An excellent and timely article from Boston University’s magazine (http://www.bu.edu/cas/magazine/fall15/america/) tells a little-mentioned story about Hillary Clinton that I found interesting.
Clinton, unlike other recent presidential candidates such as Mitt Romney, Michelle Bachman and Rick Santorum, is not known for being religious or using religion as a way to attract voters despite her methodist heritage. But while stopping at a South Carolina bakery May 2015, Clinton struck up a conversation about the bible with a local patron, and won his support through religious discussion.
I admittedly didn’t read the rest of the article because I didn’t want it to influence or overtake the ideas I had for this post. But in short, it argues that Religion, despite not being as visible as it was at one time in America, is still a dominant and persuasive force in American politics, and every major politicians–especially those running for president–need to express some sort of faith in order to convince candidates of their legitimacy.
I agree. Although the culture of America has been increasingly secular as the years roll by, I think religion still plays a large roll in our government. An examination of recent campaign strategies, political candidates and voter demographics prove that this is the case.
The most recent and powerful religiously-related political act to take place in America’s governmental agenda was Donald Trump’s travel ban on several majority-islam countries in the middle east. Although the ban wasn’t specifically labelled as a ban on muslims, the media branded it as such because it was enacted in an effort to prevent extremist terrorist attacks committed by citizens of the nations in question. The ban caused a massive pushback and protests erupted across the nation.
But a certain group of American citizens, I’m sure, were celebrating. Trump’s list of campaign promises included a proposal to extensively screen all muslims entering the country and, in some cases, muslims that have lived in the U.S. for years. Trump instilled a fear of Islam in voters, and then catered to that fear by promising to eliminate it. Many of those who voted for him were driven to do so by this fear.
In this way, a fear of terrorism grew until it encompassed an entire religion. And this difference/fear between religious groups gave trump extra momentum in pursuit of the presidency.
On the other hand, if you take a look at the republican party’s roster of candidates from the past year, you’ll find several religious men who are vocal about their faith.
Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and, a little further back, Mitt Romney all mentioned faith in their campaign speeches and used it to appeal to crowds on the campaign trail.
Here’s Ted talking about atheists and why they shouldn’t be president:
These candidates used religion to garner support of other religious people, indicating that there is a smaller but politically important demographic of religious (christian) voters in America.
Religion is not as prevalent in political policy and campaigning in the same way as it used to be, but it is still influential nonetheless. Candidates use it to create an emotional appeal–be it one of fear (Trump’s campaign promises) or support and comfort (Ted Cruz’s christian identification)
These campaign strategies appeal to a certain type of voter. Despite their decline among the general population and headlines like this one: (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/08/15/white-christian-america-is-dying/?utm_term=.713d4db5d228) White, evangelical christians still represent an important voting demographic and hold a large stake in the American political scene. They’re consistently among the most courted groups on the campaign trail, and they voted in record numbers for Donald Trump in last fall’s election (81% of them voted for him, a record majority among their demographic according to this article: https://divinity.uchicago.edu/sightings/myths-debunked-why-did-white-evangelical-christians-vote-trump) Trump and other candidates often spoke at churches during every stage of the campaign.
This is only one example of religious appeals in political strategy. But the fact that this specific religious demographic was singled out by campaign managers and played such a crucial role in the election shows that religion still guides many people’s decisions and is taken into consideration/used by the political elite.
Politics focuses on persuasion, and persuasion works best when conducted between two people that trust each other. By identifying and appealing to religion in their campaign speeches and policy, Candidates build trust and establish command ground with voters. As is indicated by the prevalence and one-sidedness of one religious demographic in America, these appeals can be effective. Overall, religion continues to play an important, albeit smaller role in the political influence and trends in America.