The notion of separation of church and state in the United States goes as far back as just after the founding of the country, with the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution providing for the effective separation of religion from government.
But religion does find its way into everyday American politics. Originally, the Pledge of Allegiance did not include the phrase “one nation under God,” it was added in 1954 to differentiate the United States from the state-atheist Soviet Union.
In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a law requiring the phrase “In God We Trust,” to appear on every object of American currency printed or minted thereafter, a law that remains in effect today.
Zack Bonner, lecturer of political science, said he believes the idea of separation of church and state has never truly been black and white in the United States.
“We have always kind of had a contentious relationship between church and state,” Bonner said. “Although we have always wanted to say it is completely separate, there is that ideological wall between the two. There has always been one influencing the other since the founding of the country. You can see that in candidates speeches, when they finish with 'God bless America.' [Religion] still has an effect, but seemingly it is having less and less of an impact on larger groups that are voting.”
In the 2018 midterm election, Pew Research surveyed various religious groups and denominations on how they voted. Pew found 77 percent of “white, born again Christians” voted for Republican candidates for Congress, while 79 percent of people of Jewish voters cast their ballots for Democrats.
Religiously unaffiliated people cast 70 percent of their votes for Democratic candidates for Congress.
The lopsided margin seen among some groups one party wins is not seen in all religious groups or denomination, though.
Fifty percent of Catholics voted for Democrats for Congress, and 56 percent of “Protestant/other Christian” people voted for Republican candidates for Congress, according to the Pew data.
Across elections though, the survey found the majority of these religious groups and denominations vote relatively consistently for one party, without much change in the top-line numbers.
For example, Pew found roughly the same proportion of “Protestant/other Christian” people voted for Democrats in the 2006 midterm election, with 54 percent voting for Republican candidates in that year’s midterm election.
Candidates will craft their message towards the large voting blocs in the district they are running in, Bonner said.
When gauging whether to incorporate religious views into a candidate's platform, Bonner said candidates look at "religiosity", and how strong the beliefs of the voters they are trying to win over are.
Bonner said he believes religions that tend to vote for one party over another have routed their beliefs in their upbringing, also known as political socialization.
“Who you have grown up with and your family has a huge impact,” Bonner said. “To a small extent the media does, but mostly just [through] familial contact. Generally those stay consistent throughout your life, unless there is some life altering event or generational effects that alter your opinion.”
Dev Jeev Padavath, junior in supply chain management, said they believe religion has very little impact on politics, and on the way people vote.
“I don’t think religion is a driving force, correlation is not causation,” Jeev Padavath said. “I don’t think it is a deciding factor.”
Bonner said for the upcoming 2020 election he does not expect these voting demographics to change much due to little or no change in the economy, and with a slate of similar candidates running.