop Romney.

  • Craig Blomberg

    Craig Blomberg is a distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Colorado and author of Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions, a study of prosperity theology. 

  • Joanna Brooks

    Joanna Brooks teaches American literature at San Diego State University. She also writes about religion and culture for and has been recognized for her writing on Mormons. She is the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of American Faith (2012).

  • Richard L. Bushman

    Richard L. Bushman is the Howard W. Hunter Visiting Professor of Mormon Studies, an endowed chair at Claremont Graduate University in California, and author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. A prominent scholar of Mormonism, he has given talks on the relationship between Mormonism and American politics.

  • Kimberly Conger

    Kimberly Conger is an assistant visiting professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati. She has studied the influence of religious conservatives in state Republican parties, and she presented a paper titled “Evangelicals: Outside the Beltway” at a 2003 seminar at the Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. She also contributed to chapters in The Values Campaign? The Christian Right and the 2004 Elections.

  • David Gutterman

    David Gutterman is an associate professor of politics at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., where he teaches a course on religion and politics. Gutterman co-edited the book Religion, Politics and American Identity: New Directions, New Controversies.

  • Drew Halfmann

    Drew Halfmann is an associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Davis, and an expert on abortion policies.

  • Kristin E. Heyer

    Kristin E. Heyer is an associate professor in the religious studies department at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif. She co-edited Catholics and Politics: The Dynamic Tension Between Faith & Power.

  • Michael Horan

    Michael Horan is a theologian at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles who can relate Catholic beliefs to Catholic practice, particularly in the political realm. Horan believes hard-line tactics by bishops to deny communion to abortion rights politicians can backfire.

  • Ted G. Jelen

    Ted G. Jelen is a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He has followed religion and politics, including the participation of the Catholic Church and the role abortion politics plays. He co-edited the books Abortion Politics in the United States: Studies in Public Opinion and The One, the Few and the Many: Religion and Politics in Comparative Perspective. He also co-wrote the book Between Two Absolutes: Public Opinion and the Politics of Abortion.

  • Patrick Q. Mason

    Patrick Q. Mason holds the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif., and is author of The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South. Mason is a leading expert on anti-Mormonism.

  • Deborah R. McFarlane

    Deborah R. McFarlane is a professor in the department of political science at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. She co-wrote the book The Politics of Fertility Control.

  • Barbara A. McGraw

    Barbara A. McGraw is a professor of business administration at St. Mary’s College of California, in Moraga. She is the author of Rediscovering America’s Sacred Ground: Public Religion and Pursuit of the Good in a Pluralistic America and the co-editor of Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously: Spiritual Politics on America’s Sacred Ground, in which she argues that the freedom of conscience honored by the nation’s founders can be the “sacred ground” needed in a religiously pluralistic country.

  • Thomas P. Rausch

    The Rev. Thomas P. Rausch is a professor of theology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. A Catholic priest, Rausch is the author of Authority and Leadership in the Church: Past Directions and Future Possibilities.

  • John E. Seery

    John E. Seery is a professor of politics at Pomona College in California. He is an expert on abortion politics and wrote the article “Moral Perfectionism and Abortion Politics” for the journal Polity (2001).

  • Chris Soper

    Chris Soper is a professor of political science at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., and the author of Evangelical Christianity in the United States and Great Britain: Religious Beliefs, Political Choices.

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