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Survey: Americans Long For "Middle Way" In Balance Of Religion & Politics
A link to the complete report (.pdf)
, as well as the Pew Forum's own overview
Religion in public life: Americans yearn for a middle way
By Jane Lampman
The Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 30, 2006
Concerned about the moral state of their country, many Americans have long said they desire more religious influence in public life. They still feel that way, but they're also growing wary about the forms it is taking. A national survey released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life on Aug. 24 shows ambivalence about the relationship of religion to politics and social issues, and unhappiness with extreme positions.
The public is not polarized into liberal and conservative camps, the poll suggests, but yearns to find middle ground on contentious social issues. There is distress about both ends of the political spectrum: 49% of American adults say conservatives are too assertive about trying to impose their religious values on the nation, yet 69% say liberals go too far in trying to keep religion out of schools and government.
Indeed, the poll shows that relatively few people say they belong to either extreme--the "religious right" or "religious left." Only 11% identify with the religious right, a slight drop from the 1990s, Dr. Green says, perhaps reflecting the decline of the Christian Coalition. The right includes about one-quarter of conservative Republicans and 20% of white Evangelicals. Only 7% of Americans identify with the "religious left," yet that is an increase over previous years. Since the 2004 election, considerable foment has arisen within religious circles over the political agenda of the right, with new groups forming to present alternative views on values.
Perhaps surprisingly, the survey found stronger affiliation in these categories among African-Americans and younger adults. 14% of blacks identify with the religious left; 19% say they belong to the religious right. Among adults under 30, 14% choose the religious left, while 13% choose the right.
According to pollsters, the right remains a more potent political force because members agree on a cohesive list of key political issues, while those on the left hold a variety of views. Indeed, the survey traces the spiritual roots of the right to white Evangelical Christians (about 24% of the US population), which the poll reveals as having views "distinctly different from those held by the rest of the public and even other religious groups." When asked, for example, which should have more influence on US laws--the will of the American people or the Bible--60% of white Evangelicals chose the Bible. Other Protestant, Catholic, and secular groups voted the opposite way by huge majorities.
Pollsters found that 32% of the public identify themselves as "progressive Christian," and they tend to be more moderate than left-of-center on political issues.
Neither political party can take comfort from the poll: The Democrats still face a "God problem," while the Republicans are losing some appeal among their own base. Only 26% of Americans see the Democratic party as "friendly" toward religion (down from 29% last year), though 42% call it "neutral." Republicans face a more surprising decline, with 47% seeing them as "friendly" to religion (down from 55%). Yet they dropped 14 percentage points among Evangelicals. "Going into the fall campaign, a lot of religious voters are up for grabs," Green says.
When it comes to being active in politics, a bare majority (51%) of Americans supports the idea of houses of worship expressing their views, while 46% say they should stay out of politics.
Social and political issues are getting plenty of attention in houses of worship. Those who attend religious services at least monthly say their clergy are speaking out about hunger and poverty (92%), abortion (59%), Iraq (53%), and laws regarding homosexuality (52%). Other topics discussed from the pulpit include the environment, evolution and intelligent design, the death penalty, stem-cell research, and immigration.
Religious groups have been vocal on science-related issues such as stem-cell research and evolution. The survey shows that a majority of white Evangelicals (65%) reject evolution, while majorities of other groups accept it. Catholics and mainline Protestants who accept evolution are divided over whether it occurred through natural selection or was guided by a supreme being...In a part of the survey released earlier, 56% of Americans say stem-cell research should be pursued, while 32% want human embryos protected. For the first time, more white Evangelicals favor such research than oppose it (44% to 40%).
On questions of homosexuality, 56% oppose gay marriage, but 54% favor civil unions. 30% back a constitutional ban on gay marriages. While abortion continues to split the country, a large majority of Americans now express a desire to find "a middle ground."
The telephone interviews with a nationwide sample of 2,003 adults were conducted in July.