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How Much of An Impact Will Faith & Religion Make in the 2012 Presidential Campaign?

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"We’ve lost sight of our great heritage as a nation founded on Biblical truth."

Without fail, religion always seems to solidify its place in political campaign seasons. Every electoral cycle, without fail, the vast majority of voters wish to see candidates who have strong roots in a faith tradition.

In the 2012 campaign, this sentiment became clear earlier this year, with candidates facing intense scrutiny and questioning regarding where they stand on God, creation, science, worship and almost every other subject that falls under the umbrella of the American religious experience.

GOP candidates, in particular, have fielded a variety of questions about their beliefs. From conspiracy theories surrounding the theory of "Dominionism," to profiles on Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry's belief systems, the media are feeding a faith-savvy electorate with plenty of information about how the candidates' worldviews have been shaped by their pastors and congregations.

While we have an idea, based on the aformentioned coverage and on past campaign cycles, that faith and religion will be a motivating force for a substantial portion of the population, how heavily these allegiances will weigh this year is yet to be seen.

In 2008, Barack Obama faced scrutiny after Rev. Jeremiah Wright's fiery sermons hit YouTube. Considering the fury this faith controversy stirred, there's no telling what's in store in in the coming months. Already, there was a minor uptick in 2012 faith drama when Rick Perry and Mitt Romney battled it out over anti-Mormon comments made by Pastor Robert Jeffress. Considering these issues, it will be intriguing to see how faith weaves its way into the political dialogue over the next 12 months.

On Tuesday, a new poll came out that provides some insight into just how important a candidate's faith may be to his or her election prospects. The Public Religion Research Institute's new study, entitled, "American Values Survey," found that two-thirds of voters (67 percent) believe that it is very or somewhat important for a presidential candidate to have strong faith beliefs. Of this proportion, 39 percent claimed that it was "very" important, with the remaining 28 percent saying that it is "somewhat" important.

Interestingly, among those who have strong inclinations in this direction, they say what truly matters is that a candidate has strong religious beliefs (the beliefs, themselves, aren't as important). About 19 percent of voters claim that they would be less likely to vote for a candidate if he or she had religious beliefs that were different from his or her own. This is a relatively small proportion, thus reaffirming the importance of faith in American politics.

When it comes to the top Republican candidates -- Mitt Romney, Herman Cain and Rick Perry -- GOP voters see Cain as having the most similar political views to their own. On the faith front, Rick Perry wins out, with Cain not trailing far behind. Mitt Romney, though, continues to have a major gap in relating to the American people when it comes to his faith. This, of course, may be due to a lack of public knowledge about the Mormon religion.

Outside of these findings, the study gauged a variety of other subjects. According to the research, 60 percent of Americans believe that "the distribution of wealth" should be more equal. Additionally, the findings seem to indicate major support for "the Buffet Rule," which would raise taxes on those making $1 million per year or more (70 percent support this, with 27 percent opposing the measure). The entire report can be read here.

When it comes to 2012, it's likely that both religious left and religious right groups will be out en force to try and garner as much support for the candidates associated with their beliefs as possible. As we've reported, the Obama campaign is already gearing up for its faith-based outreach. And Right Wing Watch, a blog that seeks to monitor conservatives in America, is lamenting the right's apparent search for evangelical votes.

Conservatives have organized a major DVD event (i.e. accomplished through nationwide viewing parties) called "One Nation Under God" that will be occurring across America this Saturday. Here's the event's description:

We’ve lost sight of our great heritage as a nation founded on Biblical truth, and the consequences are dire:  schools are failing, the divorce rate is climbing, and our society is rife with scandal and corruption.  It’s time to reclaim our Biblical heritage and bring God back to the center of American life.  Where do we start?

On Saturday, November 12, United in Purpose presents One Nation Under God – a national, two-hour premiere DVD event featuring top American thinkers and political leaders who will bring the truth about God and America to people gathered in homes and churches across the nation.

Invite your family, friends and neighbors to gather in your home to watch One Nation Under God on Saturday, November 12.  Together, you’ll learn how to view history and current events in light of God’s Word, and how to take action that aligns with His truth.  You can make a difference – one person, one household, one neighborhood at a time!  Tools, tips, and timelines for a successful party will be provided.

Among the presenters in the DVD presentation will be historian David Barton, James Dobson (founder of Family Talk) and Newt Gingrich, among others:

Already, leftist groups like RRW are frustrated by this effort to rally voters in preparation for the 2012 election. RRW explains:

"These house parties are part of an effort called Champion The Vote which seeks to register five million Religious Right voters before the 2012 election.  The Champion The Vote effort is itself part of an even larger effort called United In Purpose, which seeks to mobilize forty million Religious Right voters over the next decade."

Below, see a portion of Dobson's interview, which RRW took particular issue with. After all, it maintains that the U.S. could lose God's favor if the nation continues to drift away from Biblical values -- a notion that RRW and other leftist groups may disagree with:

Recent polling data, mixed with efforts by both conservatives and liberals, showcase the importance of faith in candidate selection. While there are many who maintain that religion and politics should remain separate, running a successful campaign -- at least in contemporary politics -- seems to hinge, at least partially, on how one handles and markets his or her faith experience.

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