New Poll Finds “Growing Appetite” for Mixing Religion and Politics

A new poll out today from the Pew Research Center finds an increasing number of Americans in favor of injecting religion into electoral politics, a growing perception that the Obama administration is “unfriendly” to religion, and discontent among white evangelicals with how the Republican Party represents their interests.

Heading into the mid-term elections, and looking ahead to the 2016 presidential campaign, these results should prove unsettling for advocates of untangling religion from electoral politics, as they could signal to candidates that a growing number of voters are interested in hearing them talk about their faith. While the number of Americans who believe it is important for members of Congress to have strong religious beliefs has remained steady since 2010—about 6-in-10, with even more significant majorities among Protestants and Catholics—this poll shows a growing number of Americans who want to hear candidates talk about their religion.

On the Republican side, candidates could view this finding, along with the dissatisfaction among white evangelicals with the GOP’s advocacy on same-sex marriage and other issues as demanding even more religious fervor to win over crucial primary voters. That process, unsurprisingly, is already in motion. The GOP’s Director of Faith Engagement, Chad Connelly, told CBN’s David Brody last month, “The Republican Party is the natural home for people of faith.” 

On the Democratic side, a growing number, concentrated among white, conservative religious voters, say they see the Democrats as “unfriendly” to religion. In the past two presidential election cycles, Democrats have sought to win over more religious voters with heightened religious outreach, although this appears to have had little impact on the perceptions of conservatives.

Whether these findings prompt candidates to talk more about their religion remains to be seen. But these results are likely to provoke more discussion of the propriety of a candidate showcasing his or her religious beliefs on the campaign trail and in policy debates.

The poll, conducted earlier this month, found nearly three-quarters (72%) of respondents believe the influence of religion in American society is waning—but that most view that decline as a negative development. “Perhaps as a consequence,” the Pew researchers conclude, “a growing share of the American public wants religion to play a role in U.S. politics.” Those affiliated with a religion, particularly evangelicals, Protestants, and Catholics, “have become significantly more supportive of churches and other houses of worship speaking out about political issues and political leaders talking more often about religion.”

Among those who “see religion’s role in society as positive,” the report found, support for churches endorsing candidates jumped 10 points, from 27% in 2010 to 37% this year. While the results generally found a “widening” divide between the religious affiliated and non-affiliated (or “nones”), one data point was particularly striking: even among the nones, support for churches endorsing candidates rose eight points, from 15 in 2010 to 23% now, among that group. By contrast, 26% of the religiously affiliated supported church endorsements in 2010, rising to 35% in 2014.

While those supporting church endorsements of candidates are still a minority, even among every religious group, other findings in this poll could provide an opening for candidates looking to talk more about religion on the campaign trail, or elected officials aiming to mix religion into policy debates.

A majority of those who see religion’s influence as positive, and a majority of Republicans and voters who lean Republican, believe there has been “too little” religious talk from politicians. Those figures are up five points from 2010 among the religion-is-positive respondents, and up nine points among the Republicans and Republican leaners. Sixty-eight percent of white evangelicals believe there has been too little religious talk from politicians, by far the largest percentage of any religious group.

By contrast, though, only 32% of Democrats and Democratic-leaners believed there was “too little” religious talk, a figure that has held steady since 2010.

Twenty five percent of respondents deemed the Democratic Party “unfriendly” to religion. But the religious breakdown of this response is worth noting: it’s most prevalent, by wide margins, among white evangelicals over other religious groups. Forty-seven percent of white evangelicals deem Democrats “unfriendly” to religion, while other are less sure: only 27% of mainline Protestants, 10% of black Protestants, and 24% of Catholics view the Democratic Party as “unfriendly” to religion. Notably, most Catholics—whose leadership expended much energy decrying and contesting the contraception coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act—do not view the Democratic Party as “unfriendly” to religion.

Still, though, there has been an uptick in whether the public sees the Obama administration as “unfriendly” to religion, up 12 points since 2009, to 29%. But again, the negative views are concentrated in certain religious groups: 57% of white evangelicals see Obama as “unfriendly,” up 19 points since 2009. Among white Catholics, the percentage jumped from 17% in 2009 to 36% in 2014. But only 16% of Hispanic Catholics see the Obama administration as “unfriendly” to religion. In other words, the discontent is concentrated among white conservative religious voters.

Seventy-two percent of white evangelicals identify with the Republican Party. In the poll, they expressed dissatisfaction with the way the party is representing their interests, with a majority saying it failed to represent their interests on government spending, same-sex marriage, and immigration—because the party has been too liberal on those issues.

The growth of the nones has lead to many premature conclusions about the decline of religion in politics. This poll, of course, is just one poll, and no one can predict how these findings could manifest themselves in 2014 and 2016. But we could be seeing more religious talk in politics, not less.

38 Comments

  • SWhaption6548@gustr.com' Frank6548 says:

    Anyone who can separate their faith from any aspect of their life doesn’t have a very strong faith.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Religion is figuring out it needs to try harder to cut its own throat.

  • dkeane123@comcast.net' DKeane123 says:

    This poll makes me cry. Keep your chocolate out of my peanut butter.

  • aravistarkheena2@gmail.com' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    Sad that our citizens do not know their own founding documents and their influences. One of the foundational documents to our form of liberal, democratic republic is John Locke’s “Letter Concerning Toleration,” the chief point of which is to “distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion.”

    http://modernpoliticalthought.wikispaces.com/A+Letter+Concerning+Toleration

  • phillinj@slu.edu' NancyP says:

    It all boils down to racism. The states with the highest white conservative evangelical populations are the former Confederate states, and a significant proportion of people in these states can’t bear having a black man in authority. The most devout states are the ones out there trying to disenfranchise elderly black voters who may not have drivers’ licenses, etc., try to prevent pre-election-day voting because predominantly-black churches tend to use weekends to shuttle their low-income voters to the polls. It is a myth that employers “must” give the employee time off on election day to vote – sure, go vote, but the next time you get a performance review, look out, you will be marked as chronically tardy. There is NOTHING that Obama could have done that would have made the conservative evangelicals accept him. Why don’t white poor people like the Affordable Care Act? Hint – it isn’t because they themselves don’t benefit – it is because brown and black people also benefit.

  • fiona64@livejournal.com' fiona64 says:

    Is civics no longer taught?

    I would bet a shiny new nickel that the same people who want *their* personal brand of theocracy would crap a gold-plated brick at the mere suggestion of Sharia.

    Why? Because they don’t recognize that they want the same thing with a different label.

  • fiona64@livejournal.com' fiona64 says:

    The states with the highest white conservative evangelical populations
    are the former Confederate states, and a significant proportion of
    people in these states can’t bear having a black man in authority.

    Quoted for truth. There are a whole slew of folks who are pissed off that there’s a black man in the White House … and there is very little subtext in a white Southern woman in a prairie dress bawling “Ah want mah country baaacccckkkk …”

  • fiona64@livejournal.com' fiona64 says:

    Anyone who thinks he has the right to force others to live under his belief system is a dimwit.

  • harry.underwood1987@gmail.com' Harry Underwood says:

    Maybe we don’t need “strong faith” for anything?

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Except religious beliefs.

  • dkeane123@comcast.net' DKeane123 says:

    Truth.

  • dkeane123@comcast.net' DKeane123 says:

    While I generally agree, there is lots of other factors too. Generally those states are poorer, have lower high school graduation rates (and university), higher violent crime rate….and so on.

  • whiskyjack1@gmail.com' Whiskyjack says:

    At no time, and in no place, can I think an instance where mixing religion with politics has produced a happy result.

  • tojby_2000@yahoo.com' apotropoxy says:

    The day a politician can prove the deity he/she worships exists is the day I light its votive candle.

  • flame@yourlink.ca' lorasinger says:

    PEW also “found” this: Pew Research Center Study Claims MSNBC is 85 Percent ‘Opinion-Driven’ While Fox News Only 45 Percent. Now if you believe that, there’s this bridge up for sale….. I would be more inclined that this “growing appetite for mixing religion and politics” is somehow being manipulated to reflect exactly what the right wing wants. I’ve read that the right wing quite often manipulates Pew research data to sway the public and this is most likely just another instance of it.

    The right wing is still a minority and that large an amount in favor of mixing religion with politics just doesn’t ring true.

  • flame@yourlink.ca' lorasinger says:

    “What influence in fact have Christian ecclesiastical establishments had on civil society? In many instances they have been upholding the thrones of political tyranny. In no instance have they been seen as the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty have found in the clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate liberty, does not need the clergy.” James Madison

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    You get more value for your money buying Christian votes than any other voting block.

  • I am 62 years old. I remember the concerns about JFK being a Catholic when he ran for office. I remember similar concerns from history about the religion of candidates being a deciding factor in why they were NOT elected. I left the organized church of my youth when politics began to have a bigger say from the pulpit than God did in the 1970s. I became an ordained minister in 1998 after finding a church where believing in God was the only prerequisite for being a member – not what political party I was affiliated with.

    Funny thing, when I started worshiping God again, the political party that seemed most concerned with caring for our fellow man and caring for the planet seemed to be the Democrats. Since the major religions of the world are all based on similar teachings of charity, stewardship, and love, I find it sad that all three have abandoned those tenets in favor of wealth, destruction, and hate.

    God, if you believe or not, does not want this, and yet the GOP today bases its entire strategy on using the pulpit to get out the vote and to preach hate in the name of Christian values. ISIS uses fear and destruction to spread the word of Allah (God in Arabic). The Jews in Israel seem determined to destroy the Middle East with their unwillingness to let Palestine evolve into a free state. And now the PEW research wants our politicians to blend religion with politics. Which of these religions is fit to rule?

    In today’s world, I would say none of them are, and any politician who feels that it should be part of our political meme should be voted out of office and prevented from taking office. When the twisted forms of the major religions, the ones that fanatics and zealots use by cherry-picking scriptures, are used as political platforms the only result can be death and destruction, not peace, life, or love. When combined with the wealth of political and economic extremists like the Koch Brothers or Roger Ailes or Bill Clinton, it becomes a recipe for the fall of America into a theocratic fascist state and world war. That has been the way of history, both religious and political, and history will repeat itself if we do not learn its lessons. We must find a better way, and unfortunately, we may have run out of time if this poll is even remotely accurate.

    Rev. Devon J. Noll
    New Word Universal Fellowship Church
    http://www.newworduniversalfellowship.org

  • SWhaption6548@gustr.com' Frank6548 says:

    You are welcome to reject God.

  • SWhaption6548@gustr.com' Frank6548 says:

    So then I am sure you oppose being forced to pay for someone else’s abortion? And you oppose forcing any business to participate in any way with anything they don’t believe in like gay “marriage?”

    I mean otherwise you would be a hypocrite right?

    Dimwit indeed.

  • fiona64@livejournal.com' fiona64 says:

    Keep flapping your cakehole, little nutter …

  • SWhaption6548@gustr.com' Frank6548 says:

    Yeah that’s what I thought. What a joke you are.

  • fiona64@livejournal.com' fiona64 says:

    The only joke here is the face you see in the mirror each morning.

    Why can’t you answer the question, Frankie? It’s pretty straightforward: which of the Levitical laws are you following?

  • fiona64@livejournal.com' fiona64 says:

    No one is paying for anyone else abortion, you beef-wit.

    And when someone hangs up their shingle to do business with the public, they are prevented by law from discriminating.

    I’m sorry you’re so stupid.

  • zinealine@gmail.com' cranefly says:

    The trick is to see “others” as subhuman. Then what you want is what everyone (who matters) wants.

  • zinealine@gmail.com' cranefly says:

    What do you do when “enduring the equal treatment of all citizens” is suddenly against the Christian religion?

    Well, maybe I shouldn’t say “suddenly.”

  • robert.m.jeffers@lonestar.edu' Rmj says:

    The movement to abolish slavery.

    The Civil Rights movement.

    Just two, off the top of my head.

  • robert.m.jeffers@lonestar.edu' Rmj says:

    I’m guessing most of the people who want more religion in their politics are of the “Thou Shalt Not” school of Christianity.

    The type that applies to everyone else, but never to them.

    I’m sure if I told them caring for the poor and the imprisoned, the widow and the orphan in Biblical terms, was the most important way to mix religion and politics, they would object vociferously to my definition of “religion in politics.”

    “Thou shalt not” is just so much more fun, isn’t it? Especially when you can get government to enforce it for you.

  • SWhaption6548@gustr.com' Frank6548 says:

    Wow how embarrassing for you. It’s like watching a train wreck.

  • fiona64@livejournal.com' fiona64 says:

    Wank, wank, wank, little Frankie …

  • ssmit129@uottawa.ca' Shawn Smith says:

    So more nutters out there than I thought.

  • phillinj@slu.edu' NancyP says:

    Yes, there is a certain amount of cognitive dissonance out there. White Kentucky recipients of Obamacare are thrilled to be able to get medical care for the first time in years, as long as the medical care program is called “Kynect” and not “tarnished” with the President’s name, but fully support the Republican politicians knowing that the #1 result will be the defunding of medical care and their own personal return to not getting their diabetes medications, etc. (See NYT article last Thursday or Friday).

  • whiskyjack1@gmail.com' Whiskyjack says:

    I do not deny that religious people were significant in both those movements. However, religious people were also highly involved in the movements to keep slavery and to sustain discrimination. The KKK is pretty religious, too.

  • frjesusgaylord@yahoo.com' FrJesusGaylord says:

    Oh, he doesn’t need any encouragement for that. But it’s not necessarily true that people like Frank are dimwits. He is, surely. And if they all were there would be nothing to fear. But some of them aren’t stupid. Anti-American trash, yes. But not stupid.

  • marjifay@yahoo.com' Marge says:

    I would bet that all those Americans who want to hear political candidates talk about their religion would not want to hear them talk about Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or any religion other than Christianity.

  • aravistarkheena2@gmail.com' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    I’m opposed to being forced to pay for stupid wars.

    Oh…wait…that’s called taxes.

  • odeliyab@yahoo.com' Liya says:

    LOL. Fiona, you are Frankie’s kryptonite. Yet he just cant stay away from u…..

  • fiona64@livejournal.com' fiona64 says:

    Poor Frankie. He doesn’t seem to understand that I don’t date outside my species.

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