A new report is out from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life surveying political attitudes in the United States by religious group. Little in the report will come as a surprise to anyone who has kept an eye on cultural shifts over the past decade. There were some interesting bits, like this sad fact; Asked about foreign policy priorities other than security, a plurality (48%) emphasizes promoting human rights. (Table 19) Promoting economic development comes next at 29%, followed by promoting democracy, which 23% endorse. And among possible humanitarian goals of Americans abroad, a majority (66%) would give top priority to fighting AIDS. Unaffiliated believers, non-Christians, Black Protestants and Latinos were most likely to take this position, followed by atheists and agnostics, Jews, modernist Mainline Protestants, seculars and other Christians. Traditionalists in the three largest Christian traditions were less likely to give AIDS high priority. To be fair, even among Traditionalist Evangelicals support for prioritizing AIDS relief polled at 53%, a clear majority. Still, this was by far the lowest number; the only other group to poll in the fifties were Traditionalist Catholics at 59%. Every other group came in the sixties or higher, with Black Protestants, Unaffiliated Believers and Other Faiths polling in the eighties. One wonders if the lack of support amongst traditionalists is related to a perceived association with homosexuality, a sense of AIDS as a sexual disease generally, or if there is some racist element (given the high incidence of AIDS in Africa).
It's also interesting to see what may be the impact of the 2000 election and its muddled results on the political affiliation of some groups.But after 2000, estimates of the Modernist Evangelical and Mainline Protestants showed a very sharp shift away from the GOP and into the Democratic camp. For example, Modernist Mainliners appear to have fallen from 50 percent Republican to 26 percent. What truly fascinated me was the degree to which people of faith have not integrated their religious convictions with their public life Overall, just under two-fifths of the entire sample in 2004 claimed that their religion was important to their political thinking, and nearly as many claimed the opposite, namely that their religion was not important to their political thinking. The remaining one-fifth fell in between, reporting that their religion was somewhat important to their politicalthinking. All three major religious groupings -- White Protestants, Mainline Protestants and Catholics -- favored increased federal spending on evironmental regulation. I was surprised to find that a majority (52%) of Traditionalist Evangelicals were in favor of such increased spending. Fifty-two percent of Evangelicals as a whole supported increased environmental spending; that number of Mainline Protestants was 61% and Catholics 60%. That put Mainline Protestants and Catholics above the national average, which was 55%, while Evangelicals were below it. In all cases, Traditionalists were less supportive of such spending than Modernists. Black Protestants had the lowest percentage of any Christian group, with 39% in favor of more spending and 39% opposed.
Evangelicals as a whole support increased spending on poverty programs, even if it means additional taxes on the middle class, at 43% while 40% were opposed. Only Modernist Evangelicals showed a majority of support, at 54%. Mainline Protestants were higher, at 52%, and Catholics at 51%. These numbers jump significantly across the board if the increased spending burdens only the wealthy with additional taxes.
A majority of Traditionalist Evangelicals, 52%, favored legal abortion in some limited instances, higher than any other group for that position. Traditionalist Catholics favored the same position at 51%. Interestingly, abortion turns out to be a more important issue to Evangelicals than to Catholics. Overall, the country is more pro-life now (48%) than in 1992 (40%).
The country is also more strongly in favor of same-sex marriages (27%) than civil unions (18%). A majority (55%) still favor tradtional marriage. Nearly all religious groups have seen increases in the number of people who think that homosexuals should enjoy the same rights as other Americans; only amongst Black Protestants has that number dropped, and it has dropped dramatically. Black Protestant support for gay rights has dropped from 59% in 1992 to 40% today.
Secularists, atheists and agnostics, Jews and Other Faits were the only groups not to poll a majority in favor of publicly posting the Ten Commandments. Most other groups showed very solid majorities in favor. Apparently, nobody inquired about posting the Beatitudes. To bad.
Tradtionalist Evangelicals and Traditionalist Catholics were the only groups where a majority of people (66% and 54% respectively) described themselves as conservative, though a plurality of Centrist Evangelicals and Traditionalist Mainline Protestants (48% and 49%) called themselves conservative. Black Protestants were the only group where a majority described themselves as liberal, at a whopping 71%. For the overall population, if you're wondering, the numbers were Conservative 35%, Moderate 43% and Liberal 22%.
What does it all mean? Well, among other things it might suggest that cultural conservatives are not losing quite as badly as they seem to think. On several issues of importance to conservatives, the country has moved in their direction. Clearly, however, on a number of social justice concerns, Evangelicals continue to lag behind nearly all other groups on nearly every issue. Meanwhile, on matters of foreign policy, Evangelicals are likely to be the most supportive of tough measures including preemptive war, and less likely to trust diplomatic initiatives.