The Common Good

America to Politicians: Easy on the Religion Please

New research released today by the Pew Forum shows that the American public are becoming increasingly anxious of the amount of religious language being used by their public officials.

Church interior, Robert Hoetink, Shutterstock.com
Church interior, Robert Hoetink, Shutterstock.com

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More people now say that there “has been too much expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders” (four-in-ten) than say that there has been too little (three-in-ten). This figure is up nearly 10 per cent from 2010 figures.

Supporters of former Pennsylvania Senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum are the least concerned by the use of religious language by politicians, with 55 per cent of them believing that there is too little expression of religious faith and prayer by religious leaders. Amongst Democrats or those who lean in that direction, a majority believe that religious language is invoked too often by political leaders.

When broken down by denomination, White evangelicals are the most sympathetic to political leaders invoking religious language – just 1 in 7 believe that it is used too much. 

There is also a belief amongst a majority of Americans (54 percent) that churches and other religious institutions should keep out of politics – with 2012 being the third consecutive year that a majority of Americans has articulated this belief. These results also split down party lines, with half of all Republican voters more likely to believe that churches should express their views on social and politics questions – while only 1 in 3 Democrat supporters take a similar view.

White mainline and Catholic churches are more resistant than any other to churches expressing social and political views – in both, 6 in 10 believe the church to keep out of politics. In the white evangelical church, the reverse is true with 6 in 10 believing that it is right for churches to express their views.

One eye-catching statistic shows that youth matters when it comes to this topic--18-29 year-olds are more likely than any other age bracket to agree that churches should express their views on political issues.

The survey also noted that the public see the media and university professors as the groups most likely to be unfriendly toward religion. One in 5 believe the Democratic Party is unfriendly to religion and around 1 in 8 hold the same view for the Republican Party. The Republican Party was the only profiled group which a majority of Americans saw as friendly to religion.

With seven months of the Presidential campaign remaining, it is unlikely that the religious rhetoric that has marked it so far will disappear. However, candidates will no doubt become more careful not to alienate potential voters who are becoming increasingly disengaged from the language that is defining this election.

To read the full report, click HERE.

Jack Palmer is a communications assistant at Sojourners. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackPalmer88.

Church interior, Robert Hoetink, Shutterstock.com

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