*Note: This graphic is not available for republication.
Update: Go here for chart featuring a drill down of Catholics; eight types added to graph.
What are the political positions of religions and churches in America? This new graph maps the ideologies of 44 different religious groups using data comes from Pew’s Religious Landscape survey. This survey included 32,000 respondents. It asked very specific questions on religion that allow us to find out the precise denomination, church, or religion of each person.
How to read the graph
- Each circle represents a denomination, church, or religion. There are several circles for types of Americans with no religion: self-identified “atheist”, self-identified “agnostic”, and those who say that have “no religion in particular”.
- The size of the circle represents the relative size of the religion in the United States. For very small groups, I put them in groups with other similar churches. In these cases, the circle represents collections of similar churches, e.g., nondenominational evangelicals, all Baptists who aren’t in one of the larger denominations, or all Hindus. The decision for how specific to make the circle was based on the size of the group in the survey.
- The color of the circle indicates the religious tradition of the group: evangelical Protestant (historically white), Mainline Protestant (historically white), historically black Protestant, Catholic, a catch-all category for other Christian groups, all other religions, and those with no religion. (yes, there are some disagreements about whether some groups should be coded as evangelical (e.g., Seventh Day Adventist) or even Christian or not (e.g., Jehovah’s Witness). We can debate these decisions in a future post.
- The location of the circle represents where a group’s members stand on the two major ideological divides in American politics. The numbers represent the percentile location of each group (details below). The political ideologies of religious groups are placed along two dimensions.
- Government involvement in the economy (x-axis). This is the major ideological divide in the country. At one end are the “small government” folks who want a less regulation, fewer services, and more market-oriented policies. At the other are those who want a stronger safety net, tougher consumer protections, and greater checks on the economy. In the Pew survey, this is measured by a question asking whether they wanted: “a smaller government providing fewer services” or “a bigger government providing more services”?
- Government involvement in morality (y-axis). How much should government be involved in regulating morality? Some people believe that the government should protect morality and should uphold traditional values and religion. Others think government should “stay out of bedrooms” and keep up a high wall between church and state. This can be measured using a question that asked people to pick which statement comes closest to their beliefs: “The government should do more to protect morality in society” or “I worry the government is too involved in this issue”?
Observations from the graph
There’s a lot of information stuffed into this one graph, but here are a few key things we can see:
- Churches that are similar religiously are also similar ideologically.
- Evangelicals are classic conservatives (small role in economy, protect morality). Pentecostals want a larger role for government on economic issues.
- Presbyterian Church in America, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and smaller Methodist churches have historical ties to both evangelicalism and mainline denominations. On the question of government and morality, they are between other evangelical churches and mainline denominations.
- Mainline churches hold similar economic views as evangelicals but want less government involvement protecting traditional morality.
- Christians in traditionally black denominations and evangelicals are similar in their views toward morality policy, but there is a large divide on economics.
- Catholics are large and represent the center on both dimensions.
- Jews are centrist on the economy. There is a major divide between both Conservative and Orthodox Jews and other streams of Judaism. This divide falls along the morality dimension.
- The “nones” are united on their ideology toward morality (keep government out!) but there are interesting divides on government services. Atheists want more government services; agnostics favor less governmental involvement in the economy. If you consider Unitarians part of this group, then they’re the most supportive of government services.
Geek note on measurement
The range of each dimension ranges from zero to 100. These scores were calculated by calculating the percentage of each religion giving each answer. The percentages were then subtracted (e.g., percent saying “smaller government” minus percent saying “bigger government”). The scores were then standardized using the mean and standard deviation for all of the scores. Finally, I converted the standardized scores into percentiles by mapping the standardized scores onto the standard Gaussian/normal distribution. The result is a score that represents the group’s average graded on the curve, literally.
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