Faith on the campaign trail

Presidential candidates of both parties this year are talking much more about their faith than in previous years. Is this good for the country? And does it even help the candidates? The Christian Science Monitor talks to analysts who say that it is not doing much good for anybody:

Presidential candidates of both parties have talked more openly about their religious beliefs this year than in elections past, lifting a window on some of the values that could shape their decisions in the Oval Office. But the political benefits of such candor are not always clear in a country where most Republicans and Democrats believe in separation of church and state.

. . .

Republicans have shown off their spiritual side on the hustings in part to cement their standing with evangelical Christians, a potent voting bloc in the early-voting states of Iowa and South Carolina. The Democrats, particularly Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, have also spoken of their journeys of faith, in part to win over Protestants and Catholics who have soured on President Bush.

Scott Keeter, survey director at the Pew Research Center, says Americans want their presidential candidates to be religious – but not necessarily too religious.

Recent surveys of voters have found that beyond a basic perception that a presidential candidate has faith, “there isn’t necessarily any particular benefit,” Mr. Keeter said in a phone interview. “Indeed, there could potentially be a downside, with more secular people reacting negatively to what they see as excessive displays of faith” calculated for political gain.

A Pew survey in August found that the national front-runners for both parties – former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York – were viewed by Americans as the least religious of their parties’ candidates. But with Huckabee and Mr. Romney in a fierce fight in Iowa, the bid for evangelical voters has intensified – and at times, critics say, crossed a line.

Several commentators singled out Romney’s remark, in his Dec. 6 “Faith in America Speech,” that “freedom requires religion.” A Suffolk University survey of likely GOP voters in New Hampshire, where Romney leads in most polls, found that just 34 percent agreed.

“The candidates are confusing two arguments,” Charles Krauthammer, a conservative columnist, wrote after Romney’s speech. “The first, which conservatives are winning, is defending the legitimacy of religion in the public square. The second, which conservatives are bound to lose, is proclaiming the privileged status of religion in political life.”

Read it all here.

What do you think?

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