Monday, 17 September 2012

Will Religious Belief Reduce Voter Participation in the 2012 US Election?

by Caitlin Abernethy

(image source:

It has long been established that religion plays a key role in US politics, with the Republicans gaining an advantage with evangelical Protestants in the 2008 election and the Democrats leading with Catholics and more liberal Protestant groups. In the 2012 election, this strong religious ideal carried by many Americans may be challenged, and may even cause many of them not to vote because of the stances of the two main candidates running for the White House. On 9th May 2012, Barack Obama announced he was in favour of gay marriage, a bold step suggesting his confidence for the upcoming election. This stance, while supported by many of the more liberal states, such as California, caused widespread shock and worry among the more conservative voters, who have more traditional Christian beliefs and are therefore against gay marriage; and so the Democrats have been seen to alienate themselves from much of this section of the American electorate. Another significant factor is the amount of support Obama relies on from the Black vote, which is notoriously religious. This could mean that the lead Obama gained in the 2008 election in part through his  appeal to African-American voters could be lost because of his stance on gay marriage.
The reason that a drop in participation for the election could be expected in 2012 is because, for the evangelical Christians who have turned away from Obama as a result of his views on gay marriage, there is not a great alternative offered by the candidate from the Republican Party, Mitt Romney. Romney is the first Mormon nominee for Presidency from a major party, and so, to evangelical Christians, does not represent Christian ideals either. The Mormon Church formally had a ban on men of African descent entering the priesthood, which automatically alienates African-American voters. Because turnout was low for this group of voters prior to the 2008 election, it is expected that turnout will be even lower for this election; they may feel they are not properly represented by either of the major candidates because of their religious beliefs.

This may also be true for many of the other evangelical Protestant citizens around the US; they will feel that neither party properly represents their strong beliefs, or that the party they traditionally vote for has strayed away from its original values. Through upbringing, geography or other personal factors, they will not vote for the other party, and will therefore abstain from voting. All this will contribute to the participation for the 2012 US election being lower than expected.

This is the second in a series of weekly articles on the US Presidential Election by students of Government & Politics.

Read, also, Simon Lemieux's report on the Democratic and Republican conventions

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