Press Conference Transcript: U.S. Religious Landscape Survey
In a noon conference call for journalists, Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, together with fellows John Green and Greg Smith, released the second report of the Forum’s path-breaking U.S. Religious Landscape Survey – along with new data added to the interactive website accompanying the project – and answered questions from reporters. Data on the beliefs and practices of American adults reveal that although more than half of Americans say religion is very important in their lives, most hold a non-dogmatic view of their faith, with majorities believing that there is more than one way to interpret the teachings of their own faith and that many religions – not just their own – can lead to eternal life. The survey also shows that while religious affiliation remains closely linked to political views on certain cultural issues such as abortion and homosexuality, a surprising consensus exists among Americans of many religious stripes on other topics covered by the survey, such as environmental protection, foreign affairs and government aid to the poor.
The survey includes interviews with 35,000 American adults and is therefore one of the largest and most comprehensive studies of its kind. Because of the richness of the data, the Forum divided the analysis into three reports. The first report, which focused on religious affiliation, was released in February 2008.
Luis Lugo, Director, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
John C. Green, Senior Fellow in Religion and American Politics, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Gregory A. Smith, Research Fellow, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Navigate this transcript:
Why conservatives may hold liberal views
Do atheists really believe in God?
Common sense versus religious belief
How Americans form opinions
Belief by gender, age and education level
Perceiving religion as a negative force
Evangelicals as liberals and moderates
Dogma and “flexidoxy”
Religious behavior predicts political behavior
LUIS LUGO: Thank you all for joining us for the second release of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. I’m Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Joining me today are John Green, senior fellow, and Greg Smith, research fellow, here at the Forum. They are two of the principle authors of this report.
This latest release follows the first report on the landscape survey, published in February of this year, which focused on religious affiliation. That report detailed the size of religious groups, the internal changes they are undergoing through conversion and immigration, and the demographics of religion in the United States.
This new report underscores the tremendous diversity that exists in American religion by detailing the wide variety of religious beliefs and practices of the U.S. public. It also looks closely at differences in social and political attitudes between as well as within the various religious groups. As I indicated when we released the first report on the landscape survey, we believe it is the combination of depth and breadth that makes this survey such a valuable resource. In terms of breadth, we interviewed more than 35,000 Americans. That means we’re able to provide information on many of the smaller religious groups that are typically not analyzed in most public opinion surveys, including Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, et cetera.
In terms of depth, there are some 60 questions on religious beliefs and practices and on social and political attitudes. That’s in addition to the many questions on affiliation and demography we analyzed in the first report. Speaking of depth, later this year, we’re planning to conduct a call-back survey or re-contact survey that will delve even deeper into some of the key areas discussed in the first two reports. These include, for instance, conversion, attitudes towards living in a religiously pluralistic society like the United States, and the relationship between religion and political identity. So stay tuned.
Before I turn this over to John and Greg to discuss the key findings outlined in this report, I want to encourage you to take a look at the resources on the Pew Forum’s website that will help you analyze the findings on your own. The full PDF report is available there, of course, as well as a new mapping section where you can explore the religious beliefs and practices of the population of each state, including Alaska and Hawaii. You can also examine the beliefs and practices and the social and political views of religious groups in the U.S.
You’ll also find on the site the dynamic tools we released with the first report to help you explore the demographic characteristics of the various religious traditions. So we invite you to visit www.pewforum.org to do your own analysis of these very rich findings.
John, if I could ask you to start things off for us.
JOHN GREEN: Thank you very much, Luis. My name is John Green. I’m a senior fellow here at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, and I would like to outline several of the key findings of the report. Then Greg and I will discuss some of the more detailed findings.
Although many Americans are highly religious, we found they are not particularly dogmatic about their approach to faith. For example, seven out of 10 Americans with a religious affiliation told us they believed many religions and not just their own can lead to eternal life as opposed to believing their faith was the only true one that led to eternal life.
Most Americans also believe there is more than one correct way to interpret the teachings of their own faith. This finding may be surprising to many people because, in the public square, religious people with a strong dogmatic or exclusive view of their faith are often the most visible. We believe this non-dogmatic approach to faith is consistent with the great diversity of American religion, which this report describes in great detail.
This is not to suggest, however, that Americans are indifferent to their own religion. Quite the contrary – most Americans say religion is very important in their lives and a plurality wants to preserve the traditional beliefs and practices of their faith while only a small minority wants to accommodate their religion to modern culture. This survey also confirms that religion is highly relevant to understanding politics in the United States. Religion not only helps shape the broad political outlook of Americans in areas such as ideology and partisanship, but has relevance to specific political views, especially the so-called hot-button culture-war issues such as abortion and homosexuality.
This report details the enormous diversity of religious beliefs and practices in the United States and, as Luis indicated, some of these differences exist between the major religious traditions, but also there are very important differences in belief and behavior within the major religious traditions. To hear more about the diversity of beliefs and behaviors, let’s turn to Greg.
GREG SMITH: Thank you, John. My name is Greg Smith. I am a research fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
I think one of the most interesting examples of the diversity in religious belief and practice that John mentioned can be seen in people’s beliefs about God. While this survey finds, consistent with many other surveys, that more than nine in 10 Americans believe in the existence of God or a universal spirit, the survey also shows there are considerable differences in the nature of this belief. Six in 10 adults believe God is a person with whom people can have a relationship, but one in four, including about half of Jews and Hindus, see God instead as an impersonal force.
There are also interesting differences when it comes to the level of certainty with which people hold their beliefs about God. While seven in 10 Americans say they are absolutely certain of God’s existence, a substantial minority are less certain in their belief. Bringing all of this together, the survey shows only 51 percent of the public believes in a personal God and are absolutely certain that God exists. The rest either don’t believe in a personal God or are not absolutely certain about it.
Another example of the great diversity within American religion is seen in the frequency with which people report praying and meditating. Three-quarters of Americans report praying once a week, with large majorities among most religious traditions saying they pray at least this often. Even among the unaffiliated, people who are not associated with any particular religious tradition, roughly one in three pray on at least a weekly basis.
At the same time, however, there are those among all faith groups who pray much less frequently. Overall, one-quarter of the public says they pray a few times a month or less often. In addition, almost two-fifths of Americans report meditating at least once a week. This practice is particularly common among Buddhists, with six in 10 saying they meditate weekly. But it’s also interesting that nearly three-quarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses, more than half of Mormons and members of historically black Protestant denominations, and nearly one-half of evangelical Protestants and Muslims say they meditate weekly. One-quarter of the unaffiliated population also reports meditating at least on a weekly basis.
Finally, we were also struck that nearly one-third of Americans – one-third of the public – says they receive a definite answer to a specific prayer request at least once a month, with almost one-fifth saying they receive a direct answer to prayer at least once a week. Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of historically black churches, Mormons, Muslims, and evangelicals are among the groups most likely to say they regularly receive direct answers to their prayers.
These are just a few of the findings documenting the great diversity of religion and belief and practice contained in our report and that we hope will prove informative. I’ll turn it back over to John to describe how these religious patterns relate to people’s social and political views.
GREEN: Thank you very much, Greg. This is John Green, again, a senior fellow here at the Forum.
This diversity of religious belief, practice, and affiliation, which Greg has described, translates into important differences on many, but not all, social and political questions. One good example is one of the broadest kinds of political attitudes, that is, people’s self-identified ideology.
For instance, there are important differences in affiliation when it comes to the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as politically conservative or politically liberal. Mormons are among one of the most politically conservative groups in the United States. On the other hand, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus are among the most likely to describe their ideology as liberal. And there are some groups that fall in between, such as Roman Catholics, which show a fairly even division among conservatives, moderates, and liberals.
But beyond affiliation, religious practice and belief can have important impacts on ideology as well. For instance, individuals who report regularly attending worship services and who say that religion is very important in their lives are much more likely to identify as conservative. These patterns extend to many of the largest religious communities in the United States, including evangelical, mainline, and historically black Protestant churches, Roman Catholics, and Jews.
Religion is particularly strongly associated with cultural issues such as attitudes on abortion and homosexuality. Here we see differences by affiliation and very strong differences based on religious practice and belief. For example, six in 10 Americans who attend religious services at least once a week say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, while only three in 10 who attend worship less often share this view. This pattern holds across the largest religious traditions.
But there are other topics in the survey, such as the role and size of government and attitudes toward foreign policy, where the role of religion is less clear and there appears to be greater consensus across and within religious traditions. For instance, a majority of nearly every religious group in our survey supports stricter environmental regulation and believes the government should do more to help Americans in need. Similarly, most Americans, including majorities of most faiths, say it is important to focus on problems here at home rather than for the United States to be active in foreign affairs.
This is an important finding because there tends to be an emphasis on the conflict religion can produce in American politics. We find evidence that religion can also be a source of consensus. With that, let me turn it back to Luis Lugo.
LUGO: Thank you, John, and thank you, Greg. I understand there’s quite a few of you listening in so it’s time for your questions.
CATHY GROSSMAN, USA TODAY: I’m going to throw in a double-barreled question. One of them is a technical question. You talked about mapping beliefs by state on the website. Does this mean that I can burrow in and find out the social and political views of Catholics in Ohio?
SMITH: Actually, that’s not quite what it means. For every state, you will be able to see how that state’s population overall compares with other states and with the national population on about eight different measures of religious belief and practices. What we weren’t able to do is to dig down and look at particular religious traditions within states. Even in a survey with 35,000 respondents like we have here, our samples in the different states vary considerably from state to state. We have thousands of people in California and New York, for instance, and so in those states, it would be theoretically possible. But in other states, we simply don’t have enough data to break it down that way.
GROSSMAN: Let me jump back to the other half of my question, which is more to John Green. In looking at the political implications of this, it doesn’t seem to me there’s anything surprising in the finding that those with a high measure of religiosity lean to conservative political ideology. What I think is interesting here is, you’re saying, when you actually break it down by social and political issues, people are not so easily herded into the different camps. If you give them a choice of conservative, moderate, and liberal, they’ll pick one, but if you ask them issue-by-issue about the environment, about foreign policy, about abortion or homosexuality, they don’t turn up where you think they’re going to turn up. Is that what the news is here?
GREEN: That’s part of the news, Cathy. It’s certainly the case that American religious groups, including some that are quite orthodox and traditional in their beliefs and practices, have diverse views on social and political issues. In some places, there are predictable connections and in other places, there are unpredictable results.
I think the issue with ideology, however, is a bit of a surprise because if you have, say, Roman Catholics or evangelicals with diverse views on different issues, and sometimes having quite liberal views on economic and social issues, then why aren’t they all moderates in terms of ideology?
The answer is that different religious traditions connect the issues to ideology in different ways. Among evangelicals, for instance, social issues are key to determining whether someone identifies themselves as conservative, moderate, or liberal. And in all of the religious traditions, at least all of the large ones, regular worship-attenders are much more likely to make that connection rather than, say, connect their environmental views or economic views to ideology. So you’re absolutely right: We confirm what other pollsters have found, including surveys done here at the Pew Forum, but what this allows us to do is to look with more detail at how these diverse sets of opinions fit into broad political categories, which influence how people vote.
GROSSMAN: So if somebody’s presidential vote is going to be based on the economy or the environment, oil drilling, or Iraq, you can’t necessarily predict by their conservative ideology how they’re going to vote.
LUGO: One of the things this survey does allow us to do is document these patterns for the smaller groups. It is true that Jews, for instance, have much lower levels of commitment to conservative ideology. But if you look inside the Jewish community, those Jews who tell us religion is very important to them or who pray every day turn out to be more than twice as likely as those who are not as religiously committed in those two ways to be politically conservative. So we’re able to document this pattern, which, you’re quite correct, we have documented before for the larger groups, in the smaller groups.
DUKE HELFAND, LOS ANGELES TIMES: In your report, you say 21 percent of atheists – or people who identify themselves as atheists – have a belief in God. That stood out to me because don’t atheists, by definition, not believe in God? Could you help me understand that?
GREEN: This finding points to something very important: People’s reported affiliations, beliefs and behaviors do not necessarily line up in the ways a theologian or philosopher or social scientist might expect. When we identify atheists in the survey, these are people who told us they were atheists. In fact, some of them did, later in the survey, tell us they believed in God.
From a purely academic or theological point of view, that does look like a contradiction. It may very well be that some people don’t know what the word “atheist” means: It just sounded good and so they answered to it. In survey research, we call that measurement error. No doubt, even in a survey as sophisticated as this, there is a little bit of measurement error.
But more importantly, that disjunction may show us the complicated ways people think about their faith. Many people who identify as atheists may not be telling us they don’t believe in God. They may be telling us they don’t like organized religion and that’s the association they have with atheism.
What you’ve discovered in that finding is there’s a lot of complexity in American religion, and it produces lots of strange results. In addition to having atheists who say they believe in God, we have people who tell us they’re very committed to a religious tradition and who also report they don’t believe in God!
LUGO: Looking at it from the other direction, many people in fact do not believe in God but do not call themselves atheists. From the other surveys that have been done here at the Pew Research Center, we know many Americans and people throughout the world, in fact, connect belief in God with morality. When we ask the question, “Is it necessary to believe in God to be moral?” a high percentage of people say yes. Perhaps some of those people who do not believe in God but are not willing to call themselves atheists may be playing off of that and saying, in effect, “Don’t think of me as an immoral person. I’m a highly moral person, so if that’s what you mean by ‘atheist,’ I don’t want to be called that.” There could be a lot of things going on here that provide some window into the fluid nature of some of these religious identities.
HELFAND: The report also talks about, from what I remember, how more people believe in heaven now than believe in hell. I’m just wondering what’s going on there. Do you think that in any way contributes to a loosening of morals in this country? What do you think? They’re less afraid they’re going to go to hell so they can do what they want?
GREEN: It is an interesting pattern. Other surveys have shown that. Once upon a time, belief in heaven and hell were very closely related. They were, in many people’s views, two sides of the same coin. That does not seem to be the case anymore. Many more people believe in heaven than believe in hell. It does seem to be associated with a decline in viewing God as a judge and as someone who punishes people and a continuing emphasis on the view of God as someone who is merciful and generous and forgiving.
Now, exactly why that change has occurred remains to be seen. That’s a very complicated subject. We may be able to explore that in future surveys, but the connection you made may in fact be the case, that there may be an association between a change away from traditional morality because of a decline in the view of hell and judgment.
LUGO: Perhaps a simpler explanation may be that everybody has read Norman Vincent Peale‘s The Power of Positive Thinking, and they’re just thinking of the afterlife in very positive terms and leaving out the negative. (Laughter.)
JEFFREY WEISS, DALLAS MORNING NEWS: I’m going to pick out another dissonance. On the one hand, a huge majority of Americans say they believe in “an absolute standard of right and wrong.” On the other hand, they’re not even sure of their own religion. How can they believe there’s an absolute standard, but not know what it is?
LUGO: Or know the basis of it, right?
WEISS: Or the basis of it. How can a majority have what they say is this “absolute belief” in the standard and, yet, if you ask them, “do you have an absolute belief in the correctness of your own religion’s teachings?” the answer is not so much?
LUGO: Excellent question. John, Greg?
SMITH: Like our findings about the lack of dogmatism within the American public, the question about absolute standards of right and wrong points to a pragmatic streak within the public when it comes to handling issues of morality. Yes, eight in 10 Americans say they agree there are absolute standards of right and wrong, just like majorities of Americans say they believe in God and that religion is very important to them. But when we ask the follow-up question – “What’s the biggest influence on your thinking about views of right and wrong?” – we see a slim majority saying practical experience and common sense are what has the biggest influence on their thinking about these issues.
Many fewer cite their religious beliefs and teachings in helping to formulate their beliefs about right and wrong. So as with our findings about the lack of dogmatism in the public, I think these findings about right and wrong point up to the fact that people hold these beliefs and often hold them quite intently, but there’s also a practical or a pragmatic aspect as well.
LUGO: John, let’s connect this back to our other finding that when we ask people, “who wouldn’t you vote for?” atheists always, by far, come out ahead. Is that another connection between religion and morality: That even though people may not have a complete commitment to the specific teachings of their own faith, the public still connects “religion in general” with morality and, therefore, if you don’t at least acknowledge something in general, as atheists don’t, then you must not have moral bearings?
GREEN: That’s a very good point, Luis. What we may be seeing in the non-dogmatic view is a tendency of Americans to emphasize religion in general, faith in general, rather than the particularism of their religion. And Luis is absolutely right: Americans have very dim views of atheists because many Americans associate atheists with people who don’t have moral views.
We all know that’s likely to be incorrect, but, nonetheless, that’s a view many people have. So many Americans can simultaneously believe there are absolute standards for right and wrong and believe many religions lead to eternal life because they believe that behind all religions are certain moral teachings that they have in common.
WEISS: Is this an indication that people trust themselves more than authority in some sense? If only a very small minority are looking specifically to their religious teachings, and the others are sure that there are standards, is this some comment on feelings towards established authority?
GREEN: We don’t have a measure of that nature in this survey, but there are other surveys that would support the conclusion you’ve just drawn. Americans of all religious backgrounds tend to be suspicious of authority. Some of this is expressed in the fact that individuals believe they have to make these decisions themselves and that the ultimate arbiter is their own conscience, no matter what their religious authorities may teach.
BILL TAMMEUS, KANSAS CITY STAR: I notice in one of the findings that 50 percent of Muslims believe in a literal translation of Holy Scripture and 70-some percent pray daily. That tells me they are out of sync with what the faith teaches and asks of them. I’m wondering whether you have concluded there is a category now of secular Muslims, as we say there are secular Jews. Are there secular Muslims, secular Christians, secular people of other faiths who identify themselves with the name of that faith, but are not observant?
SMITH: I think that is certainly fair to say. Muslims, just like every other religious group in the United States, are quite internally diverse. And while there are many Muslims in the United States who could be described as orthodox in their belief and devout in their practice, there are others for whom that is less true. The same thing is true of Catholics and of evangelicals and of Jews and of every other religious group. So, in that sense, I’d say Muslims are much like the public as a whole and like every other religious group in that they embody quite a bit of internal diversity.
LUGO: That sometimes cuts along ethnic lines or country of origin when it comes to Muslims. We use a lot of the figures here from the Muslim American survey we did here with the Pew Research Center last year. You find in that report considerable variation within the American Muslim community. Take, on one end, Iranians, who tended to score very, very low in terms of mosque attendance and other religious measures and, on the other end, Pakistanis, who tended to have very, very high levels of mosque attendance and so forth. So there is significant variation across the Muslim community, but also across all of these other religious groups.
It’s one of the ironies here, when you look at these figures closely, that about 40 percent of those who are unaffiliated seem to have more of a religious pulse than fairly significant minorities among religious traditions of people who tell us they are affiliated. So being religious and being affiliated are not, obviously, the same thing here.
TAMMEUS: John, you follow these issues in the press. It seems to me the diversity within these religious groups is essentially an underreported story. There are views that Muslims are all alike, that Jews are all observant, and Christians are all one way or another. Is the media not telling this story?
GREEN: Far be it for me to criticize the media, but I would say that, just from my experience of working with reporters, you’re absolutely right: The diversity within Americans’ religious communities is not as widely reported as perhaps it should be. There is a tendency, I think, to focus on the most vocal members of religious traditions that often happen to be the most orthodox or the most traditional or the most observant, largely ignoring people who have more moderate views or who are largely nominal in their religiosity. I think that’s a very important part of the story.
LUGO: If I’m going to call these people anything, it would probably be cultural rather than secular: cultural Muslims or cultural Jews or cultural Catholics. The fact that they affiliate themselves with a tradition would cause us here not to put them under the secular category. Even under the unaffiliated category, we don’t use the word “secular” for everybody; we use that term only for those who truly are secular: atheists, agnostics, and many of those others who simply tell us religion is not important in their lives. That’s the category we use for secular.
ADELLE BANKS, RELIGION NEWS SERVICE: I had two questions. One is: What is the one key thing this poll says about the upcoming election, particularly relating to parties’ relations to groups like the evangelicals?
GREEN: People often asked me, “Why is there so much religious rhetoric in the campaign? Why is it that religion seems to be playing such an important role?” I think this survey – which is a baseline background survey, not an up-to-the-moment horserace poll – shows how the enormous diversity of American religion translates into partisan and ideological differences.
Quite frankly, there are votes to be had for both Democratic and Republican candidates by making appeals to religious groups. Some groups are more solidly in one party than the other; some groups are completely up for grabs. We do have some evidence, in this survey and also in other surveys, that evangelical Protestants may be more in flux this time than they were in 2004. It remains to be seen exactly how that flux might translate into votes in November, but they do seem to be more open to persuasion than in the last election.
BANKS: My other question is about meditation: The discussion in the opening looked at all of these different faith groups that meditate. I’m wondering why the numbers may be so – perhaps surprisingly – high and whether there’s an issue, again, of how people define meditation. I wonder whether some people might be confusing it or equating it with prayer.
SMITH: I don’t necessarily suspect people are confusing meditation with prayer. What is striking to us is that it’s such a common practice. I think this is telling us meditation is not a practice limited to smaller religious traditions or Eastern religious traditions, but, rather, has really gained a foothold in the culture at large and has been adopted by many Christian traditions as a form of religious practice or introspection.
LUGO: What we can’t answer, based on this, is what are the sources of this, let’s say, for the high percentage of Christians who are meditating. Are they rediscovering an older mystical tradition of Christianity, of which there is quite a body of literature, or are they incorporating elements of Buddhism or the practice of yoga, coming up with some kind of blended religious identity in which they do their Christian prayers, but they also meditate? It’s an interesting question. How much of this blending of religious identities and practices is going on, John?
GREEN: Luis, you’re absolutely right. We can’t say anything about the source and, Adelle, that’s why I think your question about what people mean by prayer and what they mean by meditation is an important one. It may be that many of the people who said they meditate engage in meditative prayer, that is, a particular kind of prayer. We can’t get at that.
I do agree with Greg, though, that it’s somewhat unlikely people are confusing these things too much because of the way the questions were asked in the survey. They were asked one after another and so people had these options in front of them. But it is just interesting to see how widespread meditation has become, whatever its source are.
JULIA DUIN, WASHINGTON TIMES: Two questions. Under social and political views, I was just curious why there is an oversample of Muslims – you had 1,050 Muslims compared to 682 Jews and 561 Mormons -
SMITH: Last May, we released the results of a first-of-its-kind, unprecedented survey based on a probability sample of 1,050 Muslims living in the United States. Many of the questions we included on this Religious Landscape Survey were also included in that survey. That survey had a large sample of Muslims, as I mentioned. It was also conducted in three languages. In addition to English, we conducted interviews in Arabic, Urdu, and Farsi. So, basically, we think the results of that survey for Muslims, because of the sample size and the multi-language interviewing, provide the best read anywhere to date on the views and opinions of the Muslim community in the United States.
DUIN: So you just transferred all of that stuff over from one survey to another?
SMITH: Whenever we could, that’s what we did. There are many questions that only appeared on the landscape survey, in which case, we did rely on the 116 interviews we conducted with Muslims in the course of the landscape survey. But wherever possible, we relied on our survey of Muslims.
DUIN: Okay, it’s confusing when you look at it. The other question has to do with the question on frequency of attendance at religious services under beliefs and practices. Interestingly, the people who attend church once a week – a national total of 24 percent -is way below Gallup’s 42 percent. Are you sure these figures -
SMITH: Yes, that 24 percent is the number who attend church more than once a week.
DUIN: No, it says “once a week.” More than once a week is 15 percent.
SMITH: What page are you looking at?
LUGO: The Gallup numbers, Greg, are “at least once a week,” which would include those who go once a week and those who go more than once a week. So when we total it up -
SMITH: We find that 39 percent of the public attends church at least once a week, which is -
DUIN: It would have helped to have put that in because it’s a bit confusing the way it reads now. Thirty-nine percent?
SMITH: I think it’s on page 36.
DUIN: We don’t have pages on the website – it doesn’t read like that. You just click on “Beliefs and Practices” and then “Frequency of Attendance.” Okay, so you add the 15 percent to 24 percent to come up with the 39 percent?
LUGO: It’s in the same ballpark as the Gallup findings. We thought adding an additional question for those who go more than once a week would give us even more granularity in getting at those folks who are highly committed in terms of their religious attendance.
SMITH: I do want everyone to be clear that we find 39 percent, about four in 10, tell us they attend church on at least a weekly basis. We’re checking the website just to be sure that’s clear but that is, in fact, what we found.
BARBARA KARKABI, HOUSTON CHRONICLE: About the attendance: How has that changed over the years, the fact of 39 percent attend at least once a week. Is that less? More? How do you gauge that?
GREEN: That figure is a little bit lower than, let’s say, the Gallup Poll would find these days, which typically a little bit higher – maybe 41, 42 percent – but those figures have been remarkably stable for the last 20 years. If one were to go back to the 1950s and 1960s, worship attendance was higher then. So there has been a decline from the 1960s to the present, but the decline came mostly in the ’60s and the ’70s and then during the ’80s and the ’90s it remained very constant and remains at that constant level today.
KARKABI: One more question: You say that 90 percent of evangelicals say their belief in God is absolutely certain. That’s surprising; I would have thought it would be higher than that.
GREEN: There is an example of the diversity of religious belief and practice. Not everybody in evangelical churches is absolutely sure God exists. Nine out of 10 is a very high number if you look at the various groups, but part of this just reflects human variation. No religious group is entirely homogeneous – some are more than others. As one of my Southern Baptist friends says, there are a few heretics in every group.
SMITH: Let me just mention something else on Julia’s question. I was just looking at the census-like tables that we have in the back of this report under question 20, about attending more than once a week. The question really underscores who the folks are who are really, really committed in terms of their attendance. This figure, I thought, was eye-popping: 71 percent of the Jehovah’s Witnesses we interviewed told us they went to church more than once a week, which is, by far, the highest number. Mormons, evangelicals, and members of historically black churches came in the second tier, around 30 percent each. So that is really a remarkable measure of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their attachment to their local places of worship.
JEFF DIAMANT, NEWARK STAR LEDGER: I’m struck by the question about the percentages of Americans that determine right and wrong based on either common sense or pragmatism as opposed to their religious values. Greg, you spoke about this before, but I’m wondering if John or Luis could talk about that.
Also, could you define “evangelical” in this? Is it supposed to be white evangelicals only or does it include Hispanic Protestants too?
GREEN: I can answer your second question. What we tried to do in this report is be highly consistent in the way we measure different aspects of religion. Our affiliation measures are based exclusively on affiliation. So the people we identify as members of evangelical Protestant churches are not just white evangelicals. That category includes anybody who belongs to the denominations we have determined are in that tradition.
Obviously, if you break out whites, you get a little bit different results on many questions because, in our overall figures, Hispanics are in there, as well as some African Americans who belong to those churches. This is one thing the Religious Landscape Survey can do that many other surveys can’t. Here at the Pew Forum, we often times, because of a small sample size, have to define black Protestants simply as people who are Protestant and who are black, and we’re unable to look at African Americans who might belong to, say, the Southern Baptist Convention.
So the affiliation measures are strictly affiliation measures. They don’t include race, they don’t include other types of measures -
DIAMANT: Are they defined somewhere in the report? If I were to look, maybe in the index, would I see who was included as evangelical?
GREEN: Yes, it’s in there.
SMITH: There’s an appendix at the end of the report that documents all of the denominations that went into each tradition.
LUGO: And in the first release, we actually broke down each of those traditions demographically, so it goes in the other direction too. There are many members of historically black churches who are not African American: whites, Latinos, et cetera. We cut it here by affiliation, so, you’re right, each of those affiliation categories is going to include African Americans, whites, Hispanics, Asians, et cetera, because it’s by affiliation.
DIAMANT: Just wanted to make sure. To add a follow-up to the first question I asked about common sense as opposed to religion: Have those results been reported in other studies before? It doesn’t pop out to me that I’ve seen that elsewhere.
GREEN: No, to my knowledge, that particular question has not been asked in previous surveys about religion. Questions like that have been asked about issues. Some of the studies done here at the Pew Research Center have done that. In that sense, the finding is not entirely new, although we can show it, of course, in a great deal more detail.
The finding is that a lot of Americans make their decisions in a less cognitive way. That is, they don’t take their religious beliefs, their political philosophy, or what they learned in school, and apply it directly in a logical fashion to their opinions. What they do is develop their opinions, whether it’s about right or wrong or about anything else, indirectly – through common sense, through experience. Now, some of the common sense and experience people are reporting may, in fact, be based in religious communities, so there may be a powerful indirect effect.
A lot of this just simply has to do with the way ordinary people think. They are not intellectuals and so while their religion is very important to them, often it’s the communal and experiential aspects of religion that are critical rather than the cognitive aspects.
LUGO: That’s a critical point. We point this out in the introduction of Chapter Two, where we lead off by saying relatively few Americans say they look to religion as the primary source of their views on social and political issues. Yet, when we do the analysis, there is a very powerful relationship between people’s affiliation and their religious practices and beliefs with precisely those social and political attitudes.
So I think John is absolutely right. There may be a much more powerful and direct effect here than many Americans suspect. What they may be telling us is they’re not drawing a straight line between, perhaps, reading a verse in Exodus or the Book of Acts or a syrah in the Koran and forming an immediate political conclusion from it. It may be much more indirectly related, and mediated, through their connection with religious communities. So I think it’s the sociological dimension as opposed to the cognitive dimension of religion that may be at play here.
MAUREEN FIEDLER, INTERFAITH VOICES: First of all, I’m looking at the website and have been since we started this. I can’t find the questions on meditation.
SMITH: The website has several components to it. We selected eight religious beliefs and behaviors and eight social and political views that are displayed in the graphical section of the website, but if you click on the PDF version of the full report, that has everything in it – all of the 60 questions Luis mentioned. We analyze the findings there but then each individual question can be found in the topline survey results, including mediation, which is question 42C, I believe.
FIEDLER: I do have just one or two other questions. This is on the political and economic views: Did you ask any question about the salience of certain issues; whether some issues are more important than others to these folks?
LUGO: The answer is no. A lot of that is very specific to the timeframe in which you ask it – things change quickly. In this survey, we attempted to gauge longer term views and attitudes. However, in our summer survey, which is always focused on religion and politics and especially this year, Maureen, you better believe we’re going to try to get at the ranking of these things and the intensity with which people believe in certain issues as opposed to others.
This was John’s point before, that people may have a view on something but it may not drive their vote because they may consider something else much more important. So stay tuned on that.
FIEDLER: I noticed in the issues you highlighted, there’s nothing on economics.
SMITH: We’ve got a couple of economic questions -
FIEDLER: That may be also buried in your full report somewhere.
SMITH: Yes, we’ve got a couple of questions in there on whether or not people think government should be doing more to provide aid to the needy. There’s also a question in there about whether or not people prefer a smaller government providing fewer services to a larger government providing more services. But you may be right, those may be more in the PDF of Chapter Two rather than in the graphical component of the website.
LUGO: To underscore, Maureen, the point John made: There is, in fact, more consensus on those questions than there is on ideology in general or culture war issues in particular. There are differences between groups, and there are differences within groups on those questions, but they’re not nearly as pronounced as what we find when we analyze other questions.
FIEDLER: Just one quick final question: As long-time observers of such data, although this is much more expansive data than we’re used to, what surprised you the most with this set of data?
GREEN: I was surprised by two things. The first thing was the enormous diversity of American religion. Now, I have written about that for 25 years. But even I was stunned by just how diverse it was. This survey allowed us to look at beliefs, behaviors, and affiliation in unprecedented detail. And the diversity goes all the way down. So when we say America is religiously diverse, we really mean it. That surprised me.
The second thing was the large number of Americans that have a non-dogmatic view of their faith. Again, we had seen some evidence of that in previous surveys, but this was quite surprising for me because it was larger, and not only larger but more widespread. It extends to all of the largest religious communities and too many of the smaller ones.
So this is clearly an important aspect of American religion. We think it is likely that it’s connected to the great diversity of American religion, because the average American is likely, on a daily basis, to run into somebody who has a different faith than their own, or someone of their own faith who might practice that faith very differently than they do. These are things that are always difficulty to nail down absolutely, but we suspect that non-dogmatic approach is a very practical response to living in a diverse and pluralistic society.
LUGO: Which extends – if you recall the findings from the first survey – to people’s own families, because we found that a significant number of married people live in a marriage that is inter-religious. So this kind of variety goes right down to the kitchen table.
PETER STEINFELS, NEW YORK TIMES: I have a two-part question, and it deals with the views on God, especially certainty and uncertainty in belief in God. But first, I just wanted to thank you folks for the work you’ve done on the survey and in presenting it. And second, I’d like to say I don’t have anything on a screen in front of me, so maybe some of these answers are already there.
The first part of my question is whether you found any demographic correlations in terms of certainty and uncertainty. People might suppose things about education but I’d also be interested in things like gender. The second part of the question has to do with whether there’s any data regarding change over time in terms of certainty and uncertainty.
I ask because there are some generalizations about secularization that conclude that uncertainty will grow over time and that religious folks will have to learn to live with a greater uncertainty about belief, even in very basic things.
LUGO: Excellent questions, Peter. Greg, I know you’ve looked some at the age breakdowns here.
SMITH: We have started to look at some of the demographic correlates, and the way we have done that is to look at differences in terms of who says they believe in a personal God with absolute certainty. What we find is that women are significantly more likely than men to say that they are absolutely certain in their belief in a personal God: I think it’s 58 to 45 percent. That’s consistent with lots of other research showing women to be somewhat more religiously engaged as compared with men on a variety of measures, including the likelihood of being affiliated with a religion at all, which is something we documented in the first report.
We also show that older Americans are considerably more likely than younger people to profess certain belief in a personal God. Interestingly we found those age differences, those generational differences, are especially pronounced among Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and a little bit smaller in some of the other religious traditions.
The third thing I’d note is that we show, overall, Americans with a college education – people who have at least a bachelor’s degree – tend to be slightly less likely to believe in a personal God with absolutely certainty compared with those with less education. But interestingly, the opposite pattern is true among members of evangelical churches where those people with a college degree are actually more likely than those with a high school education or less to profess certain belief in a personal God.
The trend over time in terms of overall belief in God – the simple question is: do you believe in God or universal spirit or not – is quite steady. Surveys going back decades consistently find upwards of nine of 10 Americans express belief in God. I’m not sure about the certainty.
GREEN: Peter, part of the problem is we don’t always have comparable measures, so we have to make some inferences about the certainty question. There is evidence suggesting there has been a small decline in the number of people that are certain about their belief in God, if one compares the present back to the 1960s. But the change was gradual and slow. One might not find a particularly large difference, say, between now and 1990.
Part of this is that these kinds of beliefs change very, very slowly. So there may have been some decline in certainty. Whether that would continue into the future is hotly debated among sociologists of religion because the youngest cohorts of Americans today are distinctly less religious than older people in many respects, and the certainty issue may be part of those differences. In the past, younger people have shown similar patterns but then as they got older, they rediscovered religion and became more certain about their faith. Some scholars believe this will happen again. Others believe there is something unique about this current generation. So it may very well be that the level of certainty, even about something as basic as a belief in God, may continue to decline over the next generation.
LUGO: Certainly, there is indirect evidence. The percentage of people who are truly secular – I don’t just mean unaffiliated, but truly secular unaffiliated – has grown. So for the population as a whole, there have to be lower levels of certainty, not only about belief in God but also in the content of that faith.
What is it with 29 percent of Catholics who told us they think of God as an impersonal force rather than a personal God? I don’t remember how these things went when I was a child, but I think the doctrine of the Trinity or the Incarnation, for instance, in Catholic teaching would tend to lead to a very different kind of catechesis than that, so what is it with such a high percentage of Catholics who said they saw God as an impersonal force? I thought that was rather striking.
It may not just be the degree of certitude that’s changing, but actually the content of what people mean when they said they believe in God. Both of those things, I think, are quite important.
ROBERT KING, INDIANAPOLIS STAR: The previous question got at my question about the differences between men and women, if you want to elaborate on that.
More so, and I would appreciate it from a practical reporting perspective, I’m looking at your website here, and I’m very interested in the individual state-by-state analysis. What level of specificity can I get on a state like Indiana? I’m seeing about eight different categories; is that as far as it goes?
SMITH: That’s as far as it goes for now. We’ve provided details about the religious beliefs and practices of nearly every state on eight different religious beliefs and practices but that may be supplemented over the course of the coming months. There’s no reason why we couldn’t show results on more questions broken down by state in the future.
With respect to patterns of gender and religion, I think on many of the religious measures we looked at, it’s fair to say women tend to be more religious than men. We find, for instance, that women are more likely than men to say they attend religious services on at least a weekly basis. They’re a bit more likely to say religion is important in their lives, and they’re also more likely to say they pray on a regular basis, or more frequently than men. That’s a recurring theme we noticed throughout the results of our report. It’s also very consistent with lots of previous research.
LUGO: Just a final thing on Peter’s question. I’d like to remind people this is a snapshot, not a video, of religion in the U.S., and it’s always difficult when you’re not dealing with the same survey questions to make comparisons. We do the best we can to help you folks out, but always with that caveat in mind, that these questions are not always precisely worded the same way. And we know that wording differences can make huge, huge differences in terms of the way people respond.
PETER SMITH, LOUISVILLE COURIER-JOURNAL: I was wondering about the question, “Does religion cause more problems than it solves?” A majority of Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus said it does. Any thoughts on that?
GREEN: Oftentimes perceptions about the role of religion in society depend upon the status of the perceiver. Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus all have something in common, which is they are very distinct minorities in the United States. It may be when a Jewish respondent, for instance, hears the question of religion, they think about Christianity or particularly about evangelical Christianity, which they may see in a very negative light.
On the other hand, a Roman Catholic or an evangelical, or a mainline Protestant, people who belong to large groups – Of course, one of the things our report shows is at the level of denominational affiliation, there is no majority in the United States. Everybody is a minority, but some minorities are much larger and because they share with other large groups a common background in Christianity, they might perceive themselves as being something closer to the mainstream or a majority of some kind. And people in that context may see religion very differently because they don’t see oppressive behavior by a large religious community. I think that’s a lot of what’s going on behind that question.
PETER SMITH: Yet it doesn’t seem to play with all the religious minorities like Muslims and, if I remember right, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are much more positive about religion.
GREEN: That’s a good point, and the explanation can’t be just about minority status; maybe it’s also about the particular experiences of those religions.
One of the most interesting things to me is the very positive views Mormons have of religion in American society given the history of Mormons, a religious minority that was actively oppressed in the 19th century and is still not viewed in a very positive light by many Americans. I think delving into the particular context of and experiences of these religious communities can help explain those findings.
LUGO: I think that’s right. Another factor is the teachings of those religious communities in terms of religion’s proper role in public life. You may be seeing something of that among Jehovah’s Witnesses, who scored very negative on that question. There may be some teachings in that particular religion that, in fact, would probably object to applying the term religion to what they do. They tend to view religion just as a negative thing, so of course it would be bad for society.
PETER SMITH: Did you cross-check that in terms of education levels, because I’m wondering about the education levels among Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists, and whether those findings are another factor of the more people are educated, the more skeptical they may be of religious institutions?
GREG SMITH: We have not looked at that yet, but that’s a great candidate for further study as we go down the road.
LUGO: Getting back to your comment on a previous question, Greg: What is the story of what you said concerning education and certainty about beliefs? If the differences indeed are slight, then the story is not that there’s a difference, but that the difference is so slight. Many people expect that a college degree launches people into a much higher degree of skepticism. So if the differences are not striking, that’s what’s interesting. What do you think about that?
GREG SMITH: I think that’s right, and at least when it comes to certain belief in a personal God, yes, the differences really are fairly muted. If you look at it by education among those who have a high school education or less, 53 percent say they are absolutely certain God exists and that they believe that God is a person. Among college graduates, that number is 48 percent. So a little bit smaller, but yes, I think you’re probably right that the relative lack of difference may be the story there.
DAVID GIBSON, BELIEFNET: A two-barreled question – one might be easier than the other. First, the easy one: You get a lot of talk about evangelicals becoming more liberal or about the rise of the religious left. In this figure under political ideology, among evangelicals, 52 percent identify as conservative, about 30 percent moderate, and 11 percent liberal. Any sense of a trend on those liberal or moderate numbers? Has that gone up compared to anything in the past?
SMITH: The unique opportunities provided by this survey also make it difficult to compare in some instances, and this is one of them. The reason is this: Obviously, we’ve been asking the question about political ideology, as have our sister projects here at the Pew Research Center, for years and years. But this is the first time we’ve ever been able to find evangelicals and also mainline Protestants and members of historically black churches by membership in a particular denomination as opposed to by their own self-described status as born-again or evangelical. So it makes apples-to-apples comparisons between this survey and earlier surveys difficult.
What I can say, though, is that if you look at surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center on partisanship, we have seen over the years something of a decline in the number of white evangelical Protestants describing themselves as Republicans or saying they lean to the Republican Party and that’s consistent with what we see among the population overall.
I’d also just reiterate what Luis and John pointed out about evangelicals’ openness to appeals from the left or the Democratic Party. I think that had much to do with priorities rather than with issue positions, because we show in this survey how religious groups, including evangelicals, have reached what might be termed a consensus on issues from the environment to aid to the needy to certain fundamental foreign affairs concepts. But the question of whether or not those issues become the issues upon which votes are cast is a very different question and a question that, as far as I can tell, is still very much open.
LUGO: I’ll ask John to comment here. He probably has all of the answers going back to who knows – what’s the first presidential campaign you covered? At least FDR, right?
GREEN: Abraham Lincoln. (Laughter.)
LUGO: People forget that even at the high water mark of evangelical attraction to a Republican candidate in 2004, Kerry won 22 percent of the evangelical vote and – (chuckles) – and that’s almost a quarter of the evangelical vote. That’s not inconsequential.
GREEN: There have been some shifts, as Greg indicated. By looking at a number of polls, we can see there have been some shifts in the partisanship of evangelicals, more away from the Republicans rather than toward the Democrats, and we’ve seen an increase in the number of Independents. My memory of the ideology question is that there’s been less change there, that evangelicals still tend to identify themselves as conservative. There may have some increase in moderates, but not a lot of increase in liberals. That’s not an identification evangelicals have traditionally adopted, and they don’t appear to be changing very much, at least as of the most recent surveys.
LUGO: In the re-contact survey, which will happen in the early fall so we’ll get these results out before the election, we do want to ask about ideology and party identification so at least we’ll have year-to-year comparisons of the same group, defined as members of evangelical churches. So that should be interesting.
David, you had a second question. That was your first barrel.
GIBSON: I had a second barrel, and it’s just for you, Luis. Maybe this will be teased out in your follow-up, but it’s one those chicken-and-egg questions about ideology and party affiliation and frequency of attendance. What comes first? Is religion conditioning these people? Or are morally, socially conservative folks finding affirmation or whatever in a religious body?
LUGO: I’m going to exercise the prerogative being the director and punt to John – (laughter.) John, you know more about this stuff than I do.
GREEN: It’s a very good question. If we look over a long enough period of time, over several generations, it seems to me the arrow of causality can go both ways. There are people who have been raised in a particular religion with particular values who then end up adopting a particular political point of view. There are also people who seek out churches or synagogues or mosques because they’re congenial to their particular points of view.
In the short run, it is probably more the application of religion to politics than people moving to congenial religious environments, because religious change occurs on a longer scale. In our previous report, we demonstrated major changes in religious affiliation over the lifetimes of the respondents. But in a short period of time, four to eight years, there’s more political movement than there is religious movement. So in the short term, the direction is more likely to be from religious beliefs to politics than the other way around.
But it’s important to notice that we have two factors here: We have religion, and we have politics. If people didn’t have certain religious beliefs, or live in certain religious contexts, they couldn’t connect those beliefs to politics but there has to be a politics that connects them. So for instance, if a particular candidate comes out and starts talking about faith and values in a particular way, that may bring about certain changes in the way people in religious communities respond.
GUY KOVNER, THEPRESS DEMOCRAT (SANTA ROSA, CALIF.): I think you’ve covered it but I’m still curious about your findings on page 17, where you talk about this nexus or lack of nexus between personal experience and religion. I think you’re suggesting Americans may actually be unaware of the degree to which religion is shaping their political views; you might say it’s kind of a stealth factor. Can you address that a little?
LUGO: John, I think you took the first crack at that and perhaps “stealth” is not the word you used, but more the idea of a communal, indirect connection as opposed to a cognitive straight line between one and the other.
GREEN: It may very well be that some of the biggest impacts of religion on people’s lives and on their political views and political behavior come indirectly and through their communal associations and religious experiences, and many people may be unaware of that. Social scientists like to do this with their students: They have students write down answers to certain questions along with their demographic characteristics, and then ask what the relationships are between the two. The point is, many people don’t realize how closely connected their social status is to the views they have. And there’s a reason for that. People live in the context of their social status, and they’re oftentimes not aware of it.
So part of this may simply be that people are not aware of these connections. Another part may be that they are aware of that fact but that they don’t draw logical connections between beliefs and conclusions but rather go about that in a more indirect way.
DAVID BRIGGS, CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER: Thank you very much, and I would like to extend, along with Peter, my thanks to everyone involved in this study. John and Greg, I’d like to tease out a bit more on the question of dogma and the non-dogmatic approach.
Throughout American religious history, there has been this degree of independence, because of the culture, and if we go back 20 or 30 years, I think we’d find some of these same findings on heaven and hell. Certainly, much of the research that’s been done over the last 20 years on Catholic and mainline Protestantism has showed that people will take the wrong perspectives on some church teachings.
But in terms of dogma, which relates to both divine revelation and the church teaching, it seems many studies have shown that despite disagreement on issues such as abortion or sexual issues like women clergy or celibate clergy, that on dogmatic issues of, say, the Trinity, or that the Eucharist represents the body and blood of Christ – There have been remarkable findings of large majorities agreeing on those issues and agreeing that they’re the most important issues of their faith.
So what is new in this study, and how do you use the term dogmatic? How should the term dogmatic be perceived?
GREEN: David, I’ll try to answer that and then Greg can straighten me out. We struggled a lot when we wrote this report as to how to describe this finding because we didn’t want to push it too far. When people tell us, for instance, that they believe many faiths can lead to eternal life, that could mean many things. It could mean people have a universalistic view of religion. It could be they’re merely tolerant. There’s also the question of who constitutes the “many” in that question. Is this a case of evangelicals who have decided mainline Protestants are within the fold but nobody else? Or are these evangelicals, for instance, who might include Jews and Muslims because after all, they’re people of scripture as well?
These are provocative findings because, in some sense, they raise as many questions as they answer. This question is interesting because it’s not so much a belief question. It’s a belief about belief. That’s why we ended up using the term “non-dogmatic” because one aspect of dogma is not just the content of a particular belief that a church or a religious tradition might teach, but it’s also the insistence on its correctness. The very thing you were describing in previous research, we find in this report, which is that many people who adopt this non-dogmatic or non-exclusive view of their own faith nonetheless believe the central dogmas of the faith to which they affiliate.
They believe in God, they believe in the authority of scripture, they believe in heaven, they believe in hell. So what we’re getting at here is how people interpret their faith vis-à-vis other faiths, and this is not an entirely new finding, but we were just struck how extensive the patterns were.
SMITH: I think this is a great question. I just want to be sure everyone understands there are two main questions in the survey that we relied upon in discussing these findings and the questions were as follows.
We read people a pair of statements and then asked them to choose between the two statements and tell us which came closer to their own views. The first pair of statements was: “My religion is the one true faith leading to eternal life” and “Many religions can lead to eternal life.” They had to choose one of those. The next pair of statements was: “There is only one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion,” and “There is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion.”
So we’re describing people who said many religions can lead to eternal life and said there’s more than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion as having adopted a non-dogmatic approach to matters of faith.
LUGO: I’ll confess to you this is one area where the director was outvoted. My personal preference was to use the term flexibility – Americans are flexible in their beliefs. I even wrote David Brooks to see if we could borrow his phrase, “flexidoxy,” which he introduced in his book, Bobos in Paradise. David wrote back and said, “I don’t have a problem with that. You may have a problem, however, with a Jewish rabbi in Montana, from whom I borrowed the term.” (Laughter.) So I figured, okay, let’s go back to dogmatism.
BRIGGS: May I ask one follow-up question, and that’s to go along with the subject Cathy introduced earlier: trying to find the things that are strikingly new from a journalistic standpoint. Here are the three things I’ve come up with so far, and I just wanted to ask your perspective. One was the question on many paths to eternal life. And the other was, particularly in light of this election cycle, the vast consensus on the environment and foreign affairs. Both would seem to provide somewhat of an opening for Democratic appeal. I just wanted to ask your thoughts as to how accurate that perception is.
LUGO: We can include government aid to the poor; there was also significant consensus there. What does that tell us in terms of a potential opening among religiously conservative voters, including evangelicals, for the Democratic Party?
GREEN: I think the opening is there. It could be the opportunity has been there for a while but it’s certainly there now. This means the right Democratic candidate, with the right kind of appeal, may very well be able to make inroads among conservative religious voters, at least as compared to 2000 and 2004.
Because David, as you remember, with your historical sense of American religion, there was a time when lots of religious conservatives did vote Democratic. That was back a generation or so ago, but that did happen and it may very well have happened largely because of these types of issues. So I think there is an opening. The pragmatism, the non-exclusive view of religion, the non-dogmatic approach, whatever you choose to call it, will make it easier for those types of openings to be exploited by politicians because there isn’t the kind of hostility between religious groups that might once have characterized American politics.
DENNIS CODAY, NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER: I’m wondering which is a better indicator of political activism: affiliation or various practices and beliefs? And then a follow-up to that would be: What are the chief indicators of political activism?
GREEN: If you mean by political activism, turning out to vote, participating in campaigns, donating money, going to meetings, then worship attendance and other measures of religious commitment are more powerful measures than affiliation. But it turns out that if one wants a full picture of the impact of religion on politics, one has to look at not just at worship attendance and religious behavior, but also at affiliation and belief. Religious practices do not occur in a vacuum; they occur in a particular context, and someone turning out to vote is important, but who they vote for also matters. And that’s influenced by beliefs and affiliation.
So overall, the level of political activity is best predicted by religious behavior. Many social scientists have noted a kind of behavior-behavior link. Likewise, it turns out that religious beliefs, which are attitudes, tend to predict political attitudes better; there’s an attitude-attitude link.
MARK SILK, TRINITY COLLEGE: Luis, you mentioned that the landscape survey came up with 116 Muslims, which by my back-of-the-calculator calculation is 0.3 percent of the population being Muslims. I wondered why you chose, given the size of the survey, not to report that finding given the intensity of interest in the proportion of Muslims in America, rather than the 0.6 percent number from your earlier survey, and in effect, not report the finding from the big survey?
LUGO: It’s a very good question. Greg, you may have mentioned it, but let’s go over it again. Why did we think the incidence rate for Muslims from the Muslim American survey is more authoritative than the estimates that come out from this survey? Then, I will jump in and just talk more broadly about the challenge of doing surveys among religious communities that have a strong immigrant component, including the Hispanic community, which is a continuing challenge in terms of English-only surveys. So Greg, just remind folks of the difference between the two in terms of languages, sampling, et cetera.
SMITH: Your back-of-the-envelope calculations are right. After weighting the data, we find that four-tenths of one percent – 0.4 percent – of our respondents in the landscape survey are Muslim. That’s very consistent with lots of other surveys done in English or English with a Spanish option, including our own surveys that have been conducted over the years, which find about four-tenths or five-tenths of one percent of the population are Muslim.
We went with the sixth-tenths of one percent number, primarily because we think it’s a better estimate. We think it’s a better estimate because it comes from a survey that included languages in addition to English – Arabic, Urdu, and Farsi; we think that’s a more accurate estimate of the Muslim share of the U.S. population -
LUGO: The adult population specifically.
SMITH: – compared with surveys like this one that are conducted in English with a Spanish option, which may miss some Muslims who are unable to speak English but that also may miss members of other groups that are disproportionately composed of immigrants. I’ll let Luis speak a little bit more to that point.
LUGO: Believe me, Mark, we’re still pulling the arrows out from the 0.6 percent estimates of adult Muslims in this country among American adults. As you know, advocacy groups put that figure much, much higher. So just to reiterate what Greg said, I think a lot of the difference here is about language. We find this among Hispanics, among whom there is the highest incidence – among Hispanic immigrants – of non-English speaking.
We’re actually not in that bad a shape with immigrants coming from other parts of the world, although it still is a challenge, as we saw with the Muslim Americans we surveyed. But in the Hispanic community, a strong majority simply are not fluent enough in English to take a survey like this. That’s why we offered the Spanish option on this one. It’s unfortunate, because of the cost restrictions, that we can’t do this across the board. But it’s always an issue when you’re dealing with smaller religious groups, like Hindus, et cetera. They have a high percentage of immigrants. One has to be very, very careful in talking about incidence rates, not necessarily beliefs and behaviors, which is what we’re primarily focused on. But for those groups, incidence rates are very, very difficult to pin down.
There is a section in the first release in which we talked about this for the Hispanic community. We were very candid and upfront. If we conduct an interview in English, a certain percentage of Hispanics turn out to be Catholic. If we conduct an interview in English and add a Spanish option so they can be called back later and interviewed in Spanish, the number is different. And then, the third element of the test is a fully bilingual survey in which the people calling them can literally switch at the drop of a hat from Spanish to English or English to Spanish. So we get different results for the percentage of Hispanics who are Catholic. The language factor is a consideration there without any question.
It’s a point we take very seriously. We try to do as best we can. But we are very upfront in terms of the limitations of instruments like this.
SILK: If I understood you correctly – I didn’t have a chance to look through the entire report – there is no separate breakout for white evangelicals. The numbers on political identification would include Latino evangelicals as well as maybe some black members of evangelical denominations. Is that correct?
LUGO: That is correct. But there’s no reason why we couldn’t break it down further. So if you wanted a breakdown of members of white members of evangelical churches, we could certainly run those numbers for you, Mark.
SILK: That would be interesting. Thank you.
CHRIS HERLINGER, ECUMENICAL NEWS INTERNATIONAL: Gentlemen, thank you for the report, very interesting reading here.
I’m fascinated by one figure in particular, this issue of dogma and Americans not being dogmatic about religion, with 57 percent of evangelicals saying many religions can lead to eternal life, and 53 percent saying there is more than one true way to interpret the teaching of my religion. That’s a majority. To me, that’s a very striking figure. Did it strike you as surprising in any way?
GREEN: Yes, it did strike me as very surprising. If one breaks out the evangelical community into its different components, as you might imagine, some groups of evangelicals wouldn’t have a majority with these non-dogmatic views. But, overall, the religious tradition as a whole does have these findings. I think that will surprise a lot of people, including some people in evangelical churches.
HERLINGER: One other question on the issue of homosexuality. Any movement, any change, in the views of that?
SMITH: If you look at views on homosexuality among the public overall, there has been some gradual movement over the last, say, 10 to 15 years. Back in 1994 and ’95, and even 1997 when our colleagues at the Pew Research Center conducted surveys, they found closer to half of the public saying homosexuality is a way of life that should be discouraged by society. And of course, in more recent years, including in this survey, that number stands at about four in 10. So yes, there has been a little bit of movement in the direction of increased acceptance of homosexuality over time.
LUGO: The same cannot be said, necessarily, on the abortion question, right? The other bookend of the culture wars seems to be a little different.
SMITH: I think it’s fair to say opinions about abortion have been more stable over that same period of time, yes.
DIANE HAAG, THETIMES (SHREVEPORT, LA.): As far as this non-dogmatic issue, is it that people are rejecting the tenets of their faith, or do they just not know or understand the tenets of their faith?
GREEN: There are a number of different possibilities. We do know from other studies that there is an extraordinary level of ignorance about religious matters. So some of this may be simply that a lot of Americans don’t know enough about their faith to believe there is a difference between their faith and other people’s faith.
It is very unlikely that most people who hold these views are rejecting the tenets of their faith because other items in this survey show that many, many of those people hold traditional religious beliefs and engage in traditional religious practices. So it doesn’t seem to be the case that people have this non-dogmatic approach because they’ve stopped taking religion seriously or taking their own faith seriously. As we indicated in an answer to an earlier question, there is some question as to exactly what people mean by this. As Luis mentioned, that is one of the things we’re going to try to probe in a future survey.
LUGO: There is another question in here, which we haven’t commented on: A plurality of people want their traditions to retain traditional beliefs and practices. And another good portion want some accommodation while still retaining some of those beliefs and practices. Only a small minority, in fact, want their traditions to just adopt modern values. So there is some pushback here; this is not just a one-way street. This is not Americans being endlessly flexible. There is also an anchor there for many people that keeps them very closely tied to their tradition, even as they’re negotiating this great religious diversity, which is all around them.
JOHN SMITH, READING (PENNSYLVANIA) EAGLE: My original question about what surprised you most, John, was asked some time ago. But a related question would be: What would be the biggest stereotype or most commonly held opinion that your study seems to refute?
GREEN: I would say the biggest stereotype this study undermines is the notion that religious affiliation, religious belief, and religious behavior all occur together, so that if one is a Catholic, one necessarily believes certain things and necessarily engages in certain practices. Or if one is an evangelical, then one looks very much like other evangelicals. Again, we oftentimes talk about the diversity of American religion, but then fall back easily on stereotypes. The Catholics are like this or Jews or like that. Or Muslims have a different perspective. And while there certainly are systematic differences among these religious traditions, there is an extraordinary amount of diversity within them.
GROSSMAN: I have the traditional double-barreled question here. Actually, one of them is more of a comment.
I noticed when I looked on the map a half-hour ago when we were talking about meditation that, in fact, meditation closely correlates for most religious groups with frequency of church attendance. The answers to that question struck me until I actually looked at the liturgy of a lot of churches and talked to people who have gone to historically black churches. Meditation is built into the religious service for many of these things. For Jews who go to synagogue, there is silent mediation in every service. For historically black churches, there is meditation built into a lot of services. So it’s not that suddenly a lot of Christian folks are sitting around with their legs crossed going “Om” or something.
LUGO: That’s an excellent point.
GROSSMAN: Now, going back to the discussion about ideology: When people are given a choice of ideology – conservative, moderate, liberal – are they doing with ideology the same as they’re doing with their religious brand, wearing the baseball hat but they’re not going to the game necessarily? Just because they call themselves conservative doesn’t mean that when they actually choose among the issues that will drive their vote, they won’t turn up with some unexpected bedfellows in the voting booth?
LUGO: Excellent points.
GREEN: Cathy, you’re absolutely right. These general religious and political attitudes like ideology and partisanship are very powerful when it comes to predicting the vote, but they are not determinative. Just as you can have a Republican who might decide to vote Democratic or a Democrat that might decide to vote Republican, despite the fact that they identify with one of the teams in American politics, likewise you might have someone who thinks of themselves as conservative who might actually hold liberal values on a particular issue and might end up voting on the basis of that issue.
So the general attitudes do matter, but there is a lot more detail that goes into particular issue positions.
LUGO: In the call-back survey, we’ll want to seriously think about going beyond just the three categories and giving people maybe a zero to 10 spectrum and saying, “In terms of ideology, from most liberal to most conservative, where do you put yourself?” That will give people a lot more options than just three. I would not be surprised if there are a lot of moderates who, presented with that kind of choice, will tend toward the conservative or toward the liberal. I think we need a bit more granularity to sort this out. Greg, you want to say something on that?
SMITH: One of the differences between ideology and party and religious affiliation is that on both ideology and – to a lesser extent – partisanship, people have a nice large middle category to jump into. The way we ask about ideology is we say, in general, would you describe your political views as very conservative, conservative, moderate, liberal, or very liberal. When you ask people about their religious affiliation, there really is no equivalent middle category. So I don’t think the two kinds of questions are exactly comparable.
GROSSMAN: You guys broke my heart that you didn’t give us the Catholic data before the Pope’s visit, but are you going to at least get this to us before the election? I’m referring to the new survey that you’re going to do this summer.
LUGO: With that one, we’re in a race against time. We’re not going to analyze all of the conversion stuff: how often people have converted, why do they convert. That may wait until later. But anything that’s juicy and timely, Cathy, believe me, we’re not going to sit on it until after the election. We’ll get that out there right away.
GROSSMAN: Thank you.
LUGO: Thank you. Thank you very much to all of you for joining us. Please do let us know if we can be of further help.
This written transcript has been edited for clarity, spelling, grammar and accuracy by Andrea Useem.
Cite this publication: Joseph Liu. “Press Conference Transcript: U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (June 23, 2008) http://www.pewforum.org/2008/06/23/us-religious-landscape-survey-report-ii/, accessed on July 23, 2014.