Section 2: Religion and Politics
have long been comfortable with religion having a role in politics. A sizable
majority continues to say it is important for the president to have strong
religious beliefs. And a majority says they are not bothered when politicians
talk about their religion.
the same time, however, there is widespread opposition to churches and other
houses of worship endorsing one political candidate over another. And recent
Pew Research Center polling found that an increasing percentage thinks there
has been “too much” religious talk from politicians.
half of the public believes that conservative Christians have gone too far in
trying to impose their religious values on the country. But there is even more
concern that liberals have gone too far in trying to keep religion out of
schools and government.
imbalance reflects the continued public view that religious groups, and
religion in general, strengthen American society. By two-to-one, most say that
churches, synagogues and other houses of worship contribute to solving
important social problems. Yet there is a continued sense that religion’s
influence is declining in America. An overwhelming majority of those who share
this perception see this as a bad thing.
Most Want President
to Have Strong Religious Beliefs
of adults (67%) say it is important for the president to have strong religious
beliefs. This number is down since 2008 (72%), but is similar to polls
conducted during the 2004 and 2000 elections (70%).
consistent importance of religion matches another survey finding from a May
which found 61% of adults say they would be less likely to support a
presidential candidate who does not believe in God. Of 14 items tested, this
was the only potential trait that a clear majority of Americans said would
affect their vote negatively.
Republicans (81%) say it is important to have a president with strong religious
beliefs, which is significantly higher than the number of Democrats (66%) and
independents (60%) who say this. Similar partisan divisions have existed since
this question was first asked in 2000.
are more likely than men to say it is important for a president to have strong
religious beliefs (70% vs. 64%). And having a strongly religious president is
more important to older people than to younger adults. Those with a high school education or less
attach more importance to having a president with strong religious beliefs
(74%) than do those with some college (66%), who in turn prioritize this more
than college graduates (58%).
a president with strong religious beliefs is important to large majorities
across a variety of religious groups. Those who are unaffiliated with a
religion, especially atheists and agnostics, are the major exception.
Two-thirds of the religiously unaffiliated, including 86% of atheists and
agnostics, say it is not important that presidents have strong religious
beliefs. White evangelical Protestants (88%), black Protestants (78%) and
Hispanic Catholics (79%) are among the most likely to say it is important that
a president have strong religious beliefs.
Most Okay with
Religious Talk from Politicians
half of Americans (52%) say it does not bother them when politicians “talk
about how religious they are,” while 43% say this makes them uncomfortable.
Views on this question have held steady in recent years.
addition to asking the long-standing question about comfort with politicians
talking about “how religious they are,” the survey also asked half of
respondents whether it makes them uncomfortable when politicians talk about
“their religious faith and beliefs.” When the question is worded this way, 57%
disagree, while 37% agree.
half of Democrats (48%) say it makes them uncomfortable when politicians talk
about how religious they are, while about as many (44%) say they are
uncomfortable with politicians talking about their religious faith and
beliefs. Only about a third of Republicans express discomfort when politicians
talk about how religious they are (34%) and their religious faith and beliefs
Opposition to Churches Endorsing Candidates
Research Center surveys conducted over the past decade show a steady consensus
that churches and other houses of worship should not come out in favor of one
candidate over another during elections. Currently, about two-thirds of
Americans take this view (66%), while 27% say churches should endorse one
candidate over another.
is broad agreement across many demographic groups on this question. Nearly
seven-in-ten Democrats (69%) and independents (68%) say churches and other
houses of worship should refrain from voicing support for one political
candidate over another. Republicans are less opposed to church endorsements of
candidates, though even among Republicans a majority opposes church
religious groups, roughly three-quarters of white mainline Protestants (73%),
white Catholics (74%), and the unaffiliated (75%) say that churches should not
come out in favor of one candidate over another. Opposition to political
endorsements by churches is less pronounced among white evangelical Protestants
(56%) and black Protestants (52%).
who attend religious services regularly and those who say religion is very important
in their lives are more inclined than less religious Americans to support
houses of worship making political endorsements. But even among these more
religious groups, majorities say churches should refrain from endorsing
political candidates (57% and 58%, respectively).
Conservative Christians and Religion in Public Life
two-thirds of Americans believe liberals have gone too far in trying to keep
religion out of the schools and the government (65%), a view that has remained
stable in recent years. The public is more divided about whether conservative
Christians have gone too far in trying to impose their religious values on the
country; 48% say yes while 44% say no.
a quarter of Americans (27%) say both sides have gone too far when it comes to
religion – liberals in trying to keep it out of schools and government, and
conservative Christians in trying to impose religious values.
view that liberals have gone too far in trying to limit religion’s influence in
government and schools is more prevalent among older than younger Americans.
About half (53%) of adults younger than 30 say liberals have gone too far,
compared with 66% of those ages 30-49, 70% of those ages 50-64 and 72% of those
ages 65 or older. Those under 30 are more likely than those ages 65 and older to
say that conservative Christians have gone too far, though generational
differences are more modest on this question.
large majority of Republicans think liberals have gone too far in keeping
religion out of schools and government (86%), compared with about half of
Democrats (55%) and six-in-ten independents (62%). Conversely, the view that
conservative Christians have gone too far to impose their values is much more
common among Democrats (62%) and independents (50%) than Republicans (28%).
religious groups, the view that liberals have crossed a line in trying to keep
religion out of government is most common among white evangelical Protestants
(87%), but is also shared by majorities of black Protestants (74%), white
mainline Protestants (67%) and Catholics (64%). By contrast, less than half of
the religiously unaffiliated (43%) say liberals have gone too far, including
only 19% of atheists and agnostics.
pattern is essentially reversed when it comes to views of conservative
Christians. Only 28% of white evangelical Protestants think conservative
Christians have gone too far in trying to impose their values. Roughly half or
more of white mainline Protestants (51%), Catholics (50%) and black Protestants
(47%) say conservative Christians have gone too far. And the religiously
unaffiliated are more likely than any other religious group to say conservative
Christians have crossed the line (71%), including fully 86% of atheists and agnostics
who express this view.
Influence on American Life
Two-thirds of Americans (66%) say religion as a whole
is losing its influence on American life. The percentage of people who hold
this view is up significantly over the last decade (from 52% in 2002), but has
not changed since 2010. One-in-four Americans thinks religion’s influence on
American life is increasing (25%).
large majority of those who think religion’s influence is on the decline see
this as a bad thing (49% of the public as a whole), compared with 12% who think
religion’s influence is waning and that this is a good thing. Conversely, most
of those who think religion’s influence is on the rise think this is a good
thing (16% of the public overall), while 8% say religion’s influence is growing
and see this as a negative.
Though most Americans say
religion’s influence is declining, two-thirds (65%) still believe churches,
synagogues, and other houses of worship contribute either “some” (40%) or “a
great deal” (26%) to solving important social problems. While large majorities
have expressed this view for more than a decade, there has been a decline in
the number saying churches contribute a great deal or some to solving social
problems since 2008 (the last time the question was asked by the Pew Research
Center), when 75% of Americans said this.
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