Faith and the 2016 Campaign
1. Religion and the 2016 presidential candidates
Views of candidates’ religiousness
In general, more people view the leading Republican candidates for president as being very or somewhat religious than say the same about the Democratic candidates. Roughly seven-in-ten adults say Ben Carson is at least somewhat religious, for example; 65% say the same about Ted Cruz and 61% say this about Marco Rubio. By comparison, about half of Americans say that Hillary Clinton is at least somewhat religious (48%), and four-in-ten view Bernie Sanders as a religious person.
The major exception to this pattern is Donald Trump. Just three-in-ten Americans say Trump is very or somewhat religious, while six-in-ten say Trump is not too religious (22%) or not at all religious (37%).
Candidates are seen as more religious by those in their own party than by those who affiliate with or lean to the opposing party. For example, 80% of Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP say Ben Carson is at least somewhat religious, compared with 63% of Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party who say this.
The biggest partisan gap occurs in views of Hillary Clinton. Among Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party, about two-thirds say Clinton is at least “somewhat” religious, while just 27% say she is not religious. Among Republicans, these figures are reversed; 28% say Clinton is very or somewhat religious, while roughly two-thirds (65%) say she is not too or not at all religious. Among the public overall, 43% say Clinton is not very religious, while 48% say she is at least somewhat religious.
Religion and the GOP candidates
Among Republicans and those who lean toward the Republican Party, there are few large differences in perceptions of candidates’ religiousness across religious constituencies. Ted Cruz, for example, is viewed as very or somewhat religious by 80% of Catholics, 80% of white evangelical Protestants and 74% of white mainline Protestants who identify as Republicans. And among Republicans, roughly half or fewer white mainline Protestants (54%), white evangelical Protestants (48%) and Catholics (44%) view Donald Trump as very or somewhat religious.
Republicans with a college degree are more inclined than those with less education to say that Carson, Cruz and Rubio are religious people; Republicans with less than a college degree are more likely than college graduates to express no opinion about the religiousness of these candidates. In rating Donald Trump, however, there are no statistically significant differences on this question by level of education.
Being seen as a religious person generally redounds to a candidate’s benefit. For example, among Republican registered voters who view Donald Trump as at least somewhat religious, about three-quarters also say they think he would make for a good or a great president. By contrast, among Republican voters who say Trump is not religious, just 41% think he would be a good or a great president. Similarly, about six-in-ten Republican registered voters (61%) who say Ted Cruz is a religious person also think he would be a good or great president; just 25% of those who say Cruz is not religious (or do not know if he is) think he has the makings of a good or great president. A similar pattern is seen for Carson and Rubio.
More broadly, among registered voters, evangelical Republicans stand out from mainline Protestants and Catholics in their views about a potential Carson presidency. Most white evangelical Republicans (62%) say they think Carson would be a good or a great president, while 39% of Catholics and 37% of white mainline Protestants agree. Religious differences are smaller in expectations for other candidates.
For a full analysis of voters’ assessments of the presidential candidates’ prospects for success in the White House, see the Pew Research Center report “Voters Skeptical That 2016 Candidates Would Make Good Presidents.”
Religion and the Democratic candidates
About two-thirds of Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party say Hillary Clinton is very or somewhat religious. Roughly half of Democrats (47%) say Bernie Sanders is at least somewhat religious.
Three-quarters of Catholic Democrats say Clinton is a religious person, and 69% of Protestant Democrats agree. Fewer Democrats who are religiously unaffiliated share this view; 58% say Clinton is a religious person, but 36% say she is not too or not at all religious. Religiously unaffiliated Democrats are also more likely than Catholics and Protestants to say Sanders is not too or not at all religious.
Clinton is viewed as a religious person by 57% of Democratic college graduates and 63% of those with some college education. Among Democrats with a high school education or less, 74% say Clinton is at least somewhat religious. The survey also shows that Democratic college graduates are less likely than those who do not have a college degree to view Bernie Sanders as a religious person.
Among Democrats who are registered to vote, those who see Clinton as a religious person are more likely than those who say she is not religious to think she would be a good or great president. The survey finds no such link between the perceived religiousness of Bernie Sanders and views of whether he would make for a good president. Roughly half of Democratic registered voters who think Sanders is religious believe he would be a good or great president (53%), as do 49% of Democrats who think Sanders is not particularly religious (or who do not know how religious he is).
Overall, the survey finds some differences among major religious groups in views toward Democratic candidates. About two-thirds of religiously unaffiliated Democrats who are registered to vote (65%) say Sanders would be a good or great President; 46% of Democratic Catholics and 43% of Democratic Protestants agree. By contrast, the view that Clinton would make a good or great president is more common among Democratic Catholics (69%) and Democratic Protestants (66%) than among religious “nones” who identify as Democrats (57%).
Trends in perceptions of religiousness: Obama and Clinton
The Pew Research Center last asked Americans about their impression of the religiousness of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in August 2007. (This survey marks the first time the Center has asked about the religiousness of Bernie Sanders and the current group of GOP presidential candidates.) Compared with 2007, the share of Americans who say Obama and Clinton are not religious has increased markedly, while the share expressing no opinion about their religiousness has declined.
Roughly one-third of Americans now say that Obama is not too or not at all religious, up from 9% in 2007. Over this period, the share expressing no opinion of Obama’s religiousness declined from 40% to 6%. The share of Americans saying Clinton is not religious now stands at 43%, up from 24% in 2007.
The shift in opinion has been most pronounced among Republicans. A majority of the GOP now say that both Obama and Clinton are not too or not at all religious (57% and 65%, respectively). Democrats are also now more likely to express an opinion on this question, and there has been an increase in the share of Democrats who say these political figures are not particularly religious. However, there are still far more Democrats who say Obama and Clinton are at least somewhat religious than who express the opposite view.