Trouble in the Land of Lincoln

March 22, 2012

Earlier this week, I noted the poll results in Alabama and Mississippi that demonstrated the depth of confessional politics in those two states (see post here). In both states, large numbers of Republicans said they believed President Barack Obama was a Muslim while only a few correctly noted he was a Christian. The results helped explain why former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, whose religion is also viewed suspiciously by many evangelicals, came in third place in both states behind evangelical stars Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Romney again demonstrated his strength in the primary campaign with an easy win Tuesday in Illinois. Although he won most demographics, he still lost among evangelicals, those who believe the religious beliefs of the candidates matter, and those who attend religious services more than once a week. Those groups of voters, however, were not enough to lift Santorum in the Midwestern blue state. Yet, even in Illinois the problem of confessional politics can be seen. A poll by Public Policy Polling found that among Illinois Republicans, only 24 percent thought Obama is a Christian while 39 percent said he is a Muslim (and 37 percent said they were not sure). Again, evangelicals were more likely to call Obama "Muslim" and less likely to call him "Christian." Although the results are not nearly as dramatic as what was found in Alabama and Mississippi, they are perhaps more surprising since the state is well outside of the "Bible belt." The suspicions about Obama's faith--and the related concerns about Romney's religion--are among the most problematic consequences of confessional politics. The pride of Illinois--Abraham Lincoln (the photo is one I took of a statute of him in the National Cathedral)--would surely be troubled by such religiously-motivated attacks on opponents (as his second inaugural speech would suggest).

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