Jun 19, 2014 11:35 am

‘March for Marriage’ rally reflects steadfast opposition to gay marriage among evangelical Christians

At a time when polls show a growing number of Americans favor same-sex marriage, a coalition of groups opposing gay marriage are holding a “March for Marriage” today in Washington, D.C., to demonstrate what organizers call a “deep and wide support for the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” according to National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown.

FT_same-sex-marriage-religious-viewsThe tide of public opinion on same-sex marriage has changed rapidly. In just five years, the percentage of adults who say they oppose same-sex marriage has fallen from a majority (54%) to a minority. Today, roughly four-in-ten Americans (39%) say they oppose allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed, according to Pew Research Center polling.

But while opposition to same-sex marriage is still sizable, it is now more concentrated among a few religious groups – particularly white evangelical Protestants. (Many of the groups sponsoring today’s rally are affiliated with evangelical Christianity.)

White evangelical Protestants, many of whom belong to churches that still firmly prohibit gay marriage, tend to be much more likely to oppose same-sex marriage than the general population or other large faith groups. Indeed, seven-in-ten white evangelical Protestants say they oppose allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed. In addition, about half of African-American Protestants (49%), some of whom belong to historically black churches that are evangelical, also oppose gay marriage. Read More

Topics: Evangelical Protestants and Evangelicalism, Gay Marriage and Homosexuality

Jun 19, 2014 7:01 am

7 facts about White House press secretaries

White House press secretaries
Can you name these White House press secretaries and the presidents they served? See answers at the bottom.

In replacing Jay Carney in front of the media today, Josh Earnest becomes the 30th presidential press secretary since the post was created 85 years ago, according to Towson University professor Martha Joynt Kumar, a leading expert and author on  White House communications.

As the guard changes at the press room podium, Kumar helped Pew Research put together this collection of historical facts and figures about those whose job it is to position themselves—sometimes as a conduit, sometimes as a shield—between the commander in chief and the Fourth Estate.

1The first man to officially hold the post of press secretary was George Akerson, who served President Herbert Hoover from March 1929 until February 1931. While other presidential secretaries helped to brief reporters, Akerson was the first whose only responsibilities involved dealing with the media. Read More

Topics: Barack Obama, News Sources

Jun 18, 2014 2:50 pm

For World Refugee Day, 5 long-term refugee trends

Mervat, 31, stands outside of her tent as she holds her 9-month-old daughter, Shurouk, at a camp for Syrian refugees in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley on Tuesday, March 11, 2014. Credit: AP Photo/Bilal Hussein.
Mervat, 31, stands outside of her tent as she holds her 9-month-old daughter, Shurouk, at a camp for Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley on Tuesday, March 11, 2014. Credit: AP Photo/Bilal Hussein.

Unrest in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq has prompted renewed attention about refugees across the world in recent weeks. But in the face of such news stories, long-term refugee trends are often overlooked.

According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, refugees flee their home country because of political, ethnic or religious tensions. Although millions of people may move within a country to avoid conflict and violence (they are often described as internally displaced people), people must cross international borders to be counted as refugees. (And although generations of Palestinian refugees are counted as part of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, Palestinian refugees are not included in estimates by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.)

Using trend data from the UNHCR for 2002 to 2012, here are five facts – in marking of World Refugee Day on June 20 – that shed light on the changing shape of refugee populations around the world.

1The number of refugees has fallen from its 1990s peak.

Refugee population trends

The number of refugees living in a foreign country who are either waiting to return or be resettled peaked in the early 1990s at about 18 million. During the 1990s peak, most of the world’s refugees were leaving Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2012, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Syria were top countries of origin for refugees. But despite the ongoing conflicts in these countries, the number of refugees around the world is considerably less than it was two decades ago, numbering between 10 million and 12 million in recent years.

Read More

Topics: Migration, Wars and International Conflicts

Jun 18, 2014 1:45 pm

The Sunni-Shia divide: Where they live, what they believe and how they view each other

The ongoing and intensifying conflict in Iraq has fallen – at least in part – along sectarian lines, with the Sunni Muslim militant group ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) advancing against the Shia Muslim-led Iraqi government and Shia militias. Sectarian affiliation has played a role in the politics of the region for hundreds of years.

Where Sunni and Shia Muslims populationsIran and Iraq are two of only a handful of countries that have more Shias than Sunnis. While it is widely assumed that Iraq has a Shia majority, there is little reliable data on the exact Sunni-Shia breakdown of the population there, particularly since refugees arriving in Iraq due to the conflict in Syria or leaving Iraq due to its own turmoil may have affected the composition of Iraq’s population.

The few available survey measures of religious identity in Iraq suggest that about half the country is Shia. Surveys by ABC News found between 47% and 51% of the country identifying as Shia between 2007 and 2009, and a Pew Research survey conducted in Iraq in late 2011 found that 51% of Iraqi Muslims said they were Shia (compared with 42% saying they were Sunni).

Neighboring Iran is home to the world’s largest Shia population: Between 90% and 95% of Iranian Muslims (66-70 million people) were Shias in 2009, according to our estimate from that year.

Their shared demographic makeup may help explain Iran’s support for Iraq’s Shia-dominated government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Read More

Topics: Middle East and North Africa, Muslims and Islam

Jun 18, 2014 10:31 am

Where Christian churches, other religions stand on gay marriage

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) plans to hold a historic vote on same-sex marriage this week that could reverberate beyond the church’s nearly 2 million members. Church leaders gathering in Detroit are expected to decide as early as today whether to allow gay marriage or to continue to prohibit it, a move some Christian leaders believe could influence other centrist and liberal mainline Protestant churches as they also grapple with the issue.

FT_14.06.18_ChurchesOnSSM (1)

In the last two decades, several religious groups have moved to allow same-sex couples to marry within their traditions. This includes the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements, Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Read More

Topics: Christians and Christianity, Gay Marriage and Homosexuality

Jun 17, 2014 11:00 am

Why timely, reliable data on mass killings is hard to find

Mass-KillingsThe United States has experienced a spate of public killing sprees in recent weeks. In June alone, shootings at Seattle Pacific University, Reynolds High School in suburban Portland, and in Las Vegas left a total of five people dead and three wounded (excluding the shooters). Last month, a 22-year-old college student in southern California stabbed his three roommates to death, then shot and killed three more people and wounded 13 others before shooting himself.

Which makes us wonder: Are school shootings and other killing sprees really more common nowadays? The available data don’t offer clear evidence, due to issues of timeliness, reliability or both.

The most frequently cited source for data on mass killings is the Federal Bureau of Investigation, yet it falls short in several ways. The agency relies on voluntary reporting by local police agencies; as a result, USA Today reported last year, the FBI data had only about a 61% accuracy rate — missing some crimes entirely and miscategorizing others. Besides such errors, Florida doesn’t report homicides to the FBI at all, and Nebraska and Washington, D.C., only started doing so in 2009.

more comprehensive database maintained by USA Today lists 38 public mass killings since 2006; all but four were shootings. Since 2006, the number of public mass killings each year has varied between 3 and 6. The year 2012, which saw both the Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., massacres, had by far the most total fatalities (63). Read More

Topics: Criminal Justice, Violence and Society

Jun 17, 2014 9:00 am

Which party is more to blame for political polarization? It depends on the measure

Our report on political polarization in America has renewed debate among journalists and academics over what is called “asymmetrical polarization” – the idea that one party has moved further ideologically than the other. A number of congressional scholars have concluded that the widening partisan gap in Congress is attributable mostly to a rightward shift among Republican lawmakers. But what about the public? Have Republicans nationwide shifted further than Democrats over the past two decades?

The report addresses this issue in considerable detail. What we find is clear evidence of more ideologically consistent thinking on both sides of the spectrum, as well as greater levels of partisan antipathy, though the latter is currently more acute on the right than on the left.

Read More

Topics: Political Attitudes and Values, Political Polarization

Jun 17, 2014 7:00 am

A dug-in electorate bodes poorly for the Democrats in November

Opinion of Obama, Obamacare, economy influences voteSince the Affordable Care Act was passed nearly four years ago, a plurality of Americans have disapproved of it. Since the onset of the Great Recession six years ago, more than 80% of Americans have rated economic conditions as only fair or poor. And since winning a second term, Barack Obama’s approval score has mostly been in the mid-40s or lower. One or more of these attitudes will have to move in a clearly positive direction for the Democratic Party to avoid a drubbing in the congressional elections, according to a new analysis of voter opinion.

So far the indications for that are not so good. Recent months have shown signs of economic progress and indications that the Affordable Care Act has begun to achieve its goals. But there is little indication that the unemployment rate’s falling to 6.3%, the Dow Jones average soaring to a new high and the ACA signing up 8 million people, (including many young people,) had any effect on attitudes about these two key issues. Read More

Topics: 2014 Election, Political Party Affiliation, Presidential Approval, U.S. Political Parties

Jun 16, 2014 3:00 pm

In countries near Syria, widespread fear about the spread of violence, extremists

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

The successful capture last week of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, by the extremist organization Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – and the group’s continued push toward the Iraqi capital, Baghdad – seemed to confirm widespread fears in the Middle East that violence in Syria would spill over into neighboring states.

FT_mideast-syria-violence-concernMiddle East worries about spreading violence and a possible triumph by extremists in Syria have been evident in Pew Research surveys the past two years. A 2013 poll found that roughly three-quarters or more of the public in Lebanon, Tunisia, Jordan, Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian territories were concerned that the ongoing Syrian conflict would destabilize nearby countries. (The Pew Research Center did not poll in Iraq.)

This year, our newest poll reveals that people in these same neighboring countries are also concerned that extremists, such as ISIS, will prevail in Syria. Read More

Topics: Middle East and North Africa, Terrorism

Jun 16, 2014 11:53 am

So, you married an atheist…

FT_14.06.16_marryAnAtheistHow would you react if a family member were to marry a born-again Christian – or an atheist?

A new Pew Research Center survey found that despite high levels of political polarization overall, most Americans in each major political party said “it wouldn’t matter” if an immediate family member married someone who identifies with the opposite party. But fewer U.S. adults – especially Christians – are neutral toward the idea of welcoming someone who doesn’t believe in God into their family through marriage.

About three-quarters of white evangelicals (77%) and two-thirds of black Protestants (67%) in the survey said they would be unhappy if a family member were to marry an atheist, as did 55% of Catholics and 46% of white mainline Protestants.

By comparison, Americans who are religiously unaffiliated are much more comfortable with the prospect of a family member marrying a born-again Christian. Most religious “nones” (73%) said that such a union would not matter to them, while one-in-ten (9%) even said they would be happy to see such a marriage. About one-in-six (17%) said they would be unhappy.

Even among people who specifically identify themselves as atheists or agnostics, two-thirds (67%) said it wouldn’t matter if a family member married a born-again Christian, while just a quarter (26%) said they’d be unhappy.

Topics: Religion and Politics