News Politics

Republicans, Democrats divided on impact of religion

“Wide partisan differences over the impact of major institutions on the country.” Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

(RNS) Do churches and other religious organizations have a positive impact on the way things are going in the United States?

Americans are divided on that point, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Monday (July 10) that shows they align along predictable party lines.

Overall, a majority of Americans (59 percent) see religion as a positive, compared to 26 percent who say it has a negative impact on the way things are going in the U.S., according to Pew. Those numbers have held fairly steady in surveys since 2010.

Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Republicans or those who lean Republican said churches and religious organizations have a positive impact, with 14 percent saying that impact is negative, according to Pew.

Meanwhile, Democrats are split: Half of those who are or lean Democrat believe religious institutions have a positive impact, according to the survey, while 36 percent said they have a negative impact.

And those divides become stronger as one’s political ideology becomes stronger, particularly among Democrats, according to the data.

Liberal Democrats are about as likely to say religious institutions have a negative impact on the way things are going in the U.S. (44 percent) as they are positive (40 percent). But more conservative and moderate Democrats said such organizations have a positive effect on the country (58 percent, compared to 29 percent who say it is negative).

A majority of all Republicans — 75 percent of those who identify as conservative Republicans and Republican-leaning and 68 percent of those who are moderate and liberal Republicans — said religious institutions have a positive impact.

“While party plays a role, really what matters a great deal is people’s own religiosity and whether they belong to a denomination or not,” said Carroll Doherty, Pew’s director of political research.

White evangelical Protestant Christians were most likely (80 percent) to view religious institutions positively, along with majorities across Protestant and Catholic denominations, according to the study. Comparatively, Americans unaffiliated with a religion were more likely to say religious institutions had a negative (46 percent) impact than positive (34 percent).

Those views also were much more negative among Americans who never or seldom attend religious services and among those who have a postgraduate degree.

The Pew survey also found Republicans increasingly said colleges and universities have a negative impact on the U.S. (58 percent, up from 45 last year). Also, the partisan gap in views on the news media has widened, with 85 percent of Republicans reporting a negative view of the media’s effects, compared to 46 percent of Democrats.

Pew surveyed 2,504 American adults by phone between June 8-18. The margin of error for the survey overall is plus or minus 2.3 percentage points, it said.

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.


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  • Interesting contrasts in values percentage – republicans highest for religion while democrats value education to roughly the same extent. Ditto for banks versus national news media.

  • Also very interesting. According to a poll, republicans now think that a clllege education is not so valuable.

    But then, how else could Trumpelthinskin be considered competent by the edumacated, and religious by the values voters?

  • I believe that comes from the conservative media – such as Veterinary and Daily Wire that feature the antics of the Social Justice Warriors and the often violent Leftist and Antifa’s efforts to stop conservative guests from speaking at campuses. This phenomena has colored their entire perception of colleges.

  • With the Democrats, they NEED to parse out African AMericans and LAtino AMericans, and see how that affects results.

    With Republicans, white evangelicals, and pseudo-Evangelicals have bought into the party rhetoric (both that that Republicans are SUCCESSFULLY helping the pro-life cause, and the negativity that everyone who is a Democrat is anti-God/atheist..obviously they have never been to black church outside of a photo opp)

    Lastly, I think they also needed to make sure they sorted out “independents” and 3rd party supporters as well.

  • That and colleges’ refusal to do anything to control tuition costs, and the resulting life-long financial burden on their graduates.

    The poll, of course, does not ask how valuable any of these things are but the kind of impact they’re currently making. I think a lot of posters here didn’t actually read the article.

  • Generally the endemic bigotry, targeted attacks on the respective communities and blatant sectarian interests of Republicans keeps even most conservative African American and Latino voters away from that party.

  • No, valuing religion over education is simply foolish. The survey points out who the fools are, and you look to be one of that group.

  • Yup. Fear of invisible supernatural sky daddies is no excuse to avoid and reject education. Besides a God who does lot value education is not one very worthy of worship.

  • To under estimate the positive value of post-Reformation Christian thought in US history and culture is to be willfully ignorant.

  • Are trolls like you paid by the hour or the post? Does Soros provide health/dental/401k? No? Didn’t think so. You guys/girls/not sures ought to organize….Consolidated Online Commentators and Kommunists (COCKs) works….!

  • NO, the real story is how 85% of republicans think college’s are bad for the country.

    If you want a job in this country, you need a college education. If republicans think college is bad, then they will be the ones who will continue to be out of work.

    Religion is a separate issue, and is it’s own worst enemy. After all, every religion is fundamentally incompatible with every other religion. Republicans can own that if they want.

  • So you are a cretin with no appreciation for education and critical thinking. Quel suprise!

  • The communist countries that followed that route became backwards agrarian societies until they could recover. Since when did education and religion become mutually exclusive? One can value both without having to fight about it.

  • Religion without education leaves countries ‘backwards’. Religion needs education to avoid short shifting the Creator

  • Well, chaos_in_ cleveland, first of all, if you want a good job in this country, you do NOT need a college education! Skilled labor jobs currently are go begging while those sniveling little millenials live in their Mom’s musty old basements with their newly-minted 4-year college degrees in majors like Art History, Sociology and Underwater Basket Weaving, are proudly displayed on the concrete walls! High school guidance counselors (I used to be one years ago!) have convinced everybody that you’re dirt if you don’t get a 4-year college degree. Here in Colorado some community college graduates make more money than their high school friends who’ve earned BA or BS degrees. The same is true of some young people who chose to get their job training by attending tech schools or in union apprenticeships.

    And your second statement that “every religion is fundamentally incompatible with every other religion, is ludicrous! When have we ever read in the papers that the Presbyterians are battling the Mormons the way Sunni Muslims are killing off their Shiite cousins?

    Are all the folks in Cleveland this STUPID?! Wise up!

  • People go to church to find out how to do what is the correct way.

    Many are struggling to overcome their problems.

    Nothing about the membership in a church has anything to do with anything except they go because they have always gone; however what they do has nothing to do with what they are taught.

    Many of the comment on these sites proclaim that they are Christian; yet, do not display any knowledge of the words of Christ.

    Therefor any statistics which are collected are meaningless.

    Perhaps someone should publish the words in the Bible that appear in Red in some of the new Testament Books.

    Neither Paul, John or Peter were Jesus, therefore they do not establish Christian Rules.

    Most individual on these sites do not have any understanding at all about Muslim or other religions, therefore what does statistics have to do with those religions.

    There is no indication that any other religion other then Christian was involved in this study.

    I do not know if most Republicans or Democrats know what the party stands for.

    People lie!