January 26, 2005

Religion & Public Life: A Faith-Based Partisan Divide

The Pew Forum’s chapter from the new Pew Research Center publication, Trends 2005

Learn more about the publication, Trends 2005

Religion and Politics ReportIntroduction

The United States has a long tradition of separating church from state, but an equally powerful inclination to mix religion with politics. Throughout our nation’s history, great political and social movements – from abolition to women’s suffrage to civil rights to today’s struggles over abortion and gay marriage – have drawn upon religious institutions for moral authority, inspirational leadership and organizational muscle. But for the past generation, religion has come to be woven more deeply into the fabric of partisan politics than ever before.

The 2004 election was the latest in a string of modern presidential campaigns in which candidates openly discussed their religious beliefs, churches were increasingly active in political mobilization, and voters sorted themselves out not just by their policy preferences and demographic traits but also by the depth of their religious commitment. In fact, whether a person regularly attends church (or synagogue or mosque) was more important in determining his or her vote for president than such demographic characteristics as gender, age, income and region, and just as important as race. This report tracks and analyzes these underlying trends.