More Americans Support Religious Influence on Politics
Religion & Liberty Online

More Americans Support Religious Influence on Politics

religion-politics1Americans are tired of religion influencing politics, right? Apparently not.

According to a new Pew Research Center study released yesterday, a growing number of Americans think religion is losing influence in American life — and they want religion to play a greater role in U.S. politics.

Since 2006, Pew had found falling support for religion in politics, notes the Wall Street Journal. But something changed this year. “To see those trends reverse is striking,” said Greg Smith, Pew’s associate director of research. One reason could be that a growing majority—72%, according to the study—say religion is losing its influence in U.S. life, Mr. Smith said, “and they see that as a bad thing.”

“It could be that as religion’s influence is seen as waning, the appetite for it moves in the other direction,” he said.

Here are some of the highlights from the study:

  • Two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants (66%) now express support for having churches speak out on social and political issues, up from 56% in 2010. Nearly six-in-ten black Protestants (58%) also say churches should express their political views, as do roughly half of Catholics (48%) and white mainline Protestants (49%). Most of those who have no religious affiliation say churches and other houses of worship should keep out of politics (65%), with just 32% saying churches should speak out on political matters.
  • Most white evangelical Protestants (68%) say there has been too little expression of religious faith and prayer by political leaders. At the other end of the spectrum, most religious “nones” (56%) say there has been too much religious talk from politicians. Other religious groups express more mixed opinions on this question.
  • Most Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP say there has been too little (53%) or the right amount (24%) of religious talk from political leaders, with just 17% saying there has been too much of this kind of discussion. By contrast, a plurality of Democrats say there has been too much religious talk from political leaders (40%).
  • A larger share of the general public sees the Republican Party as friendly toward religion (47%) than sees the Democratic Party that way (29%).
  • A declining share of Americans see the Obama administration as friendly toward religion; 30% now say the Obama administration is friendly toward religion, down 7 points since 2009.
  • About six-in-ten Americans say it is important for members of Congress to have strong religious beliefs (59%), a figure that has not changed significantly since the most recent midterm campaign in 2010.About a third of evangelical Christians (34%), including 42% of white evangelical Protestants, and one-in-five Catholics (18%) say it has become more difficult to be a member of their religious group in recent years. Roughly one-in-ten religious “nones” (8%) say it has become harder to be a person with no religion in the U.S. in recent years, while 31% say it has become easier. About half or more in each of these groups say the ease or difficulty of being a member of their group hasn’t changed much either way.
  • Nearly six-in-ten Americans (59%) say they think Muslims face a lot of discrimination in the U.S. today. Far fewer think other religious groups – including Jews (32%), evangelical Christians (31%), atheists (27%) and Catholics (19%) – face a lot of discrimination.
  • Nearly three-quarters of Catholics (73%) say the ease or difficulty of being Catholic in American society has not changed much in recent years. By comparison, evangelicals are less sanguine about their position in American society, with one-third (34%) saying it has become more difficult to be an evangelical Christian in the U.S.
  • Consistent with this, three-in-ten white evangelical Protestants say they think of themselves as a religious minority because of their religious beliefs. One-quarter of black Protestants (26%) say the same. Fewer Catholics (13%) and white mainline Protestants (10%) say they consider themselves religious minorities.
  • 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.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).