December 1, 2009

GOP Seen as Friendlier to Religion than Democrats

Obama Seen as More Friendly than His Party


More Americans continue to view the Republican Party as friendly toward religion (48%) than rate the Democratic Party that way (29%). President Barack Obama’s administration, however, is seen as friendly toward religion by more people (37%) than the Democratic Party as a whole. And all three get higher ratings for friendliness toward religion than the news media (14%), scientists (12%) or Hollywood (11%).

After peaking at 38% in mid-2008 during Obama’s presidential election campaign, the number of Americans describing the Democratic Party as friendly toward religion returned in mid-2009 to levels similar to those seen in 2005 through 2007. About one-in-five say Democrats are unfriendly toward religion (22%), up from 15% who felt that way last year but about the same as in surveys conducted in 2005 and 2006.

Views of the Democrats’ stance toward religion have soured sharply among groups that were already inclined to view the Democratic Party negatively, such as Republicans and white evangelical Protestants. But they have also turned more negative among both independents as well as Democrats who are ideologically moderate or conservative. These are among the main findings of a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted Aug. 11-27 among 4,013 adults reached on both landlines and cell phones.

Only 9% of conservative Republicans say the Democratic Party is friendly toward religion, less than half the number who said this in 2008 (23%). Moderate and liberal Republicans are 11 percentage points less likely to see Democrats as friendly toward religion than they were last year (21% in 2009 vs. 32% in 2008). The number of independents describing the Democrats as friendly toward religion is down nine points (from 35% to 26%), and the number of conservative and moderate Democrats taking this view is down eight points (from 50% to 42%). At the same time, 56% of liberal Democrats view their political party as friendly toward religion, identical to last year’s level.

Views of the Democrats’ friendliness toward religion have declined among nearly all major religious groups. Only 19% of white evangelical Protestants now say Democrats are friendly toward religion, slightly less than the 24% of white Catholics and 26% of white mainline Protestants who say the same. By contrast, more than one-third (36%) of the religiously unaffiliated say the Democratic Party is friendly toward religion, down 11 percentage points since last year. And among black Protestants, nearly half (45%) say the Democrats are friendly toward religion.

For Obama as well as for both political parties, being viewed as friendly toward religion is closely associated with popularity generally. Among those who say the Obama administration is friendly toward religion, fully three-quarters approve of the job he is doing (77%), compared with half of those who say the administration is neutral toward religion (51%) and a scant 7% of those who say it is unfriendly. More than eight-in-ten of those who say the Obama administration is unfriendly toward religion disapprove of his job performance.

Likewise, almost three-quarters of those who see the Democratic Party as friendly toward religion have a favorable view of the party (73%), compared with just 15% of those who say it is unfriendly. For the Republican Party, the link is less pronounced. Almost half of those who say the GOP is friendly toward religion view the party favorably (48%), compared with 41% among those who say it is neutral and 21% for those who say it is unfriendly.

Hollywood, the Media, and Scientists Seen as More Unfriendly Toward Religion

While the Democratic Party’s image with respect to religion has slipped, more Americans perceive the party as friendly toward religion (29%) than unfriendly (22%). The same cannot be said for Hollywood, the news media and scientists. Public ratings of Hollywood in this regard are the most lopsided – 47% say Hollywood is generally unfriendly toward religion and just 11% say it is generally friendly. This is largely unchanged from the balance of opinion in 2003 (45% unfriendly, 16% friendly).

Compared with other groups, more Republicans, evangelicals and people who attend worship services at least weekly see Hollywood as unfriendly toward religion. For example, two-thirds of Republicans (67%) say Hollywood and the makers of movies and TV shows are unfriendly toward religion, compared with 48% of independents and just 31% of Democrats. Likewise, 61% of those who attend church at least weekly say Hollywood is unfriendly, compared with 39% of those who attend less often.

A plurality of those surveyed (42%) say the news media are neutral toward religion, and 35% say the media are unfriendly toward religion. Far fewer say the news media are friendly toward religion (14%). Again, views of the news media’s handling of religion are virtually unchanged from 2003, when 41% said they were neutral, 34% rated them as unfriendly and 16% viewed them as friendly toward religion. A plurality also says that scientists are neutral toward religion (42%), while 35% say scientists are unfriendly and just 12% view scientists as friendly toward religion.

Political and religious differences are somewhat less stark, but still apparent, in views of how friendly the media and scientists are toward religion. Pluralities of independents and Democrats say the media and scientists are neutral to religion. But majorities of Republicans (51%) and white evangelical Protestants (52%) in the survey say the news media are unfriendly toward religion. And almost half of weekly worship attenders say the media are unfriendly toward religion (46%), compared with 29% among those who attend religious services less often. Republicans, evangelicals, black Protestants and weekly churchgoers also stand out compared with other groups for viewing scientists as unfriendly toward religion.