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Mormon? Catholic? Religious labels matter less in 2012 campaign

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A recent study of voting patterns in Congress found that legislators follow ideology and party affiliation, no matter what their religion.

Bill D’Antonio, a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America, looked at roll-call votes on abortion from 1977 to 2010.

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Before 1980, the votes followed denominational lines. Mainline Protestants from both parties voted for abortion rights. More than half of Catholics from both parties voted against, according to the study, being published in a new book, The Religious Factor in Congress: 1960 to 2010.

After 1980, the pattern changed. Most Democrats became supportive of abortion rights, and most Republicans became anti-abortion.

"Party now trumps religion," D’Antonio said.

In recent years, Democrats have tried to woo evangelical voters on the issue of social justice. That makes sense to Marcia Pally, author of The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good.

"When the ordinary person in the pew starts working in a prison-ministry program or food pantry, or goes to Haiti or Uganda and works to prevent malaria or build houses," she said, "their priorities change."

Still, Democrats’ appeals to evangelicals have largely failed — abortion is a big reason, Pally said — and polls show that a growing number of evangelicals support Romney.

Robert Jones, president of the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute, said evangelicals were skeptical about Romney at first. In October 2010, about 40 percent of evangelicals had a favorable view of the Republican candidate.

Once it became clear that Romney was Obama’s opponent, Jones said, that figure shot up to 68 percent.

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