For the first time in more than a decade, a majority of Americans think religious organizations should stay out of politics, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. In addition, an increasing number are uncomfortable when politicians talk about how religious they are.
In 1996, only 43 percent of U.S. respondents said churches and other houses of worship should stay out of politics. In the new poll of 2,905 U.S. adults, released Aug. 21, 52 percent said so.
The shift in this thinking is largely among conservatives.
Around the time of the last presidential election, 30 percent of conservatives said churches and other houses of worship should stay out of politics. Now that figure stands at 50 percent.
"The sharp divisions between Republicans and Democrats that previously existed on this issue have disappeared," according to the Pew analysis.
Keep it to yourself
In 2004, 40 percent expressed discomfort when they heard politicians talk about how religious they were; that figure rose to 46 percent in the new survey. "Again, the increase in negative sentiment about religion and politics is much more apparent among Republicans than among Democrats," Pew researchers stated.
Another interesting tidbit: 48 percent said religious conservatives have too much control over the Republican Party, while 43 percent said liberals who are not religious have too much control over the Democratic Party.
The responses to several other questions yielded this overall analysis by the Pew researchers:
"The views of citizens who see the parties as neutral or friendly toward religion have been more stable on the question of whether churches and other houses of worship should speak out on political issues," the researchers conclude. "The change of mind about the role of religious institutions in politics is most apparent among people who are most concerned about the very issues that churches and other houses of worship have focused on [including abortion and gay marriage], and among those who fault the parties for their friendliness toward religion."
No endorsements, please
Meanwhile, several responses have remained relatively constant over the years. The new survey found:
- About 66 percent think churches and other houses of worship should not endorse one candidate over another.
- A majority say it is important for presidents to have strong religious beliefs.
- Poll respondents were split on whether contemporary political leaders express their faith too much (29 percent), too little (36 percent) or the right amount (28 percent).
The survey was conducted by cell phone and landline telephone from July 31 to Aug. 10 and included a representative sample of adults based on demographics from the U.S. Census Bureau.