September 9, 2004

Religion and the 2004 Election: A Pre-Election Analysis

Correction: Two of the tables (27 and 28) from the original survey have been updated. Please download the revised version of the survey summary, as well as the full report, below.

Survey summary (.pdf)
Full survey report (.pdf)

Much has been said in recent years about the growing identification of religious conservatives — especially Evangelical Protestants — with the Republican Party and the corresponding affinity of a growing number of Mainline Protestants, minorities and secularists with the Democratic Party. A new survey, which gauges the political attitudes in 18 distinct American religious communities on a wide variety of issues, confirms those trends. But the survey also shows that the connections between religious beliefs and politics are far more complex than commonly assumed.

The Fourth National Survey of Religion and Politics, which was conducted in the spring of 2004, pays special attention to the diversity of opinion within the nation’s three major religious traditions – Evangelical Christians, Mainline Protestants and white Roman Catholics – by comparing the views of traditionalists, centrists and modernists within each group. The results show that religious traditionalists, whether Evangelical, Mainline Protestant or Catholic, hold similar positions on issue after issue, and that modernists of these various traditions are similarly like-minded. The divisions between traditionalists and modernists are strongest on social issues such as abortion, school vouchers and gay marriage, but large majorities of both groups agree on many other issues, including the need for anti-poverty programs, strong environmental protection and gay rights.

The survey, co-sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, was conducted by John C. Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron who has conducted similar polls in connection with the last three presidential elections. Green, who is director of the university’s Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, is considered one of the nation’s foremost experts on the influence of religion on American politics. An explanation of the survey methodology can be found at the end of this report.

Other highlights of the survey include the following:

  • Most Americans want politicians to address issues of faith, but they are sharply divided over whether religious groups should become directly involved in politics.
  • A clear majority supports embryonic stem cell research, but religious groups are more divided on the issue of abortion. Overall, only a slim majority favors a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy in most circumstances.
  • A solid majority supports traditional marriage over civil unions or same-sex marriage. At the same time, an even larger majority of those surveyed favor equal rights for gay people.
  • On economic issues, Americans have little appetite for reducing government spending, but they narrowly approve of large tax cuts. But interestingly, a substantial majority would support tax increases to pay for anti-poverty programs. Almost two-thirds of Americans voice skepticism about free trade, and a large majority favors strong environmental regulation.
  • The events of recent years have not led to increased support for isolationism in international affairs. Indeed, the number of Americans who believe this country should avoid foreign entanglements has dropped 7 percentage points since 2000. What’s more, nearly three-fourths of voters believe the U.S. should cooperate with international organizations rather than taking the lead in keeping peace. However, a sizeable majority (62%) also supports the concept of preemptive war.