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In a tiny Ohio town, does religion matter to voters?

A yard sign in Piqua, Ohio displays symbols for both the Democratic and Republican parties - a donkey and an elephant. (Zurie Pope/YJI)

Piqua, Ohio, U.S.A. – When asked during a 2019 Gallup poll whether they believed in God, 87% of people in the United States said yes.

But does that matter at the ballot box?

Although Gallup polling also showed church membership is the lowest its been at least since the late 1930s, and younger generations are becoming increasingly disengaged in institutionalized religion, faith still plays a major role in American life.

Christianity is the prevailing religious denomination in the U. S and Donald Trump – by going after transgender people in the military and appointing figures like Vice President Mike Pence and Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett – has been courting the right’s evangelical, fundamentalist wing his entire presidency.

Despite Trump’s perceived sway over faith-based voters,  Democrat Joe Biden has leaned into his Catholicism,  and used it to court the oft-ignored “religious left” who are expected to come out to the polls in droves on November 3rd.

Ohio is not as diverse in religious denominations as states like New York or California. Here, 73% of adults in Ohio are Christian, with non-Christian faiths forming  only 4% of the population, according to the Pew Research Center.

A Christian church in Piqua, Ohio. (Zurie Pope/YJI)

Piqua, Ohio, is even more uniform, with mainline Protestants making up a substantial percentage of the citizenry, along with a strong Catholic presence from the town’s German immigrant roots.

Nonetheless, homogeneity in religious beliefs does not mean homogeneity in political conviction, and voters from both sides of the aisle have utilized their religious beliefs and taken them to the voting booth.

Mormonism – a faith that makes up less than 1% of Piqua’s population – has historically been a Republican voting bloc.

Elder Arthur Clark, a Mormon who has been a part of the church since childhood, did not buck that ideological trend.

“Our church doesn’t tell us who to vote for,” he said, “but personally, I’m voting for President Trump.”

He used abortion as a reason for his decision, calling himself “a big pro-life guy,” and praising Barrett, whose ardent religiosity he admires.

Clark also admonished the media’s portrayal of Mormons and listed it as a factor into his decision. The portrayal of Mormons in pop culture is “not the best,” he said, but added that their ideals were “getting out there more and more.”

On the other end of the spectrum is Nancy Ruth, who has attended both The Piqua Grace Church and Valley Church for the better portion of her adult life. One would expect she – like many of her fellow congregants – is a Trump supporter.

But Ruth voted for Biden. Not only that, but she believed her religion played no role in her vote.

“I try to keep those two things separated,” she said. “We don’t need religion in politics.”

She felt that the partisan divide would only be exacerbated if religious doctrines influenced policy decisions.

“There’s so much bickering going on,” she said, “and people already can’t respect each other’s differences.”

Zurie Pope is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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