Religion and Republicans: The Presidential Election of 2012

30 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2012 Last revised: 2 Sep 2012

See all articles by James L. Guth

James L. Guth

Furman University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: August 25, 2012


Religion has always played a major role in American politics. Although the tides of electoral politics may often turn on economic events, foreign policy crises or other “secular” issues, partisan coalitions in the past few decades have been structured by religious alliances that have been extraordinarily stable, with only marginal changes from election to election. Those marginal changes have, of course, produced dramatically different outcomes in presidential and congressional races, with Republican victories in 2004 and 2010, and Democratic triumphs in 2006 and 2008. And although one journalist proclaimed that “God was remarkably absent” from the 2012 presidential race, in fact religious questions played an important part in the lead-up to the November election in both parties.

This paper considers the role of religious groups, issues and candidate strategies in the 2012 presidential race. First, we consider two broad perspectives that shape expert interpretation on that role, the ethnoreligious and restructuring theories. Then we examine briefly religious strategies in the 2008 election and the resulting pattern of religious group votes in that contest. As this pattern sets the context for both the Obama administration’s approach to religious groups and campaigns during his years in office and for competitive strategies by the GOP hopefuls, it is important to understand the nature of religious party coalitions. We then focus on the Republican nominating contest, discussing the cast of candidates, their religious strategies and the impact of those strategies. Finally, we turn briefly to the Democratic candidate’s religious strategy, arguing that Obama reluctantly made major changes in his approach to religious groups from that he followed in 2008, changes dictated both by his experiences in the politics of his first term and by the structure of campaign incentives.

Keywords: religion, partisan coalitions

Suggested Citation

Guth, James L., Religion and Republicans: The Presidential Election of 2012 (August 25, 2012). APSA 2012 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

James L. Guth (Contact Author)

Furman University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Greenville, SC 29613
United States

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