First Ever Polls Comparing Conservative and Progressive Religious Activists
Show Divergent Identities and Strategies,
Common Commitment to Political Involvement
(WASHINGTON, DC) New surveys conducted by leading researchers on religion and politics in America show the divergent ways conservative and progressive religious activists understand their religious identity, engage in politics, and prioritize issues. The 2009 Religious Activist Surveys were conducted by the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron in partnership with Public Religion Research.
“Both conservative and progressive religious activists are committed to being visible and active in the political process,” said Dr. John C. Green, Director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. “This fact suggests that the prominent role that religion played in the 2008 election is likely to continue in the future.”
“If anyone still believed that committed religious activists come down on only one side of any major policy issue, these surveys should finally put that idea to rest,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, president of Public Religion Research. “These activists are faithful, engaged, and have widely divergent views about both the place of religion in public life and the political implications of their faith.”
Both groups of activists are more likely than members of the general public to report that religion is important in their lives, and they’re more likely to be frequent worshippers. But they approach their faith in strikingly different ways. For example, nearly half of conservative activists (48%) view scripture as the literal word of God, a view held by only 3% of progressives.
Conservative and progressive activists have markedly different political priorities. Conservative activists overwhelmingly identify abortion and same-sex marriage as most important issues. Fewer than 10% of progressive religious activists call those “most important” issues. Highest priorities for progressive activists are poverty (74%), health care (67%), environment (56%), jobs/economy (48%), and the Iraq war (45%).
Progressive religious activists perceived themselves as having significant influence on the 2008 election compared to other groups, while conservative religious activists perceived themselves as having relatively little influence. More than 4-in-10 (43%) progressive activists say that progressive religious groups had a great amount of influence, roughly as influential as labor unions (44%) and business groups (41%). By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, conservative religious activists also thought “religious progressive groups” had a greater influence than “religious conservative groups” (25% vs. 13%).
Among the findings of the surveys:
Conservative and progressive religious activists have sharply different views on cultural, economic, and foreign policy issues.
· Abortion. Conservative religious activists are nearly universally opposed to legalized abortion: 95% say either that abortion should be illegal in all cases (60%) or most cases (35%). In sharp contrast, 80% of progressive religious activists say abortion should be legal in all (26%) or most (54%) cases.
· Gay and Lesbian Issues. On the issue of same-sex marriage, conservatives overwhelmingly oppose (82%) both same-sex marriage and civil unions, while nearly 6-in-10 (59%) progressives support same-sex marriage, and another third support civil unions.
· Health Care. Only 6% of conservative religious activists agree that the U.S. should have comprehensive national health insurance even if it resulted in fewer choices for patients, compared to nearly 8-in-10 (78%) progressive activists who agree.
· Environment. Only 13% of conservative activists agree that more environmental protection is needed even if it raises prices or costs jobs, compared to nearly 9-in-10 (87%) progressive activists who agree.
· Torture. A significant majority of conservative religious activists say torture can often (25%) or sometimes (36%) be justified. Only 5% of progressive religious activists take either of those positions, with 79% saying torture can never be justified.
· Role of Government. Sixty-eight percent of progressive religious activists believe government should increase spending and provide more services. Among conservative religious activists, even larger margins (86%) believe that government should provide fewer services and cut spending.
Politics and the 2008 election
· In 2008, Barack Obama was the solid favorite among progressive religious activists. Conservative religious activists initially were divided but eventually rallied to McCain. Among progressive activists, 58% say Obama was their first choice in the Democratic primary, and 93% supported him in the general election. Conservative activists overwhelmingly supported John McCain in the general election, although they were initially more split among GOP contenders, with 28% calling Mike Huckabee their top choice, Romney getting 22%, and McCain 17%. However, conservative activists hold a much warmer view of McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin. Nearly 9-in-10 activists view Palin favorably, and a majority (53%) have a very favorable opinion of her.
· Both religious activist groups cite faith as an important factor in their voting decision, but conservative activists were more likely to say that their faith was the most important factor. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of the conservative activists say their faith was the most important factor in deciding how to vote in 2008, and another 29% say their faith was as important as other factors. Among progressive activists, 1-in-5 say faith was the most important factor, and 41% report that faith was as important as other factors in deciding who to support in the election.
· Conservative and progressive religious activists report relatively similar levels of participation in traditional campaign activities such as making campaign donations or signing petitions. However, progressive religious activists were much more likely to have participated in a range of online campaign activities. Also, while both groups were active in the presidential campaigns, conservative activists report being somewhat more active than progressives in congressional campaigns (46% vs. 41%), statewide campaigns (41% vs. 37%), and ballot issues (42% vs. 34%).
Religion in public life
· Conservative and progressive religious activists both support a role for religion in public life, but the groups have strongly diverging views of church-state separation. Eighty-one percent of progressive religious activists say the U.S. “should maintain a strict separation of church and state,” a position taken by only 21% of conservative activists.
· More than two-thirds of conservative religious activists say there was not enough public expression of faith and prayer by political leaders during the 2008 election, compared to only 5% of progressive religious activists. Among progressive activists, a majority (52%) say the amount of religious expression by political leaders in 2008 was about right.
· In terms of future public engagement, both conservative and progressive activists strongly emphasized the importance of being publicly visible and politically active. Conservative activists were more likely to emphasize the importance of prayer, whereas progressive activists were more likely to emphasize the importance of civility, pluralism, and social justice.
The full report, including a description of survey methodology, and the survey top lines are available at http://www.publicreligion.org/research/.