With the campaign season right around the corner, there’s a hopeful sign from a recent Pew Survey: Americans are getting sick of politicians talking about religion. These sentiments are running at their highest since the poll began in 2001. You can download the full pdf of the report here (about 1500 people were surveyed; the 95% confidence limits for the overall data is + 3% and for political parties about + 5-6% ). Here are some questions asked and the trends over 11 years:
Do you think there has been too much, too little or the right amount of expressions of religious faith and prayer by political leaders? (click to enlarge)
Here are the above data divided up by political party. Naturally the Republicans don’t see an excess of religious talk by political leaders, but in all three categories the numbers complaining about too much religious talk have tripled in only 11 years.
There are a lot more data, but I’ll highlight just two things. First, the public isn’t completely oblivious to party differences:
A majority of the public (54%) views the Republican Party as friendly to religion, while 24% say the GOP is neutral to religion and 13% say it is unfriendly toward religion. Roughly four-in-ten (39%) rate the Obama administration as friendly, with 32% saying it is neutral and 23% saying the administration is unfriendly to religion. The Democratic Party is seen as friendly to religion by 35% of the public; it is seen as neutral by 36% and as unfriendly by 21% of the public.
And second, we of the professoriate are viewed as religion-unfriendly:
About a third of the public (32%) perceives university professors as unfriendly to religion, while 37% describe professors as neutral to religion; far fewer (14%) say university professors are generally friendly toward religion. Compared with 2003 (when this question was last asked), there has been a noticeable rise in the number describing professors as unfriendly to religion and a slight downturn in the number saying professors are friendly to religion.
College graduates are more apt than those with less education to describe professors as neutral toward religion, while more of those who have not graduated from college express no opinion on this question. A majority of Republicans (56%) say that professors are unfriendly toward religion. By contrast, a plurality of Democrats (46%) says that professors are neutral toward religion. Among independents, 37% say professors are neutral toward religion, while 31% describe them as unfriendly and 16% say they are friendly to religion.
Among white evangelicals surveyed, 56% view professors as unfriendly toward religion. Among most other religious groups, pluralities or majorities describe professors as either neutral or friendly toward religion.
There is no control group here save the media, which gets about the same ratings from the general public. But the public clearly recognizes the pervasive nonbelief of professors. And Republicans see this unfriendliness three times more often than do Democrats.
What effect will this have on the campaign? Likely not much on the Presidential race, since neither Romney nor Obama make a big deal about religion. But the trend is pretty clear, and could filter down to congressional or more local races. It’s heartening that Americans are getting sick of politicians trying to out-Jesus each other.