Will presidential candidates’ religion matter in next month’s election? Does the religion of voters? Should religion matter at all during an election?
In a recent study by Pew Research, one-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.
Saint Xavier University, a Sisters of Mercy Catholic school in southwest Chicago, held a watch party Tuesday, during the Town Hall Presidential Debates held at Hofstra University on Long Island. Though organizers only received 50 RSVPs to the event, nearly 65 students turned out for free food and to watch the debate.
Crowds of students packed the small, Victorian-style hall, packing their plates with slices of pizza, cookies and chips. Roughly 75 percent of those in the hall were females.
There was a hum in the air before the show started revolving around the much anticipated game changer for this debate, a more “aggressive” or passionate President Obama, making a case for his re-election against challenger Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint.
Last week’s only debate between the Vice Presidential nominees, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, pitted two self-described Roman Catholics against one another.
The candidates’ religious affiliations have been questioned at times throughout the campaign. Obama’s fiery (and now former) pastor from Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago’s South Side was an issue in 2004, and Romney’s active participation in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was an issue for some conservative Christian voters in Republican primaries, but religion was not mentioned last night.
For Francis Baka, 18, the lack of assertiveness from Obama during the first presidential debate on Oct. 3 had her anxious for this debate’s spectacle. “President Obama didn’t really bring anything to the plate last time,” Baka said. “I hope to see his stronger points tonight.”
Not only did Obama show more aggression in this debate, the two candidates tackled women’s issues in this round, where pre-selected voters asked many of the questions, moderated by CNN’s Candy Crowley.
For Kristyn Cannon, 18, another Saint Xavier student, her Christian values overshadowed one of the key issues during the debates, abortions.
“As a Christian, abortions are not a part of my beliefs,” Cannon said. “But as a Christian I would not want my religious beliefs to be forced on another person, either.”
Romney said last night that all women should have access to contraceptives, but he did not address the issue of cost.
President Obama said “…insurance companies need to provide contraceptive coverage to everybody who is insured…because this is not just a health issue; it’s an economic issue for women.”
While campaigning in Iowa on Oct. 9, Romney attempted to moderate his position on abortions and contraception but then had his spokeswoman recall his position later that day according to the Huffington Post.
During the debate, Romney once again changed his oft-stated and GOP Platform “pro-life” stand, including no funding for Planned Parenthood. Tonight his message was, “I don’t believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not…employers should not tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care of not.”
Although Romney has changed his message on abortions, again, Samantha Biljan, 21, said she understands where he stands on this issue.
“I generally fact check after an event like this,” she said, “but I won’t have to tonight because I know everything Romney has said about contraception in the past. His change of message has no enforcement on my opinion on who to vote for.”