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News Release | Emerging Religious Issues Promise to Shape 2012 Election

[11.17.2010]

Obama’s Religion Dilemma, Tensions between Tea Party and Evangelicals, Attitudes towards Islam

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A new post-election survey finds perceptions of President Obama’s religious beliefs, potential conflicts between those identifying with the Tea Party and white evangelicals, and attitudes about Islam are emerging religious issues that promise to shape the 2012 elections in new ways.  The 2010 post-election American Values Survey was conducted by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in cooperation with The Brookings Institution.

“While the old religious alignments we’ve seen in recent elections remained largely the same—with Republicans holding an advantage among white Christian voters and Democrats holding an advantage among minority Christian voters and the unaffiliated—we found several important emerging fault lines,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute.  “Our new survey found that President Obama is facing a real perception problem about his religious beliefs. A majority of Americans say that President Obama’s religious beliefs are somewhat different (16 percent) or very different from their own (35 percent). Given that Americans generally want political leaders who share their values, this could be a serious problem for the President moving towards 2012.

The survey also showed that views about President Obama’s faith have a significant impact on evaluations of him and his Presidency. Of those who say Obama’s religious beliefs are very similar to their own, 94 percent have a favorable view of him. Alternatively, among Americans who say Obama’s beliefs are very different from their own, nearly eight-in-ten say they have either a very unfavorable (51 percent) or mostly unfavorable (27 percent) view of him.

The survey also uncovered potential rifts in the Republican coalition between members of the Tea Party and white evangelicals:

  • A plurality of Tea Party voters said their 2010 vote was mostly a vote to oppose President Obama (37 percent), compared to only 1-in-4 white evangelical voters. Nearly three-times as many white evangelical voters as Tea Party voters said their vote was primarily about local issues (14 percent vs. 5 percent).
  • Among those identifying with the Tea Party, more than 4-in-10 (41 percent) say repealing the health care reform law should be the most important priority for the GOP, compared to only 32 percent of white evangelicals. In contrast, four-in-ten white evangelicals say that the most important priority for the new GOP Congress is to balance the federal budget. Among those identifying with the Tea Party, less than 1-in-4 (23 percent) say balancing the budget is priority number one.
  • Those identifying with the Tea Party are also more likely than white evangelicals to say discrimination against women is no longer a problem in the country, that blacks and other minorities have received too much government attention, and to say that it is not that big a problem if some have more chances in life than others.

Americans are essentially split over whether the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life. However, views of Islam are highly polarized by political and religious affiliation. Approximately two-thirds of both Republicans and those identifying with the Tea Party say the values of Islam are at odds with American values, compared to only 3-in-10 Democrats. Nearly 6-in-10 (57 percent) white evangelicals say the values of Islam are at odds with American values, a view held by less than 3-in-10 (28 percent) Americans with no religious affiliation.

The survey found that the concept of American exceptionalism is alive and well in the country today,” said Daniel Cox, Director of Research for PRRI. “Nearly 6-in-10 Americans believe God has granted America a special role in human history. Moreover, Americans who embrace the idea of American exceptionalism are more supportive of military solutions over diplomacy as the best way to ensure peace, and more likely to believe torture can be justified in some instances.”

Read the Questionnaire, Topline Results and Survey Methodology here.

*Results of the Post-Election American Values Survey were based on 1,494 callback interviews with respondents from the Pre-election American Values Survey, which was fielded in early September 2010 among a national random sample of 3,013 adults (age 18 and older).  Telephone interviews for the Post-Election American Values Survey were conducted in both English and Spanish from November 3-7, 2010. The survey was funded by the Ford Foundation, with additional support from the Nathan Cummings Foundation.