Scholars: Religious Voting Varies, But Still Relevant

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WASHINGTON - A group of religious and political scholars met in Washington, Friday, to discuss the impact religion and values made in the recent midterm elections, and how it could impact the 2012 presidential race.

Exit polls revealed at least 29 percent of voters considered themselves conservative evangelicals. Still, many of the leaders in Friday's meeting appeared divided on the role religious issues played in the recent elections.

"They didn't get a lot of traction in 2010," said University of Florida professor Kenneth Wald.

Georgetown University professor Clyde Wilcox disagreed.

"For the younger evangelicals, abortion remains a fundamental issue. They're every bit as pro-life as their parents," he said.

"They're not quite as sure about some of the gay rights issues, but they're more willing to consider the environment," he added. "They're more willing to consider poverty or hunger."

"In fact, it seems like every election year religion plays a bigger part, and that's because of the engagement of evangelicals and conservative Catholics," added Concerned Women for America president Wendy Wright.

Some analysts say religious voters have made an impact in polls not because of efforts by Republicans, but because Democrats have a tough time talking about faith.

"They don't do it. They don't know how to do it," Wald claimed. "They're not altogether comfortable doing it."

Clemson University political science professor Laura Olson said more voters are starting to feel like Democrats are unfavorable to religion, and that President Barack Obama sometimes personifies the problem.

"People aren't sure what he's up to religiously and sort of don't trust that he's Christian," she said.

If the president's popularity continues to slide, Olson added that, "No matter who the Republican nominee is, folks will come out to vote against Obama."

But American religious believers have divergent views, making it difficult to predict future votes.

"Among those who think the Christian Bible is literally true word for word, a surprising number also believe reincarnation is true," Wilcox said.

The political scholars said the best thing a candidate can do is to be upfront about their religious beliefs.

"The worst thing that one could be for the American electorate is an atheist," Olson added.

*Originally published on Nov. 19, 2010.

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As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.