Survey: Religion vital for voters

Sorry, Mitt Romney.A September report released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life states that candidates who are viewed by the public as not highly religious seem to top the newest Gallup Polls for both the Democratic and Republican Parties.

The nationwide survey, based on telephone interviews from 3,002 adults in August, rated people’s perceptions of candidates and their religiosity.

Romney, a candidate with a Mormon background, was perceived as most religious by participants. Of those polled, 46 percent found Romney to be very religious, while George W. Bush comes in at 43 percent.

The latest Gallup Poll, released Nov. 13, shows Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani as the frontrunners of the Democrat and Republican Parties. Both candidates ranked in the bottom of the religious survey, ranking 16 and 14 percent, respectively.

While these numbers state the percentage of people who found the candidate to be very religious, 63 percent found Giuliani to be somewhat religious, while Clinton received 53 percent in the same category.

Clinton received the biggest percentage of all candidates, both Democrat and Republican, of those who find her not too or not at all religious.

According to the study, voters in the past have said it is important for a president to have strong religious beliefs, and voters tend to express a more favorable view toward those candidates.

But, the report goes on to state, the new study finds that candidates with White House dreams do not have to be seen as very religious in order to be accepted by the public.

James Riddlesperger, professor and chair of the political science department, said religion has always been an important part of American politics.

However, Riddlesperger said, the effect of a candidate’s religious preference on the next election outcome remains to be seen.

“We’ve never had an election this intense this early,” Riddlesperger said. “It’s too early to tell.”

But some think the shift in Republicans now aligning with the Democratic Party might account for the statistics.

Mark Toulouse, professor of American religious history, said since 2004, evangelical voters have been tilting toward the Democrats.

“(Evangelical Christians) recognize that there are other moral issues than abortion and homosexuality, like poverty and the war,” Toulouse said.

But are there right and wrong religions?

The study states Romney is handicapped because of concerns held by voters regarding his Mormonism.

When the public has questions regarding a candidate’s religion, they turn to the candidate, Toulouse said, and the questions might not be something the candidates can answer to the voters’ satisfaction.

Toulouse also said there are barriers that have yet to be broken in regard to a president, but that could change this election.

“We have three persons who represent barrier-shattering ideas,” Toulouse said. “A woman, a person of color and a Mormon.”

Students have mixed feelings about what the study showed.

Sophomore engineering major Heather Carlson said that because she is a Christian she is more inclined to choose a Christian candidate who shares the same values and views.

But, she said, the findings show where the U.S. as a whole has come to be.

“Our country has gotten a lot less to where we expect a religious stance by a politician,” Carlson said. “It is not as big (of) an issue as when we elected Bush.”

Senior engineering and mathematics major Aaron Bartholomew said a candidate does not have to be very religious to win his vote, but that his or her views are seen through policy and by an overall feeling.

There is debate on whether the perceptions are true and whether Clinton and Giuliani are truly the least religious, but Riddlesperger said people will still hold their perceptions of what they believe a candidate’s religiosity to be.

“Reality is perception,” Riddlesperger said.