Report

More Americans Question Religion's Role in Politics

  • August 21, 2008

Some Americans are having a change of heart about mixing religion and politics. A new national survey by the Pew Research Center finds a narrow majority of the public saying that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters and not express their views on day-to-day social and political matters. For a decade, majorities of Americans had voiced support for religious institutions speaking out on such issues.

The new survey reveals that most of the reconsideration of the desirability of religious involvement in politics has occurred among conservatives. Four years ago, just 30% of conservatives believed that churches and other houses of worship should stay out of politics. Today, 50% of conservatives express this view.

As a result, conservatives' views on this issue are much more in line with the views of moderates and liberals than was previously the case. Similarly, the sharp divisions between Republicans and Democrats that previously existed on this issue have disappeared.

There are other signs in the new poll about a potential change in the climate of opinion about mixing religion and politics. First, the survey finds a small but significant increase since 2004 in the percentage of respondents saying that they are uncomfortable when they hear politicians talk about how religious they are – from 40% to 46%. Again, the increase in negative sentiment about religion and politics is much more apparent among Republicans than among Democrats.

Second, while the Republican Party is most often seen as the party friendly toward religion, the Democratic Party has made gains in this area. Nearly four-in-ten (38%) now say the Democratic Party is generally friendly toward religion, up from just 26% two years ago. Nevertheless, considerably more people (52%) continue to view the GOP as friendly toward religion.

The poll by Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life finds increasing numbers of Americans believing that religiously-defined ideological groups have too much control over the parties themselves. Nearly half (48%) say religious conservatives have too much influence over the Republican Party, up from 43% in August 2007. At the same time, more people say that liberals who are not religious have too much sway over the Democrats than did so last year (43% today vs. 37% then).

Read the full report More Americans Question Religion's Role in Politics on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press Web site.