February 3, 2017

Most Americans oppose churches choosing sides in elections

Our polling shows that Americans like their politicians to have strong religious convictions. And nearly half of Americans also say they want churches and other houses of worship to speak out on social and political topics. But there has long been a consensus that churches should not endorse specific candidates for public office.

Questions surrounding the role of churches in the political process are back in the news after President Donald Trump, in an address Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast, proposed to “get rid of and totally destroy” existing legal limits on houses of worship endorsing candidates. Currently, a law known as the Johnson Amendment, enacted in 1954, prohibits tax-exempt institutions like churches from involvement in political campaigns on behalf of or against any political candidate.

When it comes to questions about religion and politics, Americans by and large say they like public officials to be religiously grounded. As of mid-2016, about six-in-ten (62%) U.S. adults agree with the statement “it’s important to me that a president have strong religious beliefs.” This has long been the majority view among Americans, though support for the statement has declined gradually over the past eight years or so. 

The same mid-2016 survey also found that many Americans, though not a majority, think churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political matters: 47% expressed that view, while a roughly equal share (49%) said churches should stay out of social and political topics.

But most Americans draw the line at church endorsements of specific candidates. Indeed, in 2016, 66% expressed opposition to church endorsements of candidates, which is roughly stable with other readings taken over the past eight years.

Even among the religious groups that are most in favor of church endorsements of candidates – black Protestants and white evangelicals – just 45% of the former and 37% of  the latter say it’s OK for churches to endorse political candidates. And support is lower still among Catholics (28%), the religiously unaffiliated (26%) and white mainline Protestants (21%).

Interestingly, while Republicans and Democrats are famously deeply divided on many social and political issues, there is a much smaller gap on this issue. Just 33% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and 26% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say churches should endorse specific political candidates.

Topics: Religion and Government, Political Attitudes and Values, Religion and U.S. Politics, Elections and Campaigns, Social Values, Donald Trump

  1. Photo of Gregory A. Smith

    is an associate director of research at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous5 months ago

    I am very offended and often angry at the presumptuousness
    of clergy when politics is mentioned from the pulpit or when only one party is represented at church functions
    ostensibly designed to pray for the good of the community, state, nation.

  2. Anonymous5 months ago

    Gee, maybe Jesus should never have gone after those money-changers after all because that was a pretty rabid, political thing to do. And preaching on a hillside? Or going around raising folks from the dead? I hear it really ticked off some folks in government there, being the rebel that he was. Take politics out of religion and, um, what would the faithful do? Walk around in devout prayer all day? Gandhi was pretty radical reformer for a lawyer and religious guy — in fact, he used civil disobedience to impress the idea that everyone was entitled to enlightenment, not just a certain group. And who says money in religion is so bad? It worked quite well for those priests selling dispensation. Still does from what I see if you want a personalized front row pew on Sunday. If you want politics out of religion, you won’t have much “religion” left afterwards. But if churches are going to throw money at politicians, maybe they should be paying taxes like everyone else.

  3. Anonymous5 months ago

    No Jewish figures on whether or not churches (or synagogues) should take sides in elections?

    Or Muslems also?


  4. Packard Day6 months ago

    Anyone who does not think that churches choose political sides has never been inside a Black Baptist Church on the two Sundays before a Presidential election. It happens all of the time and no one should be greatly surprised when it does.

  5. Anonymous6 months ago

    It appears lately that any idea from by a person’s religion should not inform their political views. That is not always logical and can hinder good ideas. That is a misreading of the separation of church and state. Science does not well address any political views, religion does.

    Separating church and state should mean that the government does not tax people in order to give that money to one denomination rather than another, but that is all.

  6. Anonymous6 months ago

    Yes, Churches should get no special government influence, as is obviously required by the 1st Amendment. Still; Churches should also be wholly free to speak their opposition and support of government just as corporations ALL do. The tax exempt status should not be used as a muzzle! Free speech is for individuals and not corporations OR Churches. Taxes should NEVER be used to influence speech andis illegal violation of the First Amendment

    1. CN Foundation6 months ago

      Corporations and Churches are NOT individuals and allowing these THINGS any of the rights of an individual human prevents many shareholders and many Church members from opposing the “party line” and wholly prevents the minority position from speaking at all.

      There always are a few fervently opposing any Church holding or any Corporation’s belief. Protecting one Corporate employee or one Church member’s speech muzzles the beliefs/speech of all who oppose.

      The one-person one-vote principle, fundamental for democracy to allege honorability, must be preserved. Church Pastors and Corporate CEOs may speak but not in a way so as to disparage the speech of the newest member or of any single stockholder or employee.

      This comment is a clarification of the “anonymous” comment above…

    2. Anonymous5 months ago

      churches with more than 10 or so members have no valid reason to have tax exempt status. if they paid taxes, they could do whatever any other tax paying entity does. the first amendment protects the right of all churches to exist equally, but there is no good reason to make the management of churches filthy rich, like is happening now.