09/10/2004 - Much has been said in recent years about the growing identification of religious conservatives — especially Evangelical Protestants — with the Republican Party and the corresponding affinity of a growing number of Mainline Protestants, minorities and secularists with the Democratic Party. A new survey, which gauges the political attitudes in 18 distinct American religious communities on a wide variety of issues, confirms those trends. But the survey also shows that the connections between religious beliefs and politics are far more complex than commonly assumed.
The Fourth National Survey of Religion and Politics, which was conducted in the spring of 2004, pays special attention to the diversity of opinion within the nation's three major religious traditions – Evangelical Christians, Mainline Protestants and white Roman Catholics – by comparing the views of traditionalists, centrists and modernists within each group. The results show that religious traditionalists, whether Evangelical, Mainline Protestant or Catholic, hold similar positions on issue after issue, and that modernists of these various traditions are similarly like-minded. The divisions between traditionalists and modernists are strongest on social issues such as abortion, school vouchers and gay marriage, but large majorities of both groups agree on many other issues, including the need for anti-poverty programs, strong environmental protection and gay rights.
The survey, co-sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, was conducted by John C. Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron who has conducted similar polls in connection with the last three presidential elections. Green, who is director of the university's Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, is considered one of the nation's foremost experts on the influence of religion on American politics. An explanation of the survey methodology can be found at the end of this report.