September 22, 2014

Public Sees Religion’s Influence Waning

Section 2: The Religious Landscape of the 2014 Elections

The partisan preferences of religious groups have remained relatively stable in recent years. Majorities of black Protestants and the religiously unaffiliated continue to identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, and say they would vote for the Democratic congressional candidate in their district this fall. At the other end of the spectrum, white evangelical Protestants continue to support the Republican Party and the Republican candidate in their congressional district.

At the same time, the new poll finds some signs of discontent within the GOP among its supporters. Among Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP, half or more say the party is not doing a good job representing their views on government spending, illegal immigration and same-sex marriage, and they are divided about whether or not the party is doing a good job representing their views on abortion. Evangelical Republicans who express discontent with the GOP would like to see it move in a more conservative direction on all of these issues. Non-evangelicals within the Republican Party share the desire for a more conservative stance on government spending and immigration, but are divided on the party’s direction on abortion. And more non-evangelicals who disapprove of the party’s stance on same-sex marriage believe the GOP is too conservative than believe it is too liberal. Democrats get better ratings from their partisans on all of these issues.

How Well Do the Parties Represent Their Supporters’ Views?

Democrats More Positive Than Republicans in Rating Their Party's Job Representing Their ViewsSix-in-ten Democrats and those who lean Democratic say the Democratic Party is doing a good job representing their views on same-sex marriage (62%) and abortion (61%). Smaller numbers rate the Democratic Party positively for representing their views on government spending (49%) and illegal immigration (47%).

On all four issues, Republicans give the GOP lower marks than Democrats give the Democratic Party. In fact, more Republicans say the GOP is not doing a good job representing their views on government spending, illegal immigration and same-sex marriage than say the Republican Party is doing a good job on these issues. Republicans are divided over whether the party is doing a good job representing their views on abortion (44% say it is doing a good job, 45% say it is not).

Republicans Rate GOP's Job Representing Their Views on the IssuesIn the survey, those who said their party is not doing a good job representing their views on a certain issue were asked a follow-up question about the nature of their dissatisfaction. Republicans unhappy with their party’s handling of government spending overwhelmingly say the party should take a more conservative stance on this issue. Roughly half of Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP (48%) say the party is not willing enough to cut government spending, while only 8% say it is too willing to make cuts.

Many Republicans also want to see the party take a more conservative stand on illegal immigration. One-third of Republicans and those who lean toward the Republican Party say the GOP is not doing a good job representing their views on this issue because it is too willing to allow immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to gain legal status, while just 18% express dissatisfaction with the party because it is not willing enough to allow for legal status.

Republicans are more divided over the direction they would like to see the GOP take on abortion and same-sex marriage. About a quarter (24%) say the GOP is not doing a good job representing their views on abortion because it is too liberal (in that it is not sufficiently willing to restrict abortion), while 19% say the GOP is too conservative on this issue (because it is too willing to restrict abortion). On the issue of same-sex marriage, 22% of Republicans say the GOP is too liberal (i.e., too willing to accept same-sex marriage), while 28% say it is too conservative (not willing enough to accept same-sex marriage).

Across religious groups, Republicans who are dissatisfied with the job the GOP is doing representing their views on government spending are united in the view that the party should take a more conservative stance on this issue. On other issues, however, evangelicals are more likely than Republicans from other religious groups to say the GOP should take a more conservative stance.

For example, one-third of white evangelical Protestant Republicans (34%) say their party is not willing enough to put restrictions on abortion, while just 7% say the party is too willing to restrict abortion. Republicans from other religious groups are much more evenly divided over whether the GOP should take a more conservative or more liberal approach to abortion.

Similarly, most evangelical Republicans who are dissatisfied with the GOP’s handling of same-sex marriage say the party is too liberal (too willing to accept same-sex marriage). By contrast, among non-evangelical Republicans who express dissatisfaction with the party’s position on same-sex marriage, opinion leans in the opposite direction, with more saying the party is too conservative than saying it is too liberal.

There are smaller differences by religion in Republicans’ evaluations of how the GOP is representing their views on illegal immigration. Roughly a third in each major religious group say the party is too willing to allow immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to gain legal status.

Many Evangelical Republicans Want More Conservative GOP

Democrats Rate Democratic Party's Job Representing Their Views on the IssuesLike Republicans, Democrats who are dissatisfied with the job their party is doing representing their views on government spending think the party is too liberal; 30% of Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party say the party is not willing enough to cut government spending, while just 12% say the party is too willing to cut government spending. On other issues, Democrats who are discontent with the Democratic Party are more evenly split between those who think the party is too liberal and those who think it is too conservative.

On government spending and abortion, black Protestant Democrats are at least as positive as other religious groups when it comes to how well the Democratic Party is representing their views. And on illegal immigration, black Protestants are even more positive than most other major religious groups. Black Protestant Democrats give the party relatively low ratings, however, on the issue of same-sex marriage. Those who say the party is not doing a good job representing their views on this issue (42% of black Protestants overall) largely think the party is too willing to accept same-sex marriage (32%), with just 10% saying the party is too conservative on this issue.

Religious Groups' Ratings of the Democratic Party

Trends in Party Identification of Religious Groups

Despite some misgivings about the parties’ handling of specific issues, overall party preferences have held steady in recent years. In aggregated Pew Research polling conducted through July 2014, 48% of registered voters identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party and 43% favor the Republican Party – figures that are largely unchanged since 2010.

White evangelical Protestants continue to identify predominantly with the Republican Party; 72% identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, up slightly compared with 2010 (when 69% sided with the GOP).

At the other end of the spectrum, black Protestants continue to identify strongly with the Democratic Party, though this share has ticked down slightly from 88% in 2010 to 84% today. Jewish registered voters and those who are religiously unaffiliated also continue to identify mostly with the Democratic Party.

Party identification among Catholics is strongly correlated with race and ethnicity. White Catholics identify with or lean toward the Republican Party more than the Democratic Party (53% vs. 39% in 2014). By contrast, Hispanic Catholics are more than twice as likely to favor the Democratic Party than the Republican Party.

Party Affiliation by Religion: Long-Term Trends
Party Affiliation by Religion: Long-Term Trends  (continued)

Interest in the 2014 Elections

Will Definitely Vote in Upcoming Elections?Majorities of registered voters in each major religious group say they will definitely vote in the November elections, similar to the last midterm elections. While the shares of white evangelical Protestants, white mainline Protestants, black Protestants and the religiously unaffiliated saying they will definitely vote have remained relatively steady since 2010, more Catholics say they will definitely vote this November than said they would do so around the same time in 2010. About eight-in-ten Catholics (79%) say they will definitely vote in 2014, up 11 percentage points from September 2010.

Given “Quite a Lot” of Thought to November Elections?There is little difference in the share of voters who say they have given “quite a lot” of thought to the upcoming midterm elections. Half of registered voters (51%) say they have thought quite a lot about the 2014 elections, which is virtually identical to the share who said the same in September 2010.

For additional analysis of engagement in the 2014 elections, see “Wide Partisan Differences Over the Issues That Matter in 2014.”

Issue Priorities of Religious Groups

The Economy, Health Care and Terrorism Rank Among Most Important IssuesThe three issues most likely to be considered “very important” by registered voters as they look to the November elections are the economy (83%), health care (77%) and terrorism (75%). These issues are rated as very important by large majorities of nearly all major religious groups.

Roughly two-thirds of voters say the federal budget deficit (65%) and foreign policy (64%) will be very important issues as they think about the 2014 election, and 62% also rate immigration as very important. The budget deficit and immigration are particularly important to white evangelical Protestant voters, with 77% saying the deficit is a very important issue and 74% saying the same about immigration. These issues are less important to religious “nones.” Black Protestants are less likely than other religious groups to describe foreign policy as a very important issue as they think about the November elections.

Three social issues rank relatively low on voters’ list of priorities, with 46% of registered voters saying abortion is a very important issue in this election, 36% saying the same about birth control and 32% describing gay marriage as a very important issue. Evangelical voters are more likely than other groups to say abortion and gay marriage are very important issues, but even for evangelicals, these issues rank below several others.

For additional analysis of issue priorities among voters in the 2014 elections, see “Wide Partisan Differences Over the Issues That Matter in 2014.”

2014 Congressional Election Preferences by Religion

As the 2014 congressional elections near, voting preferences of religious groups have been fairly stable in Pew Research polls over the past year, and the patterns are largely unchanged from polling leading up to the 2010 midterms. White evangelical Protestant voters lean heavily toward the Republican candidate in their respective districts. At the other end of the spectrum, black Protestants and religiously unaffiliated voters lean strongly toward the Democratic candidate in their districts. White mainline Protestant and Catholic voters are more closely divided.

2014 Congressional Vote Choice by Religion Largely Steady