Friday, August 25, 2006

In Poll, G.O.P. Slips as a Friend of Religion

The New York Times
In Poll, G.O.P. Slips as a Friend of Religion

A new poll shows that fewer Americans view the Republican Party as “friendly to religion” than a year ago, with the decline particularly steep among Catholics and white evangelical Protestants — constituencies at the core of the Republicans’ conservative Christian voting bloc.

The survey found that the proportion of Americans who say the Republican Party is friendly to religion fell 8 percentage points in the last year, to 47 percent from 55 percent. Among Catholics and white evangelical Protestants, the decline was 14 percentage points.

The Democratic Party suffers from the perception of an even more drastic religion deficit, but that is not new. Just 26 percent of poll respondents said the Democratic Party was friendly to religion, down from 29 percent last year.

The telephone poll, conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, was conducted July 6-19 among 2,003 adults. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus three to four percentage points, depending on the question.

The survey examined Americans’ attitudes on such topics as politics, science, the Bible, global warming and Israel. But the most startling change, said John Green, senior fellow in religion and American politics at the Pew Forum, was the perception of the Republican Party by its core constituency.

“It’s unclear how directly this will translate into voting behavior,” Mr. Green said, “but this is a baseline indicator that religious conservatives see the party they’ve chosen to support as less friendly to religion than they used to.”

He speculated that religious conservatives could feel betrayed that some Republican politicians recently voted to back stem cell research, and that a Republican-dominated Congress failed to pass an amendment outlawing same-sex marriage.

“At the minimum, there will be less good will toward the Republican Party by these conservative religious groups, and a disenchantment that the party will be able to deliver on its promises,” Mr. Green said.

Americans remained critical of the influence of both the right and the left on religion. Sixty-nine percent agreed that liberals had “gone too far in trying to keep religion out of schools and government” — an increase of three percentage points, which is not statistically significant. And 49 percent agreed that conservative Christians had “gone too far in trying to impose their religious values on the country,” also a three percentage point increase.

Asked about “the Christian conservative movement,” 44 percent had a favorable view and 36 percent unfavorable, about the same as a year ago.

The respondents were almost evenly divided on whether the influence of religion on governmental institutions like the presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court was increasing (42 percent) or decreasing (45 percent). Most of those who said the influence was decreasing said that was “a bad thing.”

Americans also disagree on whether churches and houses of worship should express their views on politics, with 51 percent saying they should, and 46 percent saying they should keep out of political matters. This divide has held steady for the last five years, the Pew report said.

Of the topics addressed by clergy members during religious services, 92 percent of respondents who attend religious services regularly said they had heard clergy members speak about hunger and poverty, 59 percent said abortion, 53 percent said Iraq, 52 percent said homosexuality and 40 percent said evolution or intelligent design. Only 24 percent said they heard clergy members discuss stem cell research, and 21 percent immigration.

In the last year, religious organizations, including some representing evangelicals, have made global warming a priority.

In the poll, a large majority (79 percent) said there was “solid evidence” of global warming, and 61 percent said it was a problem that required “immediate government action.” But white evangelicals and mainline Protestants were more skeptical about global warming than Catholics and secular Americans were, and more likely to say that it is the result of natural causes, not human activity.