August 24, 2006

Many Americans Uneasy with Mix of Religion and Politics

Navigate this Report
Introduction and Summary
Section I – Religion and Public Life
Section II – Religion and Politics
Section III – Religion and Science
Section IV – Religious Beliefs
About the Survey

Introduction and Summary

FigureThe relationship between religion and politics is a controversial one. While the public remains more supportive of religion’s role in public life than in the 1960s, Americans are uneasy with the approaches offered by both liberals and conservatives. Fully 69% of Americans say that liberals have gone too far in keeping religion out of schools and government. But the proportion who express reservations about attempts by Christian conservatives to impose their religious values has edged up in the past year, with about half the public (49%) now expressing wariness about this.

The Democratic Party continues to face a serious “God problem,” with just 26% saying the party is friendly to religion. However, the proportion of Americans who say the Republican Party is friendly to religion, while much larger, has fallen from 55% to 47% in the past year, with a particularly sharp decline coming among white evangelical Protestants (14 percentage points).

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted July 6-19 among 2,003 adults, finds that most Americans (59%) continue to say that religion’s influence on the country is declining, and most of those who express this view believe that this is a bad thing. The public is more divided on the question of whether religion’s influence on government is increasing (42%) or decreasing (45%). And in contrast to views of religion’s influence on the country, most of those who think that religion is increasing its influence on government leaders and institutions view this as a bad thing.

The survey finds that religious conservatives, and white evangelical Christians specifically, have no equal and opposite group on the religious left. About 7% of the public say they identify with the “religious left” political movement. That is not much smaller than the 11% who identify themselves as members of the “religious right,” but the religious left is considerably less cohesive in its political views than the religious right.

The survey traced the spiritual roots of the religious right and left to two broader faith communities. On the right, white evangelical Christians comprise 24% of the population and form a distinct group whose members share core religious beliefs as well as crystallized and consistently conservative political attitudes.

On the left, a larger share of the public (32%) identifies as “liberal or progressive Christians.” But unlike evangelicals, progressive Christians come from different religious traditions and disagree almost as often as they agree on a number of key political and social issues.

These differences in the makeup of the religious left and right are an important reason why white evangelicals remain a more politically potent force. On issues ranging from the origins of life to Christ’s second coming, evangelicals express distinctly different views from those held by the rest of the public and even other religious groups.

FigureFor example, six-in-ten white evangelical Protestants say that the Bible should be the guiding principle in making laws when it conflicts with the will of the people, a view rejected by an equally large majority of Americans, including most Catholics and white mainline Protestants.

Seven-in-ten white evangelicals (69%) believe God gave Israel to the Jewish people and a solid majority (59%) believes that Israel is the fulfilment of biblical prophecy ­ views rejected by majorities of the rest of the public, including most mainline Protestants and Catholics. Significantly, those who believe that God gave Israel to the Jews and that the state of Israel fulfills biblical prophecy are much more likely than others to sympathize with Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians.

On matters of faith, fully 62% of white evangelicals say the Bible is the actual word of God, to be taken literally. In contrast, only 35% of the public ­ including just 24% of Catholics and 17% of white mainline Protestants ­ share this literal view of the scriptures, with most believing that although the Bible is God’s word, not everything in it is literally true.

The survey also finds continuing tension in the public’s views of science and religion, especially in opinions about evolution and the origins of life. However, there is broad agreement across the religious spectrum that scientific advances will help rather than harm mankind. Nearly two-thirds of all Americans (65%) express a positive opinion of scientific advances, compared with 19% who feel such advances harm mankind.

FigureDespite the ongoing conflicts over the role of religion in public life, contemporary policy issues are being widely addressed in churches and other houses of worship. More than half of those who attend services at least monthly say members of the clergy in their place of worship have spoken out about such politically charged issues as abortion (59%), the situation in Iraq (53%), laws regarding homosexuals (52%), and the environment (48%). Smaller proportions report hearing their clergy talking about evolution and intelligent design (40%), the death penalty (31%), embryonic stem cell research (24%) and immigration (21%). But nearly everyone ­ 92% ­ says that their clergy has spoken out about poverty and homelessness.

Finally, while an overwhelming percentage of Christians (79%) say they believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ, far fewer see Christ’s return as imminent. Overall just 20% of all Christians expect Christ to return to earth in their lifetime; even among those who say that the Bible is the literal word of God, just 37% expect Christ to return to earth in their lifetime.

Roadmap to the Report

Section I, which begins on page 5, covers public attitudes toward religion’s role in the nation, including opinions about whether the Bible or the will of the people should have greater influence on the country’s laws. Section II, beginning on page 9, shows continuing differences over issues involving religion, politics and policy. Section III highlights attitudes toward religion and science; it begins on page 16. Section IV, which starts on page 21, focuses on people’s religious beliefs. Following the report, beginning on page 25, is a statement on the survey’s methodology followed by complete topline results.


Section I – Religion and Public Life

FigureAmericans overwhelmingly consider the U.S. a Christian nation: Two-in-three (67%) characterize the country this way, down just slightly from 71% in March 2005.1 A decade ago, Americans were somewhat less likely to tie the nation’s identity to Christianity. In 1996, 60% considered the U.S. a Christian nation. By 2002, however, the figure had climbed to 67%, and since then views on this question have remained fairly consistent.

Seculars are the only subgroup in which fewer than a majority sees the U.S. as a Christian country, although even among seculars nearly half (48%) view the U.S. this way. More whites than blacks characterize the United States as a Christian country (by 70% to 58%), and people ages 50 and older are more likely to express this view than are younger people (by 74% to 63%). Opinions also differ along party lines, with more Republicans (76%) than either Democrats (63%) or independents (67%) viewing the U.S. a Christian nation.

Religion and American Law

FigureAlthough the public clearly sees a strong link between Christianity and the country’s national identity, most Americans think citizen preferences should outweigh the Bible as an influence on American law. When asked which should have more influence over the laws of the country ­ the Bible or the will of the people, even when it conflicts with the Bible ­ most Americans (63%) say the people’s will should have more sway. A significant minority (32%), however, believes the Bible should be more important.

Views about the appropriate relationship between scripture and the law vary significantly among demographic groups. Whites overwhelmingly say the people’s will should be more influential (65% to 30%), while blacks are almost evenly divided (50% say the Bible, 48% the will of the people). There also is a modest gender gap, with women (37%) more likely than men (29%) to say the Bible should be more important. Additionally, younger people and highly educated people are more likely to say that the will of the people should have greater influence.

And while there are some partisan differences on this issue, both parties are deeply divided along ideological lines. Roughly half (49%) of conservative Republicans say the Bible should trump popular will, but just 29% of moderate Republicans agree. And 77% of liberal Democrats say the people’s will should determine the laws, compared to 60% of moderate and conservative Democrats.

Not surprisingly, religious identities, behaviors, and attitudes influence how people feel about this question. Strong majorities of seculars, mainline white Protestants, and Catholics think popular will should have the greatest impact on law. Among white evangelicals and black Protestants, however, majorities believe the Bible should have more authority.

Meanwhile, people who attend religious services frequently are more inclined to consider the Bible the ultimate source of legal authority, with 52% of those who attend at least once a week saying the Bible should be more influential.

FigureViews about Biblical literalism are significantly correlated with this question; among those who believe the Bible is the actual word of God and is literally true, 65% think it should have more influence over law than the will of the people. Among those who believe the Bible is the word of God, but that not everything in it should be taken literally, only 20% think the Bible should have more influence. And only 3% of people who say the Bible is not the word of God feel it should be more important than popular will.

Religion’s Influence

Since the late 1980s, polls have consistently shown that most Americans think religion’s influence on the nation is waning. The only exception to this pattern was in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, when Americans overwhelmingly felt that religion’s influence was on the rise.

Today, roughly six-in-ten (59%) say religion is losing influence on American life, while 34% say it is gaining influence. And, overwhelmingly, Americans favor more, not less, religion in the country. Fully 79% of those who say religion’s role is declining ­ representing 50% of the public overall ­ believe this is a bad thing. Meanwhile, among the minority who feel religion’s influence is growing, more say it is good than bad, by a margin of almost two-to-one.

FigureWhile most think religion’s influence on American life is in decline, there is a division of opinion over whether religion’s influence on government is rising or falling. About as many say religion is losing influence on government leaders and institutions, such as the president, Congress and Supreme Court (45%), as say religion’s political influence is on the rise (42%).

Most of those who say that religion’s influence on government is declining believe this is a bad thing. But Republicans and Democrats who perceive a growing religious influence on government differ over the impact of this trend. Overall, about a third of Republicans say religion’s influence over government is growing, and by a wide margin (23% vs. 10%) they say this is a good thing for the country. Among Democrats, 45% say religion has a greater impact on government today, but they generally say this is a bad thing (28%) rather than a good thing (14%). Independents, for the most part, share the views of Democrats.

Note

1. On the current survey, respondents were asked two versions of this question. The first, which has been asked in previous Pew polls, reads: “Do you consider the United States a Christian nation, or not?” The second reads: “Some people think of the United States as a Christian nation. Others don’t think of the U.S. that way. Which of these comes closest to your view?” Results revealed no significant differences between the two versions. All results presented here are for the first version.


Section II – Religion and Politics

Faith and Politics

FigureThere is no consensus regarding whether churches and other houses of worship should express their views on day-to-day social and political questions. Roughly half (51%) say churches and other houses of worship should express their views on such issues, while 46% believe they should keep out of political matters. A year ago public opinion was almost exactly the same (51% should express views, 44% should keep out), and over the last five years these figures have remained remarkably steady.

Blacks, people under age 50, conservative Republicans, and Southerners are particularly likely to believe churches and other houses of worship should speak out on political issues. Meanwhile, whites, people ages 50 and older, liberal Democrats, and people who live in the East are more likely to think such organizations should stay out of politics.

Opinions on the issue also differ according to religious affiliation. White evangelicals and black Protestants tend to favor a vocal role for churches on political issues, while seculars, white mainline Protestants, and Catholics would prefer that churches stay out of the political arena.

While the public is divided over churches speaking out on political and social issues, most Americans view President Bush’s expressions of religious faith as appropriate. Roughly half (52%) say Bush mentions his religious faith the right amount, while another 14% say he talks about his faith too little. Only about a quarter (24%) believe that Bush mentions his faith too much, about the same as in the past two years but much higher when compared with July 2003 (14%).

Clergy Address Current Issues

Although many people have misgivings about organized religion taking stances on political matters, it is clear that political and social issues are being discussed in places of worship. For instance, nearly all respondents (92%) who attend religious services at least once or twice a month report that their clergy speak out on hunger and poverty. And majorities of those who attend services that frequently say their clergy address the issues of abortion (59%), Iraq (53%), and laws regarding homosexuality (52%). Nearly half (48%) say clergy discuss the environment and four-in-ten say they deal with the issue of evolution.

FigureHowever, different religious groups tend to emphasize different issues. Abortion, for example, is frequently mentioned in Catholic, white evangelical, and black Protestant churches, but is discussed less in white mainline Protestant churches.

For many congregations, laws about homosexuality have become an increasingly prominent theme for sermons over the last decade; in 1996, only 36% reported hearing about this in their house of worship, compared with 41% in 2003 and 52% today. The rise over the last three years has taken place largely among Catholics (25% in 2003 vs. 50% today) and black Protestants (50% in 2003 vs. 62% today).

In no group does a majority say their clergy address the issue of evolution and intelligent design. White evangelicals are among the least likely to believe in the theory of evolution and the most likely to favor teaching creationism in public schools,2 but only about half of evangelicals (48%) report hearing about this issue from the pulpit. Similarly, in no group does a majority say the death penalty is discussed in church, although black Protestants (41%) and Catholics (41%) are more likely than others to say this is a topic they hear about in sermons. Catholics are also especially likely to say their priests address the issues of stem cell research (38%) and immigration (31%).

A Religious Left?

In recent years, and particularly in the wake of the 2004 presidential election, politically liberal Christians have been more outspoken in their opposition to the political agenda of religious conservatives, arguing that they, too, are “values voters” who place a premium on such traditionally liberal beliefs as social justice, opposition to war as an instrument of foreign policy, environmental protection and a more accepting view of gays and lesbians. This increasing visibility has led some commentators to announce the emergence of the religious left.

FigureThe survey finds relatively few Americans identify with either the “religious left political movement” (7%), or the “religious right political movement” (11%). However, there are far more conservatives who identify with the religious right than liberals who identify themselves as belonging to the religious left.

A quarter of conservative Republicans ­ and 20% of white evangelical Protestants ­ say they think of themselves as members of the religious right. By comparison, a smaller number of liberal Democrats (15%) identify with the religious left. Fewer than one-in-ten in every major religious group identifies with the religious left.

A relatively high proportion of adults under age 30 (14%) say they think of themselves as a member of the religious left, twice the level of any other age group. However, roughly the same percentage of young people (13%) say they think of themselves as a member of the religious right. Similarly, higher percentages of African Americans than whites say they identify with both the religious right and the religious left.

Christian Progressives: Democratic, Not Very Liberal

The survey finds that about a third of all Christians (32%) identify themselves as “liberal” or “progressive” Christians. By comparison, only a somewhat higher percentage (38%) describe themselves as “born again” or evangelical Christians.

However, these characterizations overlap for many people and are far from being mutually exclusive. For example, more than a third of evangelicals (36%) also describe themselves as liberal or progressive Christians.

FigureOn many matters of politics and policy, the views of progressive Christians are not much more liberal than those of the general public. But their attitudes contrast sharply with Christians who do not describe themselves as liberal or progressive. For example, about half of progressive Christians (52%) oppose gay marriage, compared with 56% of all Americans, and 66% of non-progressive Christians.

However, there are smaller differences between progressive and non-progressive Christians in core religious beliefs. A third of progressives say the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally; among non-progressive Christians, 43% say the Bible is the literal word of God.

Generally, progressive Christians tend to be more moderate than left-of-center politically. Slightly more than one-in-four (27%) report they are politically liberal. Just as many (26%) say they are politically conservative while 45% characterize themselves as moderates. But more than four-in-ten (44%) identify themselves as Democrats, compared with 33% of the public and 29% of non-progressive Christians.

The Parties and Religion

FigureThe survey finds that the Republican Party is viewed less positively in its approach to religion by a constituency that has played a pivotal role in electoral politics in recent years: white evangelical Protestants. Currently just under half of evangelicals (49%) say the GOP is friendly to religion, a decline of 14 points in the past year. Catholics also are far less likely to view the Republican Party as friendly to religion; just 41% say that today, compared with 55% about a year ago.

More broadly, the decline in the proportion of Americans who view the Republican Party as being friendly to religion occurred uniformly across the parties. The proportion of Republicans who say the Republican Party is friendly to religion dropped by eight percentage points, while falling nine points among both Democrats and political independents.

FigureNonetheless, far fewer Americans see the Democratic Party as friendly to religion. Only about one-in-four (26%) say the party is friendly to religion, while 42% think it is neutral and 20% say it is unfriendly. That is largely unchanged from last year, but 16 points below the proportion who viewed Democrats as friendly toward religion just three years ago (42%).

Even most Democrats agree that their party is not particularly friendly to religion, though few believe that their party is hostile. Nearly half (47%) of all Democrats say that the Democratic Party is neutral toward religion, compared with 40% who feel the party is friendly, and just 5% who say it is unfriendly. By contrast, a solid majority of Republicans (61%) say the GOP is friendly to religion.

More Dissatisfaction with Left than Right

Americans remain conflicted about what the right mix should be between religion and politics. The public, however, is more critical of what it sees as efforts by the political left to diminish the influence of religion in government and the schools than with attempts by conservative Christians to impose their religious values on the country.

FigureDemocrats bemoan the influence of Christian conservatives, while Republicans are critical of the influence of liberals. Among independents, 56% say conservative Christians have gone too far in imposing their religious values while 65% are critical of liberals for trying too hard to keep religion out of schools and government.

Overall, nearly seven-in-ten Americans (69%) say liberals have gone too far in trying to keep religion out of the schools and government, essentially unchanged from a year ago. Significantly, concern over efforts of the political left to limit religion’s influence crosses party lines. Large majorities of Republicans (87%), independents (65%) and Democrats (60%) decry efforts by liberals to limit religious influence in the public sphere, including 70% of conservative and moderate Democrats. But just 38% of liberal Democrats express this view.

Among major religious groups, white evangelicals are the most critical of liberals in this regard: 86% say liberals have gone too far in trying to exclude religion from schools and the government. Nearly eight-in-ten of all Protestants (78%) and two-thirds of Catholics (67%) share this view. Large majorities of those who attend church ­ including those who only occasionally attended services ­ are critical of liberals. But nearly half of those with no religious ties (45%) also think liberals have gone too far in attempting to keep religion out of schools and the government.

At the same time, about half the public (49%) says conservative Christians have gone too far “in trying to impose their religious values on the country,” a slight increase in the past year (from 45%). Majorities of Democrats (59%) and independents (56%) say Christian conservatives have gone too far in attempting to impose their values, a concern shared by nearly a third of Republicans (31%). Not surprisingly, liberal Democrats are particularly critical of conservative Christians in this regard: Eight-in-ten say they have gone too far in imposing their values.

Views about the influence of conservative Christians vary dramatically by religious affiliation. Only about a quarter of white evangelical Christians say that Christian conservatives have gone too far in trying to impose their religious values on the country, compared with about half of all white mainline Protestants and Catholics, and roughly three-quarters of seculars.

Favorable Views of Christian Conservatives

FigureIn general, the public remains somewhat more positive than negative about the Christian conservative movement, with 44% saying they have a favorable view of the movement and 36% saying their view is unfavorable. These views have changed relatively little over the past year.

White evangelical Protestants (at 71% favorable) and conservative Republicans (75% favorable) ­ two groups that overlap considerably ­ have by far the most positive views of the Christian conservative movement. By contrast, liberal Democrats (60% unfavorable) and seculars (68% unfavorable) ­ two groups that also overlap ­ are the most negative. Catholics are divided (39% favorable vs. 38% unfavorable), and white mainline Protestants fall at about the national average (44% favorable vs. 33% unfavorable).

Note

2. See “Religion a Strength and Weakness for Both Parties: Public Divided on Origins of Life,” the Pew Research Center For The People & The Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, August 30, 2005.


Section III – Religion and Science

Despite recent controversies over issues at the intersection of religion and science, such as evolution and stem cell research, there is broad agreement that scientific advances help mankind. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) take a positive view of scientific advances; just 19% say they harm mankind.

FigureSolid majorities in every major religious group say that scientific advances help rather than harm mankind. The view that science is helping mankind varies from 63% among mainline Protestants to 72% among white Catholics.

But the issue of evolution and the origins of life remains highly divisive. Specifically, the views of white evangelical Protestants are very different from those of other groups, with a majority (65%) rejecting the notion that humans and other living things have evolved over time, and espousing the view that life has existed in its present form since the beginning of time. Just 28% of evangelicals believe in evolution, and only 6% think evolution occurred through natural selection.

Among seculars and most other religious groups, majorities believe in evolution: this includes 59% of white Catholics, 62% of white mainline Protestants and 83% of seculars.

FigureBut mainline Protestants and Catholics who believe in evolution are themselves divided over the question of whether evolution occurred through natural selection or was guided by a supreme being for the purpose of creating human life in its present form. Overall, 31% of mainline Protestants believe in natural selection, while 26% believe a supreme being guided the process. Among Catholics, 25% subscribe to the idea of natural selection and 31% think evolution was divinely guided. Only among seculars does a majority accept natural selection: 69% of respondents with no religious affiliation believe that life evolved through natural selection.

The rejection of evolution is not entirely a result of a lack of awareness of the scientific consensus on the subject. More people believe that scientists agree on evolution (62%) than accept the idea themselves (51%), and this is true even among white evangelical Protestants (43% think scientists agree on evolution but only 28% believe in evolution). Nor is the rejection of evolution a result of political or ideological beliefs. While Republicans and conservatives are more apt than Democrats or liberals to deny that evolution occurs, this correlation is mostly a result of the large number of evangelicals with creationist views in the Republican Party and among conservatives.

Global Warming

FigureReligious differences are somewhat smaller on the facts related to another controversial issue, global warming. An overwhelming majority of those polled (79%) believe that there is solid evidence that the average temperature of the earth has been increasing over the past few decades; just 17% say there is no solid evidence for this. Sizable majorities of every religious group agree: 77% of Catholics; 79% of white mainline Protestants; and 70% of white evangelicals.

Most of those who believe that the earth is getting hotter also believe that human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels is responsible: based on the total sample, 50% say this, and 23% say it is mostly a result of natural patterns in the earth’s environment. But there are somewhat larger differences across religious groups on this question: 52% of Catholics and 48% of white mainline Protestants believe the earth is getting hotter and think this is because of human activity, while fewer evangelicals think this (37%). Fully 62% of seculars feel that global warming is occurring because of human activity.

FigureSome of the difference between evangelicals and other religious groups regarding the existence of global warming are a result of the more Republican and conservative political views of evangelicals. But after these factors are taken into account, white evangelicals remain slightly less likely than others to believe that global warming is occurring or that it is the result of human activity.

There are also differences among religious groups in the perception that there is a scientific consensus on global warming. Overall, 59% of the public says that scientists agree that global warming is occurring and that it is caused by human activity; 29% think there is no scientific consensus. White evangelicals are less likely than other religious groups to see scientific agreement: 51% of evangelicals believe there is agreement, compared with 58% of mainline Protestants and 59% of Catholics. Fully 72% of seculars think scientists agree on this issue.

FigureThese differences are mirrored in views of whether global warming is a serious problem, requiring immediate government action. Only about three-in-ten white evangelicals (29%) view global warming as a very serious problem, compared with four-in-ten white mainline Protestants and nearly half (48%) of Catholics.

While most Americans see global warming as a problem that requires immediate government action (61%), this view is not shared as widely among white evangelical Protestants and mainline Protestants (49% and 53%, respectively).

FigureOn the more general question of how environmental regulations affect the country, a majority of Americans (57%) continue to say that stricter laws are worth the cost, while 31% say they cost too many jobs and hurt the economy. Religious groups vary in their opinions, with support for the pro-environmental regulation view ranging from 76% among seculars down to 47% among evangelicals. Much of the difference between evangelicals and other groups can be explained by the large number of Republicans and conservatives among the evangelical population.

FigureThis point is underscored by the fact that very few people say that their religious views are the most important influence on their thinking about environmental regulations. Asked to choose among a list of five possible influences ­ what they have seen in the news, a personal experience, their education, their religious beliefs, or their friends and family ­ just 8% said religion was the most important influence. And the number who chose religion was basically the same for those who said environmental regulations are worth the cost as for those who said regulations hurt the economy.

FigureOverall, 63% of the public has a favorable opinion of the environmental movement, while 25% view it unfavorably. But evangelicals are less positive than the public as a whole, while Catholics and seculars are more positive. Opinion about the environmental movement also varies considerably by political leaning, with 78% of liberal Democrats holding a favorable opinion compared with just 43% among conservative Republicans.


Section IV – Religious Beliefs

FigureMost Americans (78%) continue to view the Bible as the word of God, though there is disagreement over whether everything in the Bible is literally true; 35% say it is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, while 43% say the Bible is the word of God, but not everything in it should be taken literally. These numbers have remained largely unchanged since Pew began asking the question in 1996.

The view that the Bible is literally true is more widely held among women than men (39% vs. 31%) and is more prevalent among blacks compared to whites (58% vs. 31%). There is also a geographic component to opinions on this question. Nearly half of those in the South (48%) say the Bible is literally true, compared with much smaller percentages in the Midwest (34%), West (24%), and East (24%).

Among religious groups, more than six-in-ten black Protestants (64%) and white evangelical Protestants (62%) express the view that the Bible is literally true. Among white Catholics and white mainline Protestants, by contrast, majorities (64% and 59%, respectively) view the Bible as the word of God but reject the notion that every word should be taken literally. And most seculars (59%) believe that the Bible is a book written by men, and is not the word of God.

Israel and Biblical Prophecy

FigureA substantial minority of the public views the state of Israel through a religious lens. Indeed, a plurality of the public (42%) believes that Israel was given to the Jewish people by God. Similarly, more than one-in-three Americans (35%) say that Israel is part of the fulfillment of biblical prophecy about the second coming of Jesus. These numbers are largely unchanged since 2003.

In the South, a solid majority (56%) believes that Israel was given to the Jewish people by God, and nearly half (45%) say that Israel fulfills biblical prophecy about the second coming of Jesus. In other regions of the country, there is much less support for these points of view.

Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants stand out for their widespread belief that Israel was given by God to the Jews (69%), and that Israel is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy (59%). Majorities of black Protestants also share these points of view. White mainline Protestants and Catholics, by contrast, are much less likely to see a religious dimension to the establishment of the state of Israel.

Not surprisingly, beliefs about the Bible are closely related to views about the state of Israel. Large majorities of those who view the Bible as the literal word of God say that Israel was given by God to the Jews and that Israel is the fulfillment of prophecy (70% and 62%, respectively). These figures are much lower among those who do not believe the Bible is the actual word of God.

Religious Views Shape Mideast Sympathies

FigureThe July survey also shows that many more Americans say they sympathize more with Israel (44%) than the Palestinians (9%). A subsequent Pew survey, conducted Aug. 9-13, found even broader support for Israel; 52% said they sympathized more with Israel, compared with 11% who sympathized more with the Palestinians. (See “American Attitudes Hold Steady in Face of Foreign Crises,” Aug. 17).

An analysis of the July survey finds that support for Israel is even stronger among those who see religious implications in the state of Israel. Indeed, a large majority (63%) of those who believe Israel was given by God to the Jewish people say they sympathize more with Israel, as do a majority (60%) of those who see Israel as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. By contrast, among those who do not share these beliefs far fewer say they sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians.

Second Coming of Jesus Christ

The survey asked Christians whether or not they believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ. Reflecting the great importance of this teaching in most Christian traditions, fully 79% of Christians say they believe that Christ will return to earth someday.

This belief is nearly unanimously expressed by white evangelical Protestants (95%) and black Protestants (92%). Smaller majorities of Catholics (70%) and white mainline Protestants (60%) say they believe in the second coming of Christ.

However, there is less agreement among Christians over the timing and circumstances of Jesus Christ’s return. Just 33% say that the specific timing of Christ’s return to earth is revealed in biblical prophecies. Even fewer (20%) say they believe Jesus will return to earth in their lifetime.

As is the case with overall belief in the second coming, white evangelicals and black Protestants, as well as those who say that the Bible is the literal word of God, are much more likely than other Christians to say that the specific time of Christ’s return to earth is revealed in biblical prophecies, and that Christ will return in their lifetime. Even among these groups, however, those who see Christ’s return as imminent are greatly outnumbered by those who say Christ will not return in their lifetimes or that it is impossible to know when Jesus will return.

Circumstances of Christ’s Return

FigureJust as they are divided over the timing of Christ’s return, Christians also differ over the circumstances surrounding the second coming. About a third (34%) say that this will occur after the world situation worsens and reaches a low point, a view often referred to pre-millennialism. But 37% say that it is impossible to know the circumstances that will precede Christ’s return to earth. Very few (4%) say that Christ will return after the world situation improves and reaches a high point.

Despite the prominence in evangelical circles of pre-millennialist views concerning the rapture, white evangelicals are divided over the circumstances that will precede Christ’s return. Among white evangelicals, half (48%) express a pre-millennialist view, while nearly as many (40%) say that it is impossible to know the circumstances that will precede Christ’s return.

Most Christians reject the notion that the timing of Christ’s return can be influenced by the actions of people or nations on earth. Indeed, about one-in-five Christians (23%) say that human actions can affect the timing of Christ’s return, while more than twice as many (50%) take the opposite point of view. There are few differences across religious groups on this question.


About the Survey

Results for this survey are based on telephone interviews conducted under the direction of Schulman, Ronca, & Bucuvalas, Inc. among a nationwide sample of 2,003 adults, 18 years of age or older, from July 6-19, 2006. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. For results based on Form 1 (N=996) or Form 2 (N=1,007) only, the error attributable to sampling is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording, sequencing and other practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

About the Projects

This report is a joint effort of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Both organizations are sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts and are projects of the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life provides opinion leaders with timely, impartial information on issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs. It also serves as a neutral venue for discussion of these important issues. As an independent, non-partisan and non-advocacy organization, the Forum does not take positions on policy debates. Based in Washington, D.C., the Forum is directed by Luis Lugo.

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press is an independent opinion research group that studies attitudes toward the press, politics and public policy issues. The Center’s purpose is to serve as a forum for ideas on the media and public policy through public opinion research. In this role it serves as an important information resource for political leaders, journalists, scholars, and public interest organizations. All of the Center’s current survey results are made available free of charge.

This report is a collaborative product based on the input and analysis of the following individuals:

Pew Research Center for the People & the Press
Andrew Kohut, Director
Richard Morin, Senior Editor
Scott Keeter, Director of Survey Research
Carroll Doherty and Michael Dimock, Associate Directors
Carolyn Funk and Richard Wike, Senior Project Directors
Nilanthi Samaranayake, Survey and Data Manager
Peyton Craighill, April Rapp and Juliana Horowitz, Research Associates
Rob Suls, Research Analyst
James Albrittain, Executive Assistant

Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Luis Lugo, Director
Sandra Stencel, Deputy Director
John Green, Senior Fellow in Religion and American Politics
Gregory Smith, Research Associate
Allison Pond, Research Assistant