Perhaps the greatest disparity between the religious makeup of Congress and the people it represents, however, is in the percentage of the unaffiliated – those who describe their religion as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” According to information gathered by CQ Roll Call and the Pew Forum, no members of Congress say they are unaffiliated. By contrast, about one-sixth of U.S. adults (16%) are not affiliated with any particular faith. Only six members of the 112th Congress (about 1%) do not specify a religious affiliation, which is similar to the percentage of the public that says they don’t know or refuses to specify their faith.
Of the 535 members of the new Congress, 304 – or 57% – are Protestants, which is slightly higher than the share of Protestants in the U.S. adult population (51%). Compared with the previous Congress, the 112th Congress has added 12 Protestants, an increase of roughly two percentage points.
Baptists remain the largest Protestant denominational family in Congress, essentially unchanged from the 111th Congress, though there are somewhat fewer self-described Baptists on Capitol Hill (13%) than in the national population (17%). Methodists have declined slightly in their proportion of Congress, dropping by six members, or about one percentage point. Nonetheless, Methodists still comprise a larger share of Congress (10%) than of the public (6%).
Some other Protestant groups also are overrepresented in Congress relative to their numbers in the general population. For instance, while fewer than 2% of American adults identify themselves as Episcopalians, about 8% of Congress is affiliated with the Episcopal Church. In addition, 8% of Congress is Presbyterian, about three times the percentage of American adults who say they are Presbyterians (3%).
Protestants who do not specify a particular denomination grew the most from the 111th to the 112th Congress, increasing their ranks by 19 members, to a total of 58. They now comprise 11% of Congress, up from 7% two years ago. The proportion of unspecified Protestants is nearly as high among incumbents (10%) as among newly elected members (13%). It is unclear whether any of these unspecified Protestants are affiliated with nondenominational churches; just two members of the 112th Congress specify that they belong to nondenominational Protestant churches.
If Protestants are not counted together but as separate denominations, then Catholics are the largest religious group in the 112th Congress, with 156 members. Compared with the previous Congress, their ranks have thinned by five members. Still, Catholics comprise about 29% of the House and Senate, compared with about one-quarter of the U.S. adult population (24%).
Jews, who make up about 2% of the U.S. adult population, account for 7% of Congress as a whole and 12% of the Senate. However, there are six fewer Jewish members in the 112th Congress than there were in the 111th, a one-percentage-point decline. Mormons also make up about 2% of the U.S. public and a slightly larger portion of Congress (nearly 3%). That figure is about the same as in the previous Congress; there are 15 Mormons in the 112th Congress, one more than previously.
Some other small religious groups are about as numerically well-represented on Capitol Hill as in the general population. Muslims, who account for 0.6% of the U.S. adult population, make up 0.4% of Congress, while Buddhists make up 0.7% of the U.S. adult population and 0.6% of Congress. There are no Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus or people who practice other world religions in Congress; these groups each have a small presence (less than 1%) in the U.S. population as a whole.
Posted by Stuart James