Religion and Politics

The United States has a long history of conflict between the tradition of separating church from state and an equally powerful inclination to mix religion and politics. Great political and social movements—from abolition to women’s suffrage to civil rights to today’s struggles over abortion and gay marriage—have drawn upon religious institutions for moral authority, yet the views of various faiths have also caused conflict.

The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project studies the myriad ways that religion spills over into political debate in America, and vice versa. The forum offers a variety of resources that probe this complex relationship, including reports, polling data, transcripts of its events and the latest news compiled from media nationwide.

These articles and transcripts are aimed at delivering timely, impartial information to national, state and local opinion leaders, including government officials and journalists.

Polling by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project has explored the ways in which religion shapes Americans' attitudes about issues as well as examined the divide in public opinion on whether churches and other religious institutions should become more involved in political life. The project has an extensive online resource, Religion & Politics ’08, that features candidate profiles, state statistics and analysis of religion’s impact on the 2008 campaign.

The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project does not take positions in policy debates. It is a project of the Pew Research Center, a Pew subsidiary and nonpartisan “fact tank” in Washington, D.C., that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.

For more information about the intersection of religion and politics, visit the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.

Report

  • Public Esteem for Military Still High

    Jul 16, 2013 - More than three-quarters of Americans continue to believe that members of the military contribute “a lot” to society’s well-being. By contrast, only 37% say clergy make a big contribution to society, and journalists have dropped the most in public esteem since 2009.

  • Geography of the Conclave: Where Do the Cardinals Come From?

    Mar 11, 2013 - Just as the world's Catholic population is spread across the globe, the cardinal electors – members of the College of Cardinals who had not yet reached their 80th birthday on Feb. 28, the day the papacy became vacant – have gathered from all regions of the world.

  • Roe v. Wade at 40: Most Oppose Overturning Abortion Decision

    Jan 16, 2013 - As the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision approaches, the public remains opposed to completely overturning the historic ruling on abortion. More than six-in-ten (63%) say they would not like to see the court completely overturn the Roe v. Wade decision, which established a woman’s constitutional right to abortion at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Only about three-in-ten (29%) would like to see the ruling overturned. These opinions are little changed from surveys conducted 10 and 20 years ago.

  • Religious Composition of the 113th Congress

    Jan 07, 2013 - The new 113th Congress includes the first Buddhist to serve in the Senate, the first Hindu to serve in either chamber and the first member of Congress to describe her religion as “none.”

  • After America's 'Mormon Moment,' Public Opinion is Little Changed

    Dec 14, 2012 - Eight-in-ten Americans (82%) say they learned little or nothing about the Mormon religion during the presidential campaign. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reports three-in-ten Americans continue to consider the Mormon religion a non-Christian faith, though there appears to be some warming of attitudes toward Mormonism.

  • White Evangelical Voters Supported Romney

    Dec 07, 2012 - White evangelical Protestants voted as heavily for Republican candidate Mitt Romney as they did for the GOP candidates in 2008 and 2004, and they made up about the same share of the electorate as they did in the two previous elections.

  • Faith on Capitol Hill

    Nov 16, 2012 - The newly elected, 113th Congress includes the first Buddhist to serve in the Senate, the first Hindu and the first member of Congress to describe her religion as “none,” continuing a gradual increase in religious diversity that mirrors the country as a whole, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

  • Religious Makeup of the New Congress

    Nov 16, 2012 - The newly elected, 113th Congress includes the first Buddhist to serve in the Senate, the first Hindu and the first member of Congress to describe her religion as "none," continuing a gradual increase in religious diversity that mirrors the country as a whole.

  • Catholic and Unaffiliated Latinos Support Obama; Evangelicals Divided

    Oct 18, 2012 - The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reports three-quarters of Latino Catholics and eight-in-ten religiously unaffiliated Latinos support President Barack Obama's re-election, while just 50% of Latino evangelical Protestants prefer Obama and 39% support Mitt Romney.

  • The Catholic 'Swing' Vote: A Look at the Catholic Electorate

    Oct 11, 2012 - Catholics are often identified as a major "swing" voting group in American politics. Analysis from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that the only group of Catholics that has been divided in recent elections is white Catholics who identify as political moderates.

  • Preaching Politics from the Pulpit

    Oct 02, 2012 - Can a minister, rabbi, imam or other member of the clergy endorse a candidate from the pulpit or speak on political issues of interest to voters? See the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life 2012 guide to IRS rules on political activity by religious organizations.

  • Catholics Share Bishops’ Concerns about Religious Liberty

    Aug 01, 2012 - Catholics who are aware of U.S. bishops’ concerns about restrictions on religious liberty generally agree with the bishops’ concerns. Yet there are no significant differences in presidential vote preferences between Catholic voters who have heard and those who have not heard about the bishops’ protests against government policies they see as restrictive of religious liberty.

  • Two-Thirds of Democrats Now Support Gay Marriage

    Jul 31, 2012 - Reports that the Democratic Party may add support for gay marriage to its party platform are in keeping with a significant shift of opinion on this issue among Democrats, according to new research from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. About two-thirds say they favor gay marriage, up 15 points since 2008. Overall, public opinion on same-sex mariage remains divided and the impact of President Obama's endorsement appears limited

  • More See 'Too Much' Religious Talk by Politicians

    Mar 21, 2012 - Public uneasiness about the mixing of religion and politics has reached an all-time high. Nearly four-in-ten Americans now say there has been too much expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders, while 30% say there has been too little. A majority of Rick Santorum backers saying there is too little expression of religious faith by political leaders.Significantly fewer backers of Mitt Romney agree.

  • Religion and the 2012 Republican Primaries: Alabama and Mississippi

    Mar 14, 2012 - Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich finished in a virtual tie for first place among evangelical voters in both Alabama, where evangelicals comprised 75% of the electorate, and Mississippi, where evangelicals accounted for 80% of all GOP primary voters. Santorum was supported by 35% of evangelicals in both states compared to 32% for Gingrich, with Mitt Romney placing third.

  • Religion in the Super Tuesday Primaries

    Mar 07, 2012 - In the 10 GOP presidential caucuses and primaries held on Super Tuesday, Mitt Romney continued to get significantly less support from white born-again and evangelical voters. Rick Santorum, who has been Romney’s closest competitor in recent primaries and who is Catholic himself, has yet to achieve an outright victory among Catholics in any state for which data are available.

  • Synopsis of Religion in the Early Republican Primaries

    Mar 05, 2012 - Eleven states held GOP presidential primaries or caucuses in January or February 2012. A Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life analysis of the role of religion in these events shows that Mitt Romney’s wins have come on the strength of his support among non-evangelical voters. While Romney’s fortunes among white born-again/evangelical voters have fluctuated from state to state, entrance and exit polls show that he has received less support from evangelicals than from non-evangelicals in every contest for which data are available.

  • Religion and the 2012 Republican Primaries: Arizona and Michigan

    Feb 29, 2012 - The vote in the GOP presidential primaries in Michigan and Arizona continued a pattern where Mitt Romney's support was weaker among born-again and evangelical voters than among non-evangelicals, while Rick Santorum received his strongest support from evangelicals and from voters who said it matters a "great deal" to them that a candidate shares their religious beliefs.

  • Public Views of the Divide between Religion and Politics

    Feb 27, 2012 - Recent comments by GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum has renewed discussion about the role of religion and politics. Surveys in 2010 and 2008 found that narrow majorities said that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters rather than express their views on social and political questions.

  • Trends in Party Identification of Religious Groups

    Feb 02, 2012 - The share of voters identifying with or leaning toward the GOP has either grown or held steady in every major religious group, according to an analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. This includes religious groups that are part of the GOP’s traditional constituency as well as some groups that had tended to be more aligned with the Democratic Party, including Jewish voters.

  • Mormons in America

    Jan 12, 2012 - A new national survey focused on Mormons finds a mixed picture about how they view their place in America. Many Mormons feel they are misunderstood, discriminated against and not accepted by other Americans. Yet, at the same time, a majority of Mormons think that acceptance of Mormonism is rising. They have highly positive views of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a fellow Mormon, and a majority think the country is ready to elect a Mormon president.

  • Romney’s Mormon Faith Likely a Factor in Primaries, Not in a General Election

    Nov 23, 2011 - A new survey finds that there has been virtually no change in Americans' impressions of the Mormon faith over the past four years. Meanwhile, about half of all voters, and 60% of evangelical Republicans, know that Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Romney’s religion has implications for his nomination run but not for the general election should he be nominated as his party’s standard bearer.

  • Lobbying for the Faithful: Religious Advocacy Groups in Washington, D.C.

    Nov 21, 2011 - The number of organizations engaged in religious lobbying or religion-related advocacy in Washington, D.C., has increased roughly fivefold in the past four decades, from fewer than 40 in 1970 to more than 200 today. A new report by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life gives a brief history of organized religious advocacy in the nation’s capital and examines the major characteristics of religion-related advocacy.

  • The Tea Party, Religion and Social Issues

    Feb 23, 2011 - Tea Party supporters' conservative opinions extend beyond economic matters to social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. The Tea Party also draws disproportionate support from white evangelical Protestants.

  • Faith on the Hill: The Religious Composition of the 112th Congress

    Jan 05, 2011 - The political overhaul of the U.S. Congress after the 2010 elections appears to have had little effect on the religious composition of the legislative body, which is similar to the religious makeup of the previous Congress and of the nation, according to an analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

  • Religion in the 2010 Elections: A Preliminary Look

    Nov 03, 2010 - A Pew Forum analysis of National Election Pool exit poll data reported by CNN shows that Republican gains among religious groups parallel the party’s broad-based gains among the overall electorate and white voters in particular.

  • Public Remains Conflicted Over Islam

    Aug 24, 2010 - The poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted Aug. 19-22 among 1,003 adults, finds that opinions about Islam are less favorable than in the summer of 2005.

  • Much Hope, Modest Change for Democrats

    Aug 11, 2010 - An analysis of newly released exit poll data by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that Obama succeeded in attracting a larger share of the vote from some religious groups than the 2004 Democratic nominee, John Kerry, had received.

  • The Pope Meets the Press: Media Coverage of the Clergy Abuse Scandal

    Jun 11, 2010 - Newspaper coverage of the Catholic clergy sexual abuse scandal grew more intense this spring than at any time since 2002, and European newspapers devoted even more ink to the story than American papers did, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center.

  • Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa

    Apr 15, 2010 - A new 19-country survey by the Pew Research Center reveals that the vast majority of people in many sub-Saharan African nations are deeply committed to Christianity or Islam, and yet many continue to practice elements of traditional African religions.

  • Broad Criticism of Pope Benedict's Handling of Sex Abuse Scandal

    Apr 07, 2010 - Amid new revelations of sexual abuse in the Church, Pope Benedict's ratings for handling the scandal have plummeted.

  • In Brief: Christian Legal Society v. Martinez

    Apr 06, 2010 - On April 19, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, a case that will determine whether a public institution can refuse to officially recognize a religiously based organization that prevents those who do not share its religious and moral values from becoming voting members. The Pew Forum provides a brief overview of the case.

  • Religion in the News: 2009

    Mar 25, 2010 - Pope Benedict XVI and the Obama administration generated the most religion-related coverage in the U.S. press in 2009, according to a new report from the Pew Forum and the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

  • Religion Among the Millennials

    Feb 17, 2010 - By some key measures, Americans ages 18 to 29 are considerably less religious than older Americans. Yet in other ways, Millennials remain fairly traditional in their religious beliefs and practices, according to a new report released by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.

  • A Brief History of Religion and the U.S. Census

    Jan 26, 2010 - The U.S. Census Bureau’s decennial count of America’s population will be underway soon. The Pew Forum has compiled a brief history of religion and the census, which explains why the census no longer includes questions on religion, even though it once did.

  • Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths

    Dec 09, 2009 - The religious beliefs and practices of Americans do not fit neatly into conventional categories. A new poll by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that large numbers of Americans engage in multiple religious practices, mixing elements of diverse traditions.

  • GOP Seen as Friendlier To Religion Than Democrats

    Dec 01, 2009 - After peaking in mid-2008 during Obama’s presidential election campaign, the number of Americans describing the Democratic Party as friendly toward religion returned to levels similar to those seen in 2005 through 2007, according to a new survey report. The Obama administration, however, is seen as friendly toward religion by more people (37%) than the Democratic Party as a whole (29%).

  • Abortion Plays Small Role in Health Reform Opposition

    Nov 19, 2009 - While most Americans oppose government funding of abortion, few cite funding as a reason for opposing health care reform legislation. If anything, opposition to reform has declined since abortion was debated, with currently 42% in favor and 39% opposed to the reform proposals in Congress.

  • Faith-Based Programs Still Popular, Less Visible

    Nov 16, 2009 - More than eight years after former President George W. Bush unveiled his faith-based initiative to make it easier for religious groups to receive government funding to provide social services, such as feeding the needy, the policy continues to draw broad public support. But as was the case when Bush first announced the initiative, many Americans express concerns about blurring the lines between church and state.

  • The 'Zeal of the Convert': Is It the Real Deal?

    Oct 29, 2009 - A common perception about individuals who switch religions is that they are very fervent about their new faith. A new Pew Forum analysis finds that people who have switched faiths (or joined a faith after being raised unaffiliated with a religion) are indeed slightly more religious than those who have remained in their childhood faith.

  • Majority Continues To Support Civil Unions

    Oct 09, 2009 - A new report finds that a clear majority of Americans favor allowing civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. Over the past year, support for civil unions has grown significantly among those who oppose same-sex marriage while remaining stable among those who favor same-sex marriage. At the same time, opponents of same-sex marriage continue to outnumber supporters overall.

  • Religious Groups Weigh In on Health Care Reform

    Oct 08, 2009 - Many religious organizations have taken on the look of political campaigns, as advocates for and against health care reform preach their politics.

  • Mapping the Global Muslim Population

    Oct 08, 2009 - A new, comprehensive study of more than 200 countries finds that there are 1.57 billion Muslims of all ages living in the world today, representing 23% of an estimated 2009 world population of 6.8 billion. The report by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life offers the most up-to-date and fully sourced estimates of the size and distribution of the worldwide Muslim population.

  • Support For Abortion Slips

    Oct 01, 2009 - Recently, Americans have become more opposed to legal abortion. New analysis of combined Pew Research Center surveys conducted over the past three years shows that in 2007 and 2008, supporters of abortion rights clearly outnumbered opponents of abortion (those saying it should be illegal in most or all cases) by a 54%-40% margin.

  • In Brief: Salazar v. Buono

    Sep 24, 2009 - The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on Oct. 7 in a case that has the potential to determine the fate of a cross on display in the Mojave National Preserve in San Bernardino County, Calif., as well as similar displays across the country. The court's decision might also determine who may bring Establishment Clause lawsuits in federal court in the future.

  • Muslims Widely Seen As Facing Discrimination

    Sep 09, 2009 - Eight years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Americans see Muslims as facing more discrimination inside the U.S. than other major religious groups.

  • Obama, Catholics and the Notre Dame Commencement

    Apr 30, 2009 - A poll finds that most Catholics who have heard about the issue support the University of Notre Dame's decision to invite Barack Obama to speak and receive an honorary degree at their May 17 commencement. But the poll also finds a deep division on this issue between the most-observant Catholics and those who are less observant, as defined by frequency of worship attendance.

  • Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.

    Apr 27, 2009 - Americans change religious affiliation early and often. A new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life documents the fluidity of faith in the U.S. and describes in detail the patterns and reasons for change.

  • No Decline in Belief That Obama is a Muslim

    Apr 01, 2009 - As was the case during the campaign, white evangelical Protestants (19%) and Republicans (17%) are among the most likely to view Obama as a Muslim.

  • Religion in the News: 2008

    Mar 16, 2009 - An analysis of mainstream media coverage in 2008 finds that attention to Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United States in April was the single biggest religion story of the year, eclipsing even faith-related controversies surrounding the 2008 presidential election campaign. Overall, religion received about as much coverage as immigration, education, and race- and gender-focused stories.

  • Why Surveys of Muslim Americans Differ

    Mar 06, 2009 - Because Muslim Americans make up a very small percentage of the U.S. public, it is difficult to provide a reliable picture of their views and differences in survey design can crucially affect findings.

  • A Religious Portrait of African-Americans

    Jan 30, 2009 - In advance of Black History Month, a new analysis by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that African-Americans are markedly more religious on a variety of measures than the U.S. population as a whole.

  • Faith on the Hill: The Religious Affiliations of Members of Congress

    Dec 19, 2008 - A new Pew Forum report compares the religious affiliations of the new Congress, which will be sworn in on Jan. 6, with the religious affiliations of the U.S. population as a whole.

  • Many Americans Say Other Faiths Can Lead to Eternal Life

    Dec 18, 2008 - Following the release of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, commentators wondered what survey respondents - particularly Christians - had in mind when they agreed that "many religions can lead to eternal life." A new Pew Forum analysis finds that a majority of all American Christians think at least some non-Christian faiths can lead to eternal life.

  • How the News Media Covered Religion in the General Election

    Nov 20, 2008 - What was the big religion story of the general election, and which candidate got the most coverage? A new study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism in conjunction with the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life examines how the media covered religious matters.

  • How the Faithful Voted

    Nov 05, 2008 - Among nearly every religious group, Barack Obama received equal or higher levels of support compared with the 2004 Democratic nominee, John Kerry, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Still, a sizeable gap persists between Obama’s support among white evangelical Protestants and his support among the religiously unaffiliated. Similarly, a sizeable gap exists between those who attend religious services regularly and those who attend less often.

  • Americans Wary of Church Involvement in Partisan Politics

    Oct 01, 2008 - On Sept. 28, more than two dozen pastors challenged IRS restrictions on the political activities of churches and other tax-exempt organizations. While a strong majority of Americans support religion’s role in public life, an equally solid majority oppose church involvement in partisan politics, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

  • McCain, Obama Poised to Expand Faith-Based Initiative

    Sep 23, 2008 - Both Barack Obama and John McCain have said they plan to build on President Bush's faith-based initiative. But how might they do that? The Pew Forum turned to two experts for answers.

  • How the Media Has Handled Palin's Faith

    Sep 22, 2008 - Since being named to the GOP ticket by John McCain, Sarah Palin has generated extensive coverage of many aspects of her background, her record in public office and her family life. But what are voters learning from the media about the Alaska Governor’s religious faith and beliefs?

  • Palin V.P. Nomination Puts Pentecostalism in the Spotlight

    Sep 12, 2008 - This analysis based on the Pew Forum's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey examines the demographic, religious and political characteristics of Pentecostals in the United States. GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin attended a church affiliated with the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination, from the time she was a teenager until 2002.

  • The Candidates' Faith

    Sep 05, 2008 - Now updated for the general election, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s Religion & Politics '08 offers in-depth profiles that tell the candidates' faith stories and explain their views of how religion should impact public life.

  • More Americans Question Religion's Role in Politics

    Aug 21, 2008 - A new Pew Research Center survey finds a decline in the share of Americans who want churches and other houses of worship to be involved in political matters. Most of the drop in the past four years has come among political conservatives.

  • McCain's Lead Among Evangelicals Smaller than Bush's in '04

    Jul 17, 2008 - John McCain has a smaller lead among white evangelical Protestants than George W. Bush had at a similar point in the 2004 campaign, even though Barack Obama has made few inroads into this key constituency. Religiously unaffiliated voters, however, strongly favor the Democratic candidate.

  • Running on Faith

    Jul 10, 2008 - This report from the Pew Forum and the Project for Excellence in Journalism finds that media coverage of religion in the presidential primary campaign from January 2007 through April 2008 rivaled coverage of race and gender combined.

  • A Portrait of American Catholics on the Eve of Pope Benedict's Visit to the U.S.

    Mar 27, 2008 - When Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the U.S. on April 15, 2008, he will be greeted by a flock that is undergoing rapid ethnic and demographic changes.

  • Politics and the Pulpit 2008

    Mar 07, 2008 - A guide to the Internal Revenue Code restrictions on the political activity of religious organizations.

  • Legal Backgrounder: The Supreme Court Charts a New Direction on Abortion Jurisprudence in Gonzales v. Carhart

    Jun 01, 2007 - In this latest ruling -- the result of two related cases, Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood -- the court for the first time upheld a law that bans a specific abortion method.

  • Changing Faiths: Latinos and the Transformation of American Religion

    Apr 26, 2007 - A report on a comprehensive joint survey by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life about Hispanics and Christianity, specifically Catholicism.

  • High Court Decision Could Raise Abortion's Profile in Campaign

    Apr 19, 2007 - The 5-4 Supreme Court decision upholding a federal law banning a controversial abortion procedure may dramatically raise abortion's visibility in the 2008 presidential election campaign.

  • Strange Bedfellows: Why Are Some Religious Groups Defending 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus'?

    Mar 27, 2007 - A March 2007 Supreme Court case involving the free speech rights of students is producing some very unusual alliances.

  • Eyes Wide Shut (Fall 2006 Trust Magazine article)

    Nov 21, 2006 - Religion has a vital role in foreign policy. Many people try to ignore it, but like the proverbial elephant in the room, it's there, regardless. Published in the Fall 2006 issue of Trust magazine.

  • The Muslim Awakening of the West (Summer 2006 Trust Magazine article)

    Sep 01, 2006 - A timely forum offers perspectives on the nature of political Islam and how it relates to the United States and the West more broadly.

  • Findings On Religion, Politics And Party Influence

    Aug 30, 2005 - Results of a summer 2005 public opinion poll on U.S. attitudes about religion and politics.

  • Religion and the Environment: Polls Show Strong Backing For Environmental Protection Across Religious Groups

    Dec 20, 2004 - Survey of public opinion about environmental policy as it relates to faith traditions.

  • A Year of Contention at Home and Abroad

    Jan 29, 2004 - A 2003 year-end report from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press summarizes nearly 50,000 interviews in the U.S. and worldwide.

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