September 22, 2014

5 takeaways about religion and politics before the midterms

Although there has always been a separation of church and state in the U.S., it has never prevented religion and religious groups from playing a big role in the country’s political life. Now, as the nation heads into midterm elections, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that many Americans support a role for religion in the political arena and lament what they see as religion’s declining influence in society.

The survey asked Americans a series of questions about the intersection of faith and public life; here are a few of the key findings:

Rising number of Americans say religion is losing influence in society1 A growing percentage of U.S. adults (now 72%) think that religion is losing influence in American life. Moreover, most people who feel this way think this is a bad thing. Overall, a majority (56%) of the total U.S. population perceives religion as losing influence in American life and says that’s a bad thing.

2 Perhaps as a consequence, our survey found a growing share of Americans express support for religion in politics in a few different ways. About half of U.S. adults (49%) say churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political questions – up from 43% four years ago. And while they are still a minority, the percentage of Americans who say that churches should endorse candidates in elections is up 8 percentage points since 2010 (from 24% to 32%).

3 Only about half of Americans (47%) see the Republican Party as friendly toward religion, but even fewer (29%) feel that way about the Democratic Party. With regard to the White House in particular, our surveys have found a steady rise in the percentage of people who view the Obama administration as unfriendly toward religion – rising to 29% today compared with 23% in 2012 and 17% in 2009.

Public divided on whether wedding-related businesses should be required to provide services to same-sex couples4 For the first time in a Pew Research survey, we asked Americans whether they think businesses that provide wedding services, such as catering or flowers, should be allowed to refuse services to same-sex couples for religious reasons. There was an even split on this question, with 47% saying that businesses should be allowed to refuse services related to same-sex weddings and 49% saying they should be required to provide services as they would to all other customers.

5 Significant shares of Americans who identify with or lean toward one of the major political parties say that their party does not do a good job representing their views on certain issues, including government spending and abortion. This applies especially to the Republican Party. Many white evangelical Republicans say the GOP is too liberal on a host of issues. For example, 34% of white evangelical Republicans say that the GOP has not done a good job representing their views on abortion because the party is too liberal (i.e., not willing enough to put restrictions on abortion). Only 7% of white evangelicals in the GOP say the party has been too conservative on abortion.

Topics: Religion and U.S. Politics

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Ellyn3 years ago

    Again, as with the question in the quiz about what the fed spends the most money on, I’m not happy with Pew’s survey re: religion/politics. Many American institutions have fallen into disrepute: SCOTUS (5 white male conservatives who don’t want democracy); the news media; Congress (a conservative dominated House which collects its pay and does nothing if we’re lucky and closes down the government if we’re not. Religion has become a political tool of white conservatives and bears little or no resemblance to the teachings of Jesus as I learned them as a child at the Catholic school I attended. Conservative religion seems to be about hate and greed. I think you have to define the religion you are talking about when you do your surveys. Of course conservatives would like to see more of their own brand of (anti)Christian religion in politics.
    I really don’t trust you, Pew. I think there’s an agenda hidden in many of your surveys and it’s not liberal.

  2. Jim3 years ago

    i wonder if the percentage of those desiring religion in politics would drop if they realize non-Christian religions could and should be included?

  3. Nina Bulles3 years ago

    Perhaps you should note that less than 14% of Christians are “Evangelical”….or do you even know the difference?

  4. @notWWJDjswgc3 years ago

    Last week I heard on my (preferred) liberal news media outlet, NPR, that seemingly to everyone’s surprise a Pew Research Center survey showed “more Americans favor mixing religion and politics.” Then this Sunday at my (preferred) conservative parish I received a two-page handout titled “Forming a Good Catholic Conscience for Voting.” Now, I realize it goes too far, but these two pieces of media – and the swirl of sometimes vitriolic online and in-person comments around them – couldn’t help but cause me to ask the following question.

    Does allowing your religious belief – or lack thereof – to influence your politics violate the US Constitution?

    Well, according to the Constitution, only if your religion or non-religion influenced politics result in Congress making “a law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”


    In that case, what would actually be un-Constitutional would be a requirement – even if you happen to be a member of Congress – to NOT allow your religious beliefs to influence your politics (as if that were possible). It wouldn’t even be Constitutional to prohibit you from acknowledging that influence (and probably wouldn’t be wise, either, if we want transparency on this issue, something both anti-religionists and the religious of differing faiths should desire – and quite in contrast to the increasing, and increasingly tolerated, lack of transparency regarding money’s influence on politics).

    Perhaps that is why this first clause of the First Amendment couples its protections for religious freedom with a further prohibition on Congress “abridging the freedom of speech.”

    Yes, and not only the freedom to speak, but also “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” It seems prescient that all these freedoms are logically grouped together in the first sentence of the Bill of Rights, because historically – from early abolitionists to Martin Luther King Jr. to Malcolm X and many in between– America’s houses of worship are where people have most consistently come together to give voice to and act on behalf of the most marginalized members of our society.

    That’s right, read in this context it becomes clear that the Constitutional concern was that government would intrude on and appropriate religion – as it had in England – not the other way around. Unfortunately, the commonly accepted, late 20th century Orwellian re-interpretation of this text would make it mean the exact opposite: that we must somehow protect the most economically, militarily and politically powerful government in human history – presiding with the consent of a consumer society whose wealth and secular nature is similarly without precedent – from our nation’s diverse, diffuse and waning sphere of organized faith.

    Put that way, fear of religious influence on American politics seems almost ironic.

    Perhaps, then, the Pew Research Center shouldn’t have been surprised that their polls ahead of the fall 2014 midterm elections showed that the majority Americans – a large percentage of which, as defined by prior polls, would not consider themselves religious – perceive that “religions losing influence in American life is a bad thing”. Perhaps the folks at Pew shouldn’t have even been surprised that an increasing percentage of US adults say that houses of worship should express their views on social and political questions.

    What this vast swath of America’s secular society seems to subconsciously – and, therefore, for researchers, surprisingly – be seeking, is an alternative voice.

    A non-economic, non-military, non-political, non-consumerist – dare I say, non-“natural degeneration of the secular” – voice.

    Now, whether we find such a voice in the expression of our houses of worship is another question. However, my argument is not that, but rather that the reason even the prospect of hearing such a voice is constitutionally protected in the US is because from the very inception of our nation it has been our hope that such a religious voice does exist.

    America, at its best, is rooted in that hope: that speaking truth to power can win the day.

    Religion, at its best, responds that even if it does not, truth must still be spoken.

    Therefore, at all of our best, we would not seek to silence, but to listen. There are so many influences on politics – and on us, the electorate – promoting party affiliation or mere self-interest that it would not hurt to allow ourselves to be challenged by a counter-cultural perspective. And the religious, in raising their voice outside their congregations, would open themselves up to challenge in turn; their words tested, they should take to heart criticisms by the non-religious and those of other religions alike in order to actually strengthen and purify their faith.

    For the Christian, this would mean asking whether Jesus could have embraced the political action or attitude we are espousing, and still have embraced the cross.

    That is the only question, but one we cannot answer in isolation, without conversing with others, without attending to the voice of all those affected by the actions and attitudes we submit for public consideration, possible adoption, and certain trial. To quote Thomas Merton’s prayer and confession to God, “the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.” Therefore we humbly submit our actions and attitudes to the scrutiny of others – even, or perhaps especially, to those with whom we may not at first agree – in order to demonstrate to God, even as Merton went on to plead in his prayer, that “I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you, and I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.”

    Hmm, amidst the money, the vested interests, the pure political posturing, isn’t that precisely the kind of voice to which we all want to at least have the opportunity to listen?
    @notWWJDjswgc is 1 of 3 streams of tweets and blogs from Good Counsel. To learn more, follow me on Twitter or visit

  5. DrDan3 years ago

    It is about time that people realize that the separation of church and state is real. The Tea Part people and Christian uneducated politicians are anti-science and uneducated. Just watch the proceedings and some of the things congressional and senate idiots say about global warming like there were no thermometers several million years ago so how would we know what the temperature of the earth ways—duh. The problem with religion is that people take the Christian “bible” liberally because they are scientifically uneducated and do not really understand reality. Unfortunately. Fortunately the younger generation is coming to realize that the uninformed politician, mostly southern people are just that, uninformed. Maybe the next 10,000 years will have the human brain developed to the point where the ‘religious” neurosis will disappear! One can hope!

  6. DrT Happy3 years ago

    Regarding #2, religion in politics. I would suggest those who want religion in politics just go ahead and move to the middle east or any other mainly Muslim country or Ireland. Then you can have religion in your government. BTW NOT what writers of our Constitution had in mind.

  7. Kapono3 years ago

    Those who control the Republican agenda have interestingly converted several groups of people by pandering to their fears, collecting votes from the un-educated and ignorant to pursue their personal goals. At the forefront are people like the Koch Brothers, Carl Rove, and the 1%’ers who are only interested in feathering their nests.

  8. Lyle Minnick3 years ago

    If everyone in this world was a true Christian, there would be no wars or killings. If everyone were Muslim, what would there be? They even fight themselves.

  9. morgana3 years ago

    How did you define religion? Standard churches and denominations? Perhaps doing a survey on spirituality would net different results. Mainstream religions are losing significance, but spirituality, although possiby difficult to measure, may be gaining.

  10. Rocco colella3 years ago

    Religion of any sort does not belong in any government and should not influence government decisions! Religiously run/leaning governments have proven over and over that they are dictatorial, unfair and very prejudicial! Currently all wars, disputes etc, are rooted by religion and their fanatic followers! Religion is not compatible to any government for people’s welfare and freedom!

  11. naksuthin3 years ago

    Christians and Muslims all subscribe to the same misguided beliefs

    1. Our God is the only true god (all other gods are false)

    2. Our beliefs are the only true beliefs (all other beliefs are lies)

    3. Our duty is to convert YOU to our RIGHT way of thinking

    You can see the result of that kind of thinking in Most Middle east Muslim Countries where non Muslims are persecuted and clerics make the moral and political decisions of the country

    Just ask any Evangelical Christian in the US if they think everyone else should be forced to follow their beliefs on abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research , euthanasia, sex…and they will tell you YES. Everyone should be forced to adhere to our beliefs because our beliefs are CORRECT

    1. emet1463 years ago

      Is this not what you are recommending be done with your own views? Are you not asking, demanding even, that everyone in the US should accept your beliefs on these issues and that they not speak out their own? You believe your views to be true according to some standard to which you would like others to be held. So do I. What is that standard and from whence did it arise? How can we know anything is true? If you say we can then what is the objective source that defines it? if not then stop complaining, because it’s irrelevant. We’re either just illusions or biologically determined machines whose thoughts are not real or of any value as they cannot be held to a standard of what should be correct, since there is no such thing. I respect that you have different beliefs, even though I think you’re wrong, because I believe that you are a person of intrinsic value. I believe we can have thoughts and be right or wrong exactly because there is an absolute, transcendent, and immutable source of truth. And I believe He loves you.

      1. Kapono3 years ago

        No, emet146, I don’t believe naksuthin is recommending anything of the sort. Organized religion is at the root of most all the great wars on this planet. Organized religion is a breeding ground for the Jim Jones’s of the world, whipping the ignorant, poor and weak to march to their ego’s drum beat and often ignoring science and fact in favor of their own personal objectives.

    2. Ellyn3 years ago

      And that’s why younger people are not interested in religion. Conservative “christianity” is hate and greed-antichristian, actually. The Conservative SCOTUS judge, Antonin Scalia, rumored to be a member of the secretive, rightwing Catholic Opus Dei, is having a hard time accepting the New Pope’s interest in pursuing the actual teachings of Jesus Christ which have a lot more to do with love and generosity than they do with hate and greed. Andy Borowitz, in The New Yorker, joked that Scalia and Thomas are forming a committee to search for a new pope.

  12. Howard B+Edgar3 years ago

    I thought Pew Research was a respected nonpartisan organization until I read this story.
    The use of inflammatory language (“The total U.S. population..”) to bend actual facts (2,002) is a very Republican Religious Right way of sharing “news.” It’s easy to hoodwink less intelligent, less educated Americans (who deserve much better, btw) with these hot-button issues while taking their homes, retirement, savings, health and whatever else. Ya’ll might want to watch the movie “Idiocracy”. We’re heading that way, anyway.

    1. Ellyn3 years ago

      Totally agree. I used to subscribe to Pew e-mails until I saw a Pew poll during the last presidential election which made me realize that Pew has an agenda and it’s not liberal. When I looked up Pew’s history on Wikipedia, I saw that Pew started out as another right wing think tank, like CATO, AEI and the Heritage Foundation.
      They are very trusted by liberals but when you look at their surveys you see how weighted they are toward the right wing.

  13. Zach3 years ago

    Have your religion – but keep it out of my life.

    1. Howard B Edgar3 years ago

      Your article states that “Overall, a majority (56%) of the total U.S. population perceives religion as losing influence in American life and says that’s a bad thing.”
      How can that be if you only surveyed 2,002 people? The total US population is about 315 million. No one surveyed me. So 160 million of the people that you surveyed think less religion is a bad thing. You didn’t say a majority of your “survey respondents” think it’s a bad thing. Perhaps we need to research Pew Research and its agenda.

      1. Thomas R3 years ago

        I might guess you’re not familiar with how polling works. It’s not about asking the entire US population, it takes a representative sampling. There’s usually a factor for error.

        There’s probably sites where you can look this up.

  14. Pingnan Shi3 years ago

    This article starts with a false premise. Church has never been prevented from influencing politics by the Constitution. It is the other way around. The Constitution only prevents Congress from influencing Church.

    1. David3 years ago

      That all depends on which Court is interpreting the Constitution, doesn’t it?