WASHINGTON — Religious values took a back seat to the economy in this election. Neither candidate spoke much about faith. But researchers say young voters, including young religious voters averse to mixing religion and politics, were key to re-electing President Barack Obama.
Fervent young Christians prayed in a park near the White House as Americans voted to re-elect President Barack Obama. But it was a free-form kind of worship with no place for political slogans or banners. The Reverend Patrick Mahoney, who helped organize the event, wanted Mitt Romney to win, but was willing to take the election's outcome in stride.
"We'll work with the president on issues we can work on," he said. "He's our president. We'll respect the office. We'll pray."
On the other side of the White House, other Christians were already praying inside a tent within view of the president's office. The state of the economy may have concerned most Americans in this election. But for religious voters like those who participated in prayer marathons, like this one behind the White House, values issues were at least as important.
"I believe in the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of life and our current administration does not uphold those values," said Barbara Potts who took part in the prayer vigil.
And yet here too, younger worshippers, including prayer organizer Jason Hersey, refused to talk about specific issues or candidates.
"I did vote this morning, and in this context and this place we really felt that this was hallowed ground, that there is only one name that is to be spoken from this place, the name of Jesus," said Hershey.
At the Public Religion Research Institute, Dan Cox studies the role that faith played for the electorate at large.
"Although it definitely played a secondary role or a supporting role to the economy and jobs, I think it was important if we look at it as more of a chapter in a larger story that's unfolding," said Cox. "And what I mean here is the dramatically changing religious landscape."
Religious conservatives were decisive in past Republican victories, and are still an important part of the party's base.
But one in five Americans, according to a recent poll, do not identify with a specific religion, and this group is predominantly young.
While many are still deeply spiritual, they lean toward the Democratic Party and tend to be socially liberal, says Cox.
"Although they still don't turn out in high numbers as in other groups - so they're only about 12 percent of voters in 2012 - they are making a difference," Cox noted.
Cox notes that they were crucial in passing ballot measures in several states that favored legalization of marijuana and same-sex marriage. And he predicts they will be a growing electoral force in years to come.