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The 5 most surprising findings from Pew’s faith and politics survey

Praying hands.
Praying hands.

Fifty percent of the US thinks homosexual behavior is sinful, according to a Pew poll released today.

In a study titled, "Public Sees Religion's Influence Waning: Growing Appetite for Religion in Politics," Pew looks at the various ways faith and politics intersect in the public sphere.

Many of the findings were to be expected. For instance, white evangelical Protestants continue to skew right, and the religiously unaffiliated (called "nones") tend left. Also, younger respondents (Millennials) are, on average, more liberal than older generations.

But other results are more surprising. Take, for example, the fact that, within a year, the number of Americans who see homosexual behavior as sinful has increased by 5 percentage points: from 45 percent in 2013 to 50 percent today. The spike is noteworthy given the steady rate at which LGBT acceptance has grown over the last decade. Americans also increasingly think that President Obama is "unfriendly" toward religion.

The findings presented in the report are based on telephone interviews conducted September 2 and September 9, 2014. 2,002 adults were surveyed from a national sample. The study is well worth reading in its entirety, and you can do so here. But if you're looking for a quick breakdown, here are 5 of the most striking findings from the study.

1)   Most people think religion is losing its influence in the US — and most think that's a bad thing

Nearly 3 out of 4 Americans think religion is losing its influence on society.

Rel 2

Consistent with previous surveys, most (56 percent) Americans see this development as a "bad thing." Of course, this number varies among religious groups: 77 percent of white evangelical Protestants are concerned about the waning influence of religion, compared with 61 percent of Catholics, and 30 percent of "none"s.

Religious influence waning 2

On the other hand, among the 22 percent of people who think religion is gaining influence in America, opinion is almost equally split on whether or not it's a good thing: 12 percent say it is, 10 percent say it isn't.

2) More white evangelicals than other religious groups consider themselves to be minorities because of their religious beliefs

While 31 percent of the general public thinks that the evangelicals face a lot of discrimination, half of evangelicals feel that way. In comparison, 33 percent of Catholics perceive a lot of anti-Catholic discrimination in the US, as do 19 percent of Americans overall. As Pew notes, "Those who belong to a particular group tend to be more likely than outsiders to say their group faces significant discrimination in American society."

Respondents were also asked if they considered themselves to be a minority because of their religious beliefs. Over nine out of ten Catholics answered this question negatively, with white mainline Protestants close behind. Thirty percent of white evangelicals said they do self-identify as minorities because of their religious beliefs:


3)   There is still plenty of opposition to homosexuality

The number of Americans who believe homosexuality to be sinful has ticked up five percent in the last year alone (45 to 50 percent). And this belief varies among religious groups, as the following chart shows.

Homosexuality is a sin, by denom

Those surveyed were also asked if businesses should be able to refuse wedding-related services to same-sex couples for religious reasons. The findings were closely split, with 47 percent saying businesses should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples and 49 percent saying businesses should be required to provide service).

The demographics behind these answers are notable: more men than women (52 to 42 percent) think businesses should be allowed to refuse service for religious reasons, as do those aged 65 and older (60 percent) compared to those aged 18-29 (35 percent). The findings also differ according to race with more whites (52 percent) favoring the religious exemption than blacks (36) and Hispanics (35). And of course, answers also differed according to affiliation with religious groups.

The poll finds 49 percent of Americans in favor of same-sex marriage and 41 percent opposed (and again, there was variation among religious affiliation). These findings reflect a slight change since a February 2014 Pew poll, which found 53 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage. But any answers as to why support is down at this point would be merely speculative. Writes Pew, "It is too early to know whether this is an anomaly or the beginning of a reversal or leveling off of the growth in support for same-sex marriage widely observed in polls over the past decade."

For now, the important takeaway is that America is still pretty evenly split when it comes to LGBT issues, even is there has been a noticeable increase in public support in recent years.


4)   More people believe Obama is "unfriendly" toward religion

"The share of Americans who rate the Obama administration as friendly toward religion has declined sharply in recent years," reads the survey. In 2012, 39 percent of respondents believed Obama to be "friendly" toward religion. Today, that number is down 9 percentage points to 30 percent. Accordingly, the percentage of Americans who think the President is unfriendly toward religion has jumped from 23 percent in 2012 to 29 percent two years later.

Obama friendly toward religion?

5)   Americans want their churches to take a public stance on politics

The report says, "Most Americans continue to oppose the idea of churches endorsing particular candidates during political elections." However, in recent years, there has been a noticeable uptick in public support for "religious involvement in politics." In August 2010, 43 percent of Americans said churches should express their views on political and social questions. Currently, that number is up to 49 percent, with more Republicans than Democrats (59 vs 42 percent) believing houses of worship should express political views.

Pew also finds that more Americans believe there has been "too little expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders." 41 percent of Americans hold this view, which is up from 2010 when 37 percent held it. More Republicans than Democrats tend to think political leaders don't talk enough about faith and prayer — 53 to 32 percent, respectively.

Pol/faith 2014

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