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New survey examines role of religion in upcoming election

New survey examines role of religion in upcoming election

The Public Religion Research Institute has released a survey examining how religion will shape next month’s presidential election. It focuses particularly on Roman Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated.


About Catholics it says:

Although Catholics are often viewed as a monolithic group, the survey reveals distinct subgroups that are important for understanding the complexity of Catholics’ public engagement.

The survey confirms complex opinion divides along ethnic lines between white Catholics (63% of Catholics) and Hispanic Catholics (29% of Catholics).

Hispanic Catholics are more likely than white Catholics to have a favorable opinion of President Barack Obama (70% vs. 48%), while white Catholics are more likely than Hispanic Catholics to have a favorable view of Governor Mitt Romney (54% vs. 27%).

White Catholics are more supportive than Hispanic Catholics of both the death penalty (47% vs. 30%) and legal abortion (56% vs. 43%).

On the question of the public engagement of the church, the survey found important divisions between Catholics who prefer a “social justice” emphasis that focuses on helping the poor and Catholics who prefer a “right to life” emphasis that focuses on issues like abortion.

“Social justice Catholics” (60%): believe that in its statements about public policy, the Catholic Church should focus more on social justice and the obligation to help the poor, even if it means focusing less on issues like abortion and the right to life.

“Right to life Catholics” (31%): believe that the Catholic Church should focus more on abortion and the right to life in its statements about public policy, even if means focusing less on issues like social justice and the obligation to help the poor.

Among Catholics who attend church at least once a week, a slim majority (51%) believe the Church’s public policy statements should focus more on social justice and helping the poor, compared to 36% who believe that the Catholic Church should focus more on issues like abortion and the right to life.

“Social justice” Catholics are more likely than “right to life” Catholics to favor Obama (60% vs. 37%), while “right to life” Catholics are more likely than “social justice” Catholics to favor Romney (67% vs. 27%).

About the religiously unaffiliated it finds:

While 19% of Americans identify as religiously unaffiliated today, only 7% of Americans report that they were raised religiously unaffiliated, a net increase of 12 percentage points.

While religiously unaffiliated voters support Obama over Romney (73% vs. 22%), religiously unaffiliated Americans are less likely to say they are certain to vote than religiously affiliated Americans (61% vs. 73%).

Religiously unaffiliated Americans are comprised of three discrete subgroups, which have distinct religious and demographic profiles:

“Unattached believers” (23%): describe themselves as religious despite having no formal religious identity, and are more likely than the general population to be black or Hispanic and to have lower levels of educational attainment;

“Seculars” (39%): describe themselves as secular or not religious, and roughly mirror the general population in terms of racial composition and levels of educational attainment;

“Atheists and agnostics” (36%): identify as atheist or agnostic, and are more likely than the general population to be non-Hispanic white and to have significantly higher levels of educational attainment.

These three subgroups differ substantially in their opinion profiles, especially on certain social issues like same-sex marriage and religious liberty. Nearly 9-in-10 (89%) atheists and agnostics favor allowing gay and lesbians to marry legally, compared to 7-in-10 (70%) seculars and nearly 6-in-10 (57%) unattached believers. Three-quarters (75%) of atheists and agnostics and nearly 6-in-10 (59%) secular Americans believe that religious liberty is not under threat today. A majority (54%) of unattached believers disagree, saying that religious liberty is being threatened.

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