"Joe Biden at 16th Street Baptist Church - March 1, 2020" by United States Congress, Office of Terri Sewell / Public Domain

Religion Takes Larger Role for Democrats This Year

Aug 31, 2020

By Frank Newport

It looks to me as if religion is going to be a bigger part of the presidential election process this year than it has been historically. This, to some extent, reflects a renewed emphasis on religion by Democrats and Joe Biden’s campaign, particularly as evidenced during the recent Democratic National Convention. Here are seven interesting aspects of the interplay of religion and politics as both presidential conventions have come to a close.

1. Democrats put a significant emphasis on Biden’s faith. A number of headlines coming out of the Democratic convention highlighted the emphasis that Democrats put on the importance of Biden’s Catholic faith. Journalists noted that “Joe Biden’s acceptance speech caps off an unusually faith-filled Democratic National Convention,” declared the religious left as a winner of the convention, and highlighted that one of the key takeaways from the final night of the convention was “an emphasis on faith.” Democratic speakers made many references to Biden’s faith over the four nights of the convention. An ecumenical interfaith service kicked off the events on Sunday, and Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, himself a Yale Divinity School graduate and an ordained Presbyterian elder, led a religiously oriented lead-in to Biden’s Thursday night acceptance speech.

2. The Democratic emphasis on religion was primarily focused on Biden the candidate, not on the direct relationship between religion and specific issue positions. This is, we can assume, partially because Biden has a track record of public discussion of his Catholic faith and the part it played in helping him deal with the tragedies he has faced in his life. Biden’s campaign strategists may also have taken note of the fact that his opponent, Donald Trump, does not have a history that shows strong evidence of personal religiosity. Additionally, Pew Research earlier this year demonstrated that Americans are more likely to perceive Biden as religious than they are to perceive Trump as religious, providing Biden an existing attitudinal base for this ad hominem religious positioning.

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