Democrats picked up seven new House seats and expanded their caucus in the Senate by two seats, electing along the way the House's first Hindu member and the Senate's first Buddhist. But for liberal religion scholar Stephen Prothero, that's not good enough, because both chambers are still disproportionately too Protestant, with Republicans in particular looking too much like an "old-fashioned America" of yesteryear.
From Prothero's November 16 CNN Belief blog post (emphasis mine):
The 2012 election has been widely hailed as a diversity moment — a coming out party for an American electorate no longer dominated by white men. And it was a triumph as well for religious diversity, thanks especially to Hawaii, which is sending the first Hindu to the House and the first Buddhist to the Senate.
But is this religious change more symbolic than real? In “Faith on the Hill,” a study on religion in the 113th Congress released Friday by the Pew Forum, the story seems to be static rather than change.
For all the talk of the election of 2012 inaugurating a new era in American politics, Protestants will continue to be overrepresented on Capitol Hill, where they will account for 56% of our representatives versus only 48% of American adults.
The GOP delegation will be 69% Protestant, while Protestants will account for only 43% of the Democrats. Mormons also lean heavily Republican, with three Democrats versus 12 members of the GOP.
Catholics, by contrast, lean Democratic, accounting for 36% congressional Democrats and 25% of congressional Republicans. Moreover, all the Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists in the incoming Congress are Democrats. And all but one of the 32 Jewish members (Virginia Republican Eric Cantor) are, too.
The bottom line? I see two takeaways.
First, this data provides evidence for the now common wisdom that Republicans represent old-fashioned America while Democrats reflect new demographic realities. In the 113th Congress, Republicans will be disproportionately male and disproportionately Protestant. Democrats, by contrast, have a higher portion of women and minority religions.
Second, this data shows that the much heralded “new America” is still years away. Yes, the Senate will be 20% female, but women are more than 50% of the population. And the U.S. Congress will still be far more Christian (87%) than U.S. adults as a whole (70%).
At least when it comes to religion, the U.S. Congress doesn't yet look like the voters who are sending them to Washington.
These statistics are interesting to some degree or another, but the reality is the evidence shows Americans of all faith (or no faith) vote for the candidates they believe would be best to serve them in Congress, regardless of their religion. And while Mitt Romney failed to win the presidency, he also failed to have the collapse in evangelical support that pundits thought he'd have. Evangelical Christians and religious conservatives overwhelmingly backed Romney, despite their personal reservations about his theology.
That is something to celebrate, except of course, as I've noted on this blog, Prothero has actually complained that religious conservatives didn't take religion into account when they voted for Mitt.