The American people have long been claiming to be free thinking; a freethinker is a person who makes up opinions and decisions based on reasoning independently, away from any authority or group, especially one who opposes the political leaders and the religious dogma. Freethinking and secularism have always had a very important role in the American politics and culture; therefore the American people in general may not be the free thinkers that they claim to be. Their thoughts are always influenced by religion and the political divisions that exist in America.
The issue of free thinking can be seen to have begun sometimes back in the United States history. For example when John F. Kennedy was elected as the democratic presidential candidate in the 1960 some people starting discussing the effect that the religion had on this. Because of the reason that Kennedy was a Catholic some people feared that when Kennedy becomes the president he would be greatly influenced by his church and its leadership in Rome.
Kennedy decided therefore to act on the issue and his campaigns no longer focused on the fact that he had a religious faith but instead focused on the American custom of tolerance and fairness between people of all faiths in the United States as well as those who had no faith. The effect of religion on the politics of the United States was again seen in the 2004 elections which remarked on the issue that all the candidates had focused their attention to the importance of prayer and faith in their lives and this clearly shown the high influence of religion on the American politics. The church also plays a very big role in that the followers of a certain religion will tend to vote for a person from the same religion with the hope that once he is voted he will favor them in one way or the other. The influence of religion can also be clearly seen in the 19th century where some early educational movements in the urban areas were aimed at “Americanize” the arrival of immigrants who were Catholics. Religion is also believed to have influenced the women in the early part of the nineteenth century and this caused the women to begin protesting against their political and civil degradation while referring to the bible for answers and support.
There was a widespread surprise and consternation in the impact of religion on the 2004 presidential election results, but this should not have come as a shock given the results’ intensity and closeness. Analysts say that faith and religion have played a very vital role in the American elections since when the United States became an independent state. Comparing the role of religion in the past and in the 2004 elections, analysts say that the effect of faith and religion has reduced. In the early days there used to be a very strong political difference among religious communities but that has then been replaced by political groups that are based on religion and faith. The American elections outcomes have been affected by three different areas of religion; the religious belonging makes people vote for a candidate that they belong to the same religion with based on the fact that religious books like the bible talk a lot about support and togetherness as people of the same faith, the other aspect of religion that affects the outcome of the American elections is the religious behavior, people of a certain religion believe that by voting for a candidate who belongs to the same religious group, he or she will advocate for behaviors that are in line with his or her religion and therefore the religion will be more strong in America. The last aspect of religion that affects election outcomes is the religious believing; the American people are for believe that voting a person of a certain religious group will have a great effect on the belief of the American people and this leads to the candidate with the majority religious followers winning the elections. Each of the three aspects of religion discussed above affects the way people vote and their opinions on political matters, ideology and partisanship. The moral values of a candidate also plays a major role in the coalitions of the major parties and also the religious appeals made during presidential campaigns play a very important role in the election outcome (John, 2007). Statistics have shown that eight of every ten Americans say that they believe in God and it is also believed that the evangelical Christians in 2004 helped president George W. Bush into the Whitehouse for a second term because he was a follower. In the 2008 elections a lot of interest was put on the economy and this led to the two presidential candidates focusing less on the social issues that have divided the Americans into two, for example gay marriage, abortion and sexual education. In America the Protestants have the majority followers with a percentage of 51.3 while the Catholics represent 23.9 of the American population. Evangelical Protestants are believed to have formed the coalition that saw Bush into Whitehouse for a second term in 2004 and in the year 2008 the same group although not as stronger as in the 2004 supported Senator McCain. McCain’s support among the religious people in the 2008 presidential elections became stronger when he chose Sarah Palin who is a devout and conservative Christian to be his running mate. The Mainline Protestants were seen to be evenly divided between the two candidates in the 2008 presidential elections as it was the case in 2000 and in 2004. Barrack Obama had a 96% support of all the black Protestants and he also had a lot of support from the Catholic Hispanics while McCain gains a lot of support from the moderate Catholics. Jews were seen to portray certain skepticism though they had a lot of support for Barrack Obama (John, 2008).
Gender is another factor that has affected the free thinkers in the American polls. Many people have the mentality of discriminating candidates on basis of their genders. Most Americans focus on the gender of a candidate for the party identification and also in the congressional voting. At the aggregate level gender issues are considered to be the most powerful force in the shaping of the identification of parties. There has been efforts to come up with an explanation of the increased gender gap in the American political persuasion but this has resulted in that the context and the setting of an election greatly influences the people’s decision to participate. In a study to determine the contextual effects if women candidates it was suggested that the presence of women mostly changes the nature of political discourse and this leads to the feeling of alienation from politics by the women. In 1992 women were more persuaded to vote in a certain direction due to the increase of women candidates. The psychological engagement of women in politics was also increased by the fact that there were more women candidates than in the previous elections (Fulton, 2007). Although gender has been seen to play a very important role in the influencing Americans polls many people still believe that if women were given the same sources of funds for political campaigns as the men there would be more participation of women in politics than it is currently. Compared to the early days there has been increased participation of women in politics though most Americans say that they prefer a male president (Susan and Richard, 2006).
Income is also another important factor that influences the way we Americans think. The people’s choice of a candidate in America has also been affected by the fact that most people will vote for a candidate whose policies are aimed to increase their own economic welfare and benefits. In most cases in America a person’s economic status is related to his education, income, occupation and the family background. People who are almost in the same social economic status are likely to vote on one side because they have almost similar preferences as concern with the public facilities and the neighborhood environment. This group of people is also likely to have similar values, opinions and expectations of the government welfare and economic issues. On the other side people who have different economic conditions are likely to vote differently or have contrasting opinions on the government policies relating to socioeconomic issues like unemployment and taxes (Lisa, 2009).
Race is another issue that makes the Americans not be termed as free thinking individuals. An example of this is in the 2004 presidential elections; President Bush won in the popular vote by 3.5 million although he had a 14 million margin nationwide among the white voters while on the other side John Kerry had a margin of 11 million among the non-white voters nationwide. These margins still remain unexplained and the only solution to this would be due to racism. Over the past forty years the Republicans have applied the racial fears to come up with a strong white majority who are mostly from the south. Race in America was also evident in the 1968 presidential campaigns where Richard Nixon promised the people that he would be very tough on crime, this was seen as a way to portray the blacks to the white as being criminals, dangerous and immoral. Another incident is in the 1980 campaigns where Ronald Reagan used the phrase “state rights” which is a phrase that reminded the people when the states had more freedom including the freedom to racial discrimination. These and other incidents in the American history clearly shows that unless all the Americans are willing to address the race issue then the racial gap will continue to widen (Tony, 2006). Recently in the 2008 campaigns McCain referred to the Company boss of a small company in Ohio-Joe as a person who would suffer because of the taxes that Barrack Obama was planning to introduce, but looking deeper into Joe he represents the group of the blue collar white male people who would not vote for the democratic candidate not because of the policies that he has in mind and on paper but because of the color of his skin. America does not openly address the issue of races in the campaigns but it is in the people minds and most Americans do not vote on a free mind but instead favor candidates by the color of their skins. It was clear that the issue of racial discrimination was almost coming to an end when the Democratic Party nominated Barrack Obama as their presidential candidate, but this was not the case as it was later seen in the campaigns. McCain on his campaign in a rural area in Ohio publicly announced that he feared that if his opponent Barrack Obama wins the Blacks may take over America and he added that Obama and his wife may be anti-white. This clearly shows how Americans are influenced in their votes by the issue of race. A recent poll carried out by Washington post-ABC news shows that out of 10, 3 Americans admit to being racial biased, this is seen by analysts as not accurate because most Americans will not admit to having hang-ups about racial matters.
Age is another factor that greatly affects the so called free thinker in the American polls. Age determines the information that an individual gains regarding a certain election exercise. The old people will tend to believe everything they hear on the media and this might end up making them to vote in a particular direction. The other effect that age has is that most old people will look at a young candidate as being not fully matured and so they end up voting for an older candidate. The other effect of age is that most aged people will seek religion to console themselves and even for psychological support. This means that the old people will be highly influenced by their religious leaders in decision making when i8t comes to polls.
In conclusion, it can be seen clearly that the American people are generally not free thinkers as they claim to be in most of the polls conducted. This is evident in that most Americans are always biased in a certain direction. The major factors that have been identified to affect the way we think are religion; this is so because most of us will always believe what our religious leaders tell us, our thinking is also affected by the gender issue because people of different genders will tend to think as a group and therefore influencing each other’s thoughts, people in the same income bracket will also think in a similar way, race is also an important issue in America because it influences the way people think, for example a white American may see a black American as dangerous, the last determinant of the way we think is age, people at different age stages will always think and reason in very different ways.
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Lisa Bells, US elections 2008: Race and gender issues in the presidential election, Helium periodicals, URL: http://www.helium.com/items/869631-us-elections-2008-race and-gender-issues-in-the-presidential-election, retrieved on 26th June 2009 at 12:52, pp.1-2
Susan J. Carroll and Richard Logan, (2006), Gender and elections: shaping the future of American politics Fox Edition illustrated, UK Publisher Cambridge University Press, pp.128-132
Tony Favro, (2008), City Mayors, Not red and blue but black and white are the true colors of US elections, available online, URL: http://www.citymayors.com/politics/usa_elections_race.html, retrieved on 26th June 2009 at 10:23
Cite this Comm Seminar Freethinking and Secularism
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