Religion, Economy Loom Big in 2012 Election

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WASHINGTON -- For evangelical voters, the issues of life and marriage are constant, but this election cycle, another matter is getting the most attention: the economy.

"When the economy is not well, that takes up most of the oxygen in the room," Southern Baptist leader Richard Land told CBN News.

Unemployment remains around 9 percent, the fight over deficit spending rages on, and the number of Americans in poverty continues to grow.

"Fifty million people, 50 million live below poverty, that's the most in 50 years, 20 percent of our children," progressive evangelical writer and activist Jim Wallis said.

Divergent Views

In early November, Land and Wallis debated religious issues facing voters in 2012 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Their philosophies often differ. For instance, Land lines up more with the Tea Party on issues like health care.

"You're making it far more difficult for a person to find a doctor," Land said. "They'll have to wait longer to see a doctor, especially a specialist."

"And they'll have to wait longer between the time they see that specialist and when they get treatment," he added.

Wallis' views are more in keeping with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

"My theology says if you're against the concentration of power in one place, Washington, you should be also concerned about the concentration of power in other places, like Wall Street," Wallis said.

The two men see potential common ground on immigration, and education.

The Faith Factor

They also agree that religion does have a role in the race for president. A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, suggests two thirds of voters share the same view.

According to the survey, 39 percent say it's 'very important' for a candidate to have strong religious beliefs. Twenty-eight percent say it's 'somewhat important.'

The survey showed voters were unconcerned about whether a candidate's faith is the same as their own.

Only 19 percent say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate whose beliefs were very different.

Fifty-three percent say they would be 'somewhat' or 'very comfortable' with a Mormon serving as president.

However, 42 percent say a Mormon president would make them uncomfortable.

Land suggested a candidate's faith was a personal matter.

"It's inappropriate, and I believe it's un-American, to ask candidates to defend the tenants of their personal faith in a presidential campaign, or in any kind of election campaign," he said.

Wallis disagreed.

"I think we should be concerned about a candidate's moral compass, their moral compass, and their policy positions -- not the religion," he said.

The Youth Vote

As for younger Christian voters, the 2012 election cycle could be a lot different than 2008.

Tim Goeglein, former special assistant to President George W. Bush on faith matters, said Obama's 2008 campaign theme of "hope and change" may not fly in 2012.

"To young Christians, hope and change is something that idealistically appeals to them. And I think that hope and change as a tactic in fact, was appealing to a lot of young Christians," Goeglein told CBN News.

"But I think now that three years have passed, and young Christians have said is that the hope and change that I really wanted and appealed to me? I think that there is that question mark," he added.

*Originally aired on November 18, 2011.

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