Survey Says Americans More Pessimistic Than Ever. But Here's Why There's Hope.

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Even though the Great Recession officially ended in 2009, 72 percent of Americans believe that the U.S. is still in recession, a figure unchanged from 2014. While that figure has remained steady, this year has seen a dramatic spike of discontent regarding economic inequality. Over the past four years, only slight majorities (53 to 55 percent) have agreed that “One of the big problems in this country is that we don’t give everyone an equal chance in life.” But in 2015, 65 percent of Americans agreed.

And Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly agree, at least on this: The federal government is looking out for the rich. The American Dream, seemingly in question since the Great Recession, is now only an idle daydream for most.

And as Americans give up on the American Dream, they grow more suspicious of immigrants. In 2012, 57 percent of Americans believed that immigrants strengthened the U.S. That number has now, dangerously, fallen below a majority, to 46 percent. And it has gotten personal — more people report being bothered when they encounter non-English speakers.

Why Christians Need Coates

Image via Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock

Image via /Shutterstock

My people — that is, white evangelical Protestants — aren’t good at talking about race.

This fact has been born out by years of social scientific research. A number of years ago, based on thousands of interviews with evangelicals around the country, Christian Smith and Michael Emerson posited that, "evangelicals have a theological world view that makes it difficult for them to perceive systemic injustices in society."

Unfortunately, the situation hasn’t improved much in recent years. In 2014, the Public Religion Research Institute found that two-thirds of white evangelicals agree that black and white Americans receive equal treatment under the law. More than 80 percent of black Protestants disagreed with the same statement.

Apparently, white evangelicals just don’t think race is that big of a problem. And even if we did, we don’t have the conceptual tools necessary to address the underlying, structural forces at play. It’s time for us to start listening. But how? Where do we begin?

With Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Like It or Not, Most Expect Gay Marriage Will Sweep the U.S.

Photo via Public Religion Research Institute / RNS

Legal status of, and support for, same-sex marriage in each state. Photo via Public Religion Research Institute / RNS

Most Americans — including people from every major religious group — predict gay marriage will be legalized nationwide when a hotly anticipated Supreme Court ruling is announced later this month.

Among those who favor legalizing same-sex marriage, 80 percent think the high court will rule their way, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute released June 11. And among those who oppose gay marriage, 47 percent say that’s the likely outcome, too.

Agree to Disagree: Millennials Talk Sex and Morals

A couple holding hands. Image via Mirko Tabasevic/

A couple holding hands. Image via Mirko Tabasevic/

When it comes to consensual sexual ethics among millennials, all behaviors are on the table … if the time is right. For the same generation in which no single religious group claims more than about one in 10, there is also little clear generational consensus on sex and reproductive health, a new report finds.

“Across seven behaviors related to sexuality [including: using contraception, sex between minors, unmarried cohabitation], there were no issues for which a majority pronounced them morally wrong in general,” the report, authored by Robert P. Jones and Daniel Cox at the Public Religion Research Institute, states.

Millennials prove a regular source of fascination for commentators and other millennials alike. This is the generation that launched a thousand think pieces, and understandably so — in study after study, millennials consistently defy both traditional categories and expected reactive categories alike. (We’re an obstinate bunch.)

When it comes to sex, PRRI’s new release highlights what its authors call “situationalist ethics” — a flexible set of acceptable behaviors. Far from displaying a lack of moral code, the report suggests millennials embracing nebulous but durable moral through-lines that eschew the “whats” of behavior for the “hows” and “whens.” 

For example, in the case of sex between two adults who have no intention of establishing a relationship, millennials are evenly divided for and against (37 percent), with a significant number saying it depends on the situation (21 percent).

When it comes to abortion, most say it depends on the situation (39 percent), though more say it’s morally wrong than morally acceptable. Using artificial forms of birth control is by far the clearest point of agreement, with a full 71 percent saying it’s morally acceptable and another 14 percent depending on the situation — only 9 percent rejecting the use.

The report examines how our generation’s religious, racial, and political diversity is shaping attitudes, but it’s worth nothing how educational attainment is shaping moral frameworks, too. Much of the report’s findings reflect similar attitudes on broad categories across racial and religious lines, while noting some stark differences when broken down by educational attainment. (Not discussed in the report, but well-documented elsewhere — the crucial question of poverty and economic mobility when it comes to sexual norms.)

We’re Awestruck About Earth, Unsure About Global Warming

A polar bear walks along ice floes in the Arctic Ocean. Photo courtesy of Florid

A polar bear walks along ice floes in the Arctic Ocean. Photo courtesy of FloridaStock/

Most Americans say they feel a deep connection to the wider world.

But all that spiritual stargazing makes no difference in views about the facts of climate change and global warming, a new survey finds.

Just 5 percent of Americans thought climate change was the most important issue in the U.S. today. And religion was a major dividing point on how much — or how little — they think it’s a matter of concern, according to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.

“We asked about spiritual measures such as being in awe of the universe, and you might think it would correlate with views about the universe. But, in fact, they have very little relationship,” said Robert Jones, CEO of PRRI, which conducted the survey on U.S. adults’ attitudes toward climate change, environmental policy and science.


Americans Divided on Religious Liberty: The Freedom to Practice My Religion or the Freedom to Avoid Yours

Concerns Over Religious Liberty. Image courtesy Public Religion Research Institu

Concerns Over Religious Liberty. Image courtesy Public Religion Research Institute.

When it comes to concerns over religious liberty, Americans are divided as to which is in more imminent danger: the ability to practice one’s religion without government inference, or the consequences to freedom of others enforcing their own religious beliefs on others. According to the 2014 American Values Survey, released Tuesday from the Public Religion Research Institute, nearly half of Americans (46 percent) say they are more concerned about religious groups trying to pass laws that force their beliefs on others. An equal number (46) say they are more concerned about the government interfering with the ability of people to freely practice their religion.  

Poll: Americans Stretch the Truth on Attending Church

“Differences in Reported Attendance by Survey Mode Among Religious Groups” graph courtesy of PRRI. Via RNS.

“I know what you did last Sunday,” claims the title of a new survey.

You skipped church. And then nearly one in seven of you fibbed about attending.

That’s according to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute released Saturday. The study, to be presented at the national meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, was designed to measure the “social desirability bias in self-reported religious behavior.”

The survey finds that many Christians — and unbelievers, too — will exaggerate about attending worship in live phone interviews. However, when asked in an anonymous online questionnaire, people will answer more realistically.

Libertarians: Young, White, and Male

 Mark Poprocki / Shutterstock

Mark Poprocki / Shutterstock

Libertarians do not consider themselves a part of the Tea Party movement, a new study on public religion found.

The study, “In Search of Libertarians in America,” is the 2013 installment of the annual American Values Survey gathered by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute and was released last Tuesday.

“Libertarians are significantly more likely to be non-Hispanic white, male, and young,” according to the report. Of the seven percent of all Americans who are libertarians by PRRI’s definition, 94 percent are non-Hispanic whites, 68 percent are male, and 62 percent are under the age of 50.

When it comes to religious affiliation, libertarians tended to be either white mainline Protestants (27 percent) or religiously unaffiliated (27 percent). No libertarians identified as black Protestant and only 11 percent identified as Catholic.

50 Years from Now — Infographic Shows How Far We Have Yet to Go on Racial Equality

"Dream by the Numbers" infographic details racial inequality that exists in mult

"Dream by the Numbers" infographic details racial inequality that exists in multiple forms today. Graphic by PRRI.

Yesterday’s “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony in Washington, D.C., honored the nation's substantial advances in racial equality in the fifty years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his now-iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.

But events this year — from the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act to the House eliminating funding for food stamps to the Trayvon Martin trial — are posing serious challenges to our national progress towards true equality for all.

An infographic from the Public Religion Research Institute, "The Dream by the Numbers," highlights systemic inequalities that still work against communities of color today. The statistics are grim: black communities are unemployed at nearly double the rate of white communities. Fewer than 20 percent of black youth will receive a college or graduate degree. Twice as many blacks lack health insurance as whites. And nearly 70 percent of blacks surveyed mentioned “lack of opportunities for young people” as a top concern for their community.

Poll Shows A Double Standard on Religious Liberty

RNS photo courtesy Barna Group, OmniPoll.

A poll released Wednesday by the Barna Group. RNS photo courtesy Barna Group, OmniPoll.

WASHINGTON — Half of Americans worry that religious freedom in the U.S. is at risk, and many say activist groups — particularly gays and lesbians — are trying to remove “traditional Christian values” from the public square.

The findings of a poll published Wednesday reveal a “double standard” among a significant portion of evangelicals on the question of religious liberty, said David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, a California think tank that studies American religion and culture.

While these Christians are particularly concerned that religious freedoms are being eroded in this country, “they also want Judeo-Christians to dominate the culture,” said Kinnamon.

“They cannot have it both ways,” he said. “This does not mean putting Judeo-Christian values aside, but it will require a renegotiation of those values in the public square as America increasingly becomes a multi-faith nation.”