Public Sees Religion’s Influence Waning

Public Sees Religion’s Influence Waning

The FINANCIAL -- Nearly three-quarters of the public (72%) now thinks religion is losing influence in American life, up 5 percentage points from 2010 to the highest level in Pew Research polling over the past decade. And most people who say religion's influence is waning see this as a bad thing, according to Pew Research Center.

Perhaps as a consequence, a growing share of the American public wants religion to play a role in U.S. politics. The share of Americans who say churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political issues is up 6 points since the 2010 midterm elections (from 43% to 49%). The share who say there has been “too little” expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders is up modestly over the same period (from 37% to 41%). And a growing minority of Americans (32%) think churches should endorse candidates for political office, though most continue to oppose such direct involvement by churches in electoral politics.

The findings reflect a widening divide between religiously affiliated Americans and the rising share of the population that is not affiliated with any religion (sometimes called the “nones”). The public’s appetite for religious influence in politics is increasing in part because those who continue to identify with a religion (e.g., Protestants, Catholics and others) 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. The “nones” are much more likely to oppose the intermingling of religion and politics, according to Pew Research Center.

Analysis also shows that growing support for religion in politics is concentrated among those who think religion has a positive impact on society. And the desire for religion in public life is much more evident among Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP than among Democrats and Democratic leaners.

The survey finds a slight drop in support for allowing gays and lesbians to marry, with 49% of Americans in favor and 41% opposed – a 5-point dip in support from a February Pew Research poll, but about the same level as in 2013. It is too early to know if this modest decline is an anomaly or the beginning of a reversal or leveling off in attitudes toward gay marriage after years of steadily increasing public acceptance. Moreover, when the February poll and the current survey are combined, the 2014 yearly average level of support for same-sex marriage stands at 52%, roughly the same as the 2013 yearly average (50%).

The new poll also finds that fully half (50%) of the public now considers homosexuality a sin, up from 45% a year ago. And nearly half of U.S. adults think that businesses like caterers and florists should be allowed to reject same-sex couples as customers if the businesses have religious objections to serving those couples, according to Pew Research Center.

Heading into the 2014 elections, recent Pew Research polls find a great deal of stability in the partisan preferences of religious groups. For example, large majorities of black Protestants, Jews and religiously unaffiliated voters continue to identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party. At the other end of the spectrum, white evangelical Protestant voters continue to be staunchly supportive of the GOP. Nearly three-quarters of white evangelicals identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, and a similar share say they would vote for the Republican congressional candidate in their.

But the new poll also finds some signs of discontent within the GOP among its supporters, including evangelicals. Among Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP, half or more say the party is not doing a good job representing their views on government spending, illegal immigration or same-sex marriage, and they are divided about whether the party is doing a good job representing their views on abortion. Democrats get better ratings from their partisans on all of these issues. Evangelical Republicans who express discontent with the GOP would like to see it move in a more conservative direction on abortion, same-sex marriage and immigration, but non-evangelicals within the GOP are more conflicted over whether the party should move in a more conservative or a more liberal direction on these matters, according to Pew Research Center.

 

Author: The FINANCIAL