Religion gives insight to political support
Ted Cruz announced his campaign for president in March at Liberty University. The University is a private Christian school in Lynchburg, Virginia. Cruz then released a TV campaign ad during Easter weekend. “Blessed” highlights Cruz’s religious and conservative beliefs.
“Were it not for the transformative love of Jesus Christ, I would have been raised by a single mom without my father in the household,” states Cruz in the ad. “God’s blessing has been on America from the very beginning of this nation.”
Some politicians use religion to attract voters. Seventy-six percent to 77 percent of Americans claim to be Christians, according to Kevin Schultz, an associate professor of history, catholic studies, and religious studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
SMU Associate Political Science Professor Matthew Wilson believes many religiously observant voters use their faith when deciding on who to vote for in elections.
“Those who are more religiously committed have become more Republican and those less religiously committed have become more Democrat,” said Wilson.
Voters’ racial identities can determine how they will use their religion in an election. Religiously observant African-Americans tend to support policies against social issues such as homosexuality. However, more than 90 percent of African-Americans will vote for Democrats due to party loyalty, according to Wilson.
Wilson says that Jewish voters tend to lean toward Democratic candidates. However, Orthodox Jews tend to vote Republican.
In the recent Texas Governor’s race, Abbott ran against Texas Senator Wendy Davis. Davis received national attention when she led a 13-hour filibuster against a bill that placed several restrictions on abortion clinics, which forced many to close.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a practicing Catholic, featured his mother-in-law, Mary Lucy Phalen, in a gubernatorial campaign ad in 2014. Phalen is Abbott’s godmother in the Catholic Church and is also a Latina. The ad allowed Abbott to reach out to the Latina community, which is widely pro-life.
A voter’s religion can also determine if a voter will support an issue. Wilson believes the religious left-winged tend to support social justice issues, such as immigration and welfare. Religiously observant voters incline to side with conservatives on moral issues: homosexuality, abortion, religion in public life, and school prayer.
Junior Julie Martin supports pro-life issues. She is a practicing Roman Catholic and has attended many pro-life demonstrations.
“My religious beliefs reinforce the principle that every human life deserves to be valued and respected,” said Martin, the president of Mustangs for Life.
Mustangs for Life is a non-religious student organization that promotes pro-life views on abortion and the death penalty.
Gender does not affect a voter’s support for pro-life or pro-choice causes, according to Wilson. However, women tend to have stronger views on abortion.
“Women are more polarized on these cultural issues that men aren’t,” said Wilson. “Women are more religious. A large number of the ‘foot soldiers’ for religious conservative organizations have always been women and continue to be.”
Martin chooses candidates based on their views on the economy, education, and foreign policy. However, most of her support goes to candidates who are pro-life when it concerns abortion.
“It is the first priority when I vote,” said Martin, a registered Texas voter. “If the right to life is not respected, any rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness are inherently demeaned. You cannot grant someone liberty if you don’t first grant them life.”
A candidate’s religious views can determine whether or not they will gain supporters.
“It serves as a rally point to emphasize collective values that are held in common,” said Wilson.
The religion of a candidate can also affect how they will speak to voters, according to Wilson. Republican candidates tend to speak to voters similarly to evangelical pastors. President Obama speaks to African-American voters in the same manner as pastors in the black church.
Most voters do not look for candidates of the same religious domination.
“Americans have become more accepting of people with religions that are not their own,” said Schultz at a conference hosted by the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics and the SMU Center for Presidential History.
However, Wilson says voters will most likely not support candidates who are Muslim. Many Americans are still suspicious of Islam even though 13 years has passed since 9-11.
During the 2012 Presidential election, GOP candidate Mitt Romney had to battle with concerns against Mormonism. Voters are more supportive of Mormon candidates than Muslims, according to Wilson. But many Americans believe Mormonism is a cult.
Wilson says that voters do not want candidates to be seen as overly-religious. They do not want their candidates to use religion as a deciding factor for every decision. But people who are atheists have difficulties in gaining supporters.
“Most voters want to see that a politician is a person of faith,” said Wilson. “But there is still about half of the electorate that says that they will not consider voting for an atheists. The idea that a person completely lacks a religious faith makes a lot of voters uncomfortable.”