July 18, 2006

Religion and Stem Cell Research

A Pew Forum Fact Sheet

In August 2005, the Pew Forum released poll data indicating a steady increase in support for stem cell research since 2002. The report showed increases among evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics. Roughly half (52%) of opponents of stem cell research said their religious beliefs were the biggest influence on their thinking (compared to only 7% of supporters).

View the original survey report (August 3, 2005)

Most Favor Stem Cell Research

Public awareness of, and support for, stem cell research appears to be leveling off, after showing significant gains from 2002 to 2004. Currently, 48% say they have heard a lot about the issue, which is little changed since last December (47%).

More Americans continue to say it is more important to conduct stem cell research that might result in new medical cures than to avoid destroying the potential life of human embryos involved in such research (by 57% to 30%). That is about the same level of support for stem cell research as last December, but up modestly since August 2004 (52%). Three years ago, in March 2002, just 43% supported stem cell research.

As in the past, greater awareness of the stem cell debate is associated with support for stem cell research. Roughly two-thirds of those who have heard a lot about the issue (68%) believe it is more important to conduct stem cell research than to not destroy the potential life of embryos. That compares with 49% of those who have heard a little about the issue, and just a third of those who are unfamiliar with the debate over stem cell research.

Where Support Has Grown

Three years ago, Americans were only dimly aware of and fairly evenly divided over stem cell research. Since then, support for this research has grown among most demographic and political groups. The shift has been most striking among middle-aged Americans (ages 50-64), high school graduates, mainline Protestants and white Catholics, and liberal Democrats. There are some exceptions to this pattern, however. Just a third of conservative Republicans say it is more important to conduct stem cell research, virtually the same percentage as in March 2002 (32%).

Over the same period, moderate and liberal Republicans have become more supportive of stem cell research; as a result, the gap between conservative Republicans and GOP moderates and liberals has grown from 16 points to 29 points. White evangelical Protestants also remain opposed to stem cell research. About a third (32%) favor such research today, while 50% are opposed. Three years ago, 26% of evangelicals backed stem cell research.

What Shapes Stem Cell Views?

Supporters and opponents of stem cell research draw on very different sources when thinking about the issue. Roughly half (52%) of opponents say their religious beliefs are the biggest influence on their thinking, while 13% cite what they have seen or read in the media and 12% mention their education.

Conservative Republican opponents are especially likely (70%) to cite religion as their main influence, as are evangelical Protestant opponents (69%).

Among supporters, 31% say the biggest influence on their thinking is the media, and 28% mention their education. Just 7% say religion is the most important influence. College graduates (44%) who favor the research are particularly likely to name education as their primary influence, as are pro-research liberal Democrats (43%).