January 27, 2016

Faith and the 2016 Campaign

3. Religion in public life

Religious expression by political leaders

Compared with last presidential campaign, more now say 'too little' religious discussion by political leadersCurrently, 27% of Americans say there has been too much discussion of religious faith and prayer by political leaders, while 40% say there has been too little religious discussion. At a similar point in the 2012 presidential campaign, the balance of opinion on this question leaned in the opposite direction – 38% thought there was too much religious discussion occurring, and 30% thought there was too little.

Both Republicans and Democrats increasingly say 'too little' religious discussion by political leadersUpwards of half of Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP now say there has been too little (53%) religious talk from political leaders, up 14 percentage points since 2012. Just 15% of Republicans say there has been too much of this kind of discussion. Democrats also have become somewhat more likely to say there has been too little discussion of faith by political leaders. In 2012, far more Democrats said there was too much religious talk by politicians (48%) than said there was too little (24%). Democrats are now more evenly divided on this question; 31% say there has been too little discussion of religion by political leaders, and 37% say there has been too much.

Most white evangelical Protestants (68%) and black Protestants (64%) say there has been too little expression of religious faith and prayer by political leaders. At the other end of the spectrum, half of religious “nones” (50%) say there has been too much religious talk from politicians. However, even religious “nones” have become less likely to say there is too much religious discussion by political leaders.

Half want president who shares their religious beliefs

About half of Americans say it is important to them that a president shares their religious beliefs, including 27% who say it is very important and 24% who say it is somewhat important.

About half of Americans say it is important to them that a president shares their religious beliefs

More than six-in-ten Republicans and those who lean toward the Republican Party say it is at least somewhat important to them that a president shares their religious beliefs, including 33% who say this is very important. Most Democrats, by contrast, say it is not too or not at all important that a president shares their religious views (58%).

About eight-in-ten white evangelical Protestants (83%) and seven-in-ten black Protestants (72%) say it is at least somewhat important to them to have a president who shares their religious beliefs. Catholics (55%) and white mainline Protestants (44%) are less likely to express this view. And just one-in-five religious “nones” (20%) say it is important for a president to share their religious beliefs.

In previous years, the Pew Research Center has posed a different question about presidential religiousness, asking whether respondents agree or disagree that “it is important that the president have strong religious beliefs.” Large majorities of Americans – roughly seven-in-ten – consistently agree with this statement. While the questions are not directly comparable, the results suggest that is more important to the American people to have a president with strong religious convictions – even if those convictions are different than their own – than it is to have a president who shares their particular religious beliefs. In other words, what the president believes may be less important to the American people than whether the president is a believer.

Which institutions are friendly toward religion?

Roughly four-in-ten adults (42%) think the Republican Party is friendly toward religion, with 30% saying the GOP is neutral toward religion and 21% saying it is unfriendly toward religion. Fewer (30%) see the Democratic Party as friendly toward religion, with 40% describing the Democratic Party as neutral toward religion and 24% describing it as unfriendly toward religion.

More see GOP as religion-friendly than say the same about the Democratic Party

Four-in-ten say GOP is friendly toward religion; three-in-ten say Democratic Party is friendly toward religionPublic opinion on these questions has fluctuated over the years. But the GOP has consistently been rated as friendly toward religion by more people than has the Democratic Party.

The GOP is seen as friendly toward religion by most Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP (57%), as well as by about one-third of those who support the Democratic Party (35%).

Democrats are evenly split about whether their own party is friendly (46%) or neutral (46%) toward religion. By contrast, about half of Republicans say the Democratic Party is unfriendly toward religion.

Half of white mainline Protestants (50%) and about as many white evangelical Protestants (48%) say the Republican Party is friendly toward religion, and 45% of religiously unaffiliated adults say the same. Fewer Catholics (36%) and black Protestants (25%) say the GOP is friendly toward religion.

The Democratic Party is viewed as friendly toward religion by 46% of black Protestants. Among other religious groups, roughly one-third or fewer share this perspective.

The share of Americans who rate the Obama administration as friendly toward religion has increased in the last two years. Currently, 35% say the administration is friendly toward religion, up from 30% in 2014. Three-in-ten (30%) see the Obama administration as unfriendly toward religion, up from 17% in 2009 and 23% in 2012, but steady since 2014.

Most Republicans rate the administration as unfriendly toward religion (59%). However an overwhelming majority of Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party rate the Obama administration as either friendly (51%) or neutral (39%) toward religion.

Slight uptick in share of Americans who say Obama administration is friendly toward religionOne-third say Obama administration friendly toward religion, three-in-ten unfriendly

Half say Supreme Court is neutral toward religionSix-in-ten black Protestants say the Obama administration is friendly toward religion, and roughly four-in-ten religiously unaffiliated adults (39%) and Catholics (40%) say the same. By comparison, just 14% of white evangelical Protestants say the Obama administration is friendly toward religion.

Roughly half of the public views the Supreme Court as neutral toward religion, a similar share as in 2014. There has been a slight decline in the share of Americans who say the Supreme Court is friendly toward religion, dropping 5 percentage points from 21% in 2014 to 16% in 2016.

Religious conservatives, secular liberals and control of the parties

Half say GOP too influenced by religious conservativesHalf of the public says religious conservatives have too much control over the Republican Party, which is similar to how Americans felt in 2012. Fewer express the view that liberals who are not religious have too much control over the Democratic Party (44%).

Two-thirds of Democrats say religious conservatives have too much control over the GOP. Conversely, two-thirds of Republicans say secular liberals have too much control over the Democratic Party.

The majority of white evangelical Protestants agree that secular liberals have too much control over the Democratic Party (66%). Half of white mainline Protestants (50%) and Catholics (48%) also share this view. Black Protestants and religious “nones” are among the least likely to think secular liberals have too much control over the Democratic Party.

Seven-in-ten religiously unaffiliated adults agree that religious conservatives have too much control over the GOP. Half of white mainline Protestants (50%) and Catholics (52%) share this sentiment. Far fewer white evangelical Protestants (31%) say religious conservatives have too much control over the GOP.

Most white evangelical Protestants say secular liberals have too much control over the Democratic Party

Religion’s influence on American society

Roughly seven-in-ten (68%) Americans say that religion is losing influence on American life, a slight decline since September, 2014, when a peak of nearly three-quarters of the public expressed this opinion. About one-in-four adults say religion is increasing its influence, 3% say that religion’s influence has remained steady in recent years, and 4% did not answer the question.

Most Americans continue to say religion is losing influence

Americans who think religion’s influence is declining mostly see this as a bad thing; about half (51%) of Americans think religion’s influence is declining and that this is a bad thing, while just 13% think religion’s influence is declining and see this as a good thing.

Half see religion’s decreasing influence as bad thing for American lifeAbout three-quarters (74%) of white evangelical Protestants say religion’s influence is waning and that this is a bad thing. At the other end of the spectrum, religiously unaffiliated Americans are divided over whether the decreasing influence of religion is a good thing (32%) or a bad thing (26%).

Two-thirds of Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP say religion’s influence in society is declining and that this is a bad thing. Fewer Democrats share this view, though the balance of opinion leans in the same direction; there are far more Democrats who see religion’s declining influence as a bad thing (38%) than who see it as a good thing (19%).

Among the 26% of Americans who think religion’s influence is increasing, opinion is split as to whether this constitutes a negative or a positive development; 12% say growing religious influence is a good thing, while 12% say it is a bad thing.