Survey: 92 percent of Congress is Christian

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(Credit: CNN)

WASHINGTON — The men and women of the 114th Congress, despite being bitterly divided and partisan, almost universally share one thing in common: Their faith.

Nearly 92% of Congress — or 491 of the 535 members — identifies as Christian, according to a study by Pew Research’s Religion & Public Life Project. That number is slightly up from 90% in the 113th Congress and continues a trend where the percentage of Christians and Jews in Congress outpaces their national average.

Though Christian’s dominate both parties, Democrats are more religiously diverse than Republicans. Of the 301 Republicans in the 114th Congress, Jewish freshman Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York is the only non-Christian.

A large majority of Democrats in Congress (80%) are Christian, with 44% Protestant, 35% Catholic and 1% Mormon. But unlike Republicans, Democrats in Congress are 12% Jewish and have two Buddhist, two Muslims, one Hindu and one unaffiliated member.

“You could say that the religious diversity in Congress is concentrated on the Democratic side,” said Alan Cooperman, director of religious research at Pew. “The vast majority of the Jews, all of the Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus in Congress and the one unaffiliated member are all on the Democratic side.”

Congress, the most representative and responsive branch of the federal government, has seen some aspects of their religious affiliation mirror nationwide trends.

For example, as the country has grown more religiously diverse over the last 50 years, so has Congress. Only 3% of the 87th Congress (1961-1962), according to Pew, was non-Christian. Today, that number has roughly tripled to 6%.

What’s more, there has been a noticeable decline in Protestants that mirrors nationwide trends. In 1961, 75% of Congress and roughly 2/two-thirds of the country identified as Protestant. Fifty-seven percent of the 114th Congress is Protestant, while 49% of the country identifies as such today.

One area where nationwide trends have not been reflected in Congress is with the religiously unaffiliated, the most underrepresented in the country.

Though 20% of the country does not identify with a faith, only one member of Congress — Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — publicly identifies as such.

Cooperman said the under representation of unaffiliated Americans might be a political decision by members of Congress.

“One of the things we have seen in our surveys is that the American public says one thing they like to see in candidates for office is strong religious beliefs,” said Cooperman, who noted that when Pew asked voters what qualities impact their vote, the most negative attribute was someone who doesn’t believe in God.

“On the whole, American adults tend to say that they do want strong religious beliefs in candidates and they tend to say that they would be less likely to vote for someone who says they do not believe in God,” he added. “Candidates are reflecting the views of the public when they do tend to affiliate with a religious group.”

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