Major Special Topics Surveys Print

Survey | Conservative & Progressive Religious Activists Surveys

[09.15.2009]

First Ever Polls Comparing Conservative and Progressive Religious Activists Show Divergent Identities and Strategies, Common Commitment to Political Involvement

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. These first ever comparative surveys of conservative and progressive religious activists find them to be faithful, engaged, and divergent.

Read the full report here.
Read the conference transcript here.
Read the Progressive Activist Questionnaire, Topline Results and Survey Methodology here.
Read the Conservative Activist Questionnaire, Topline Results and Survey Methodology here.

Key findings:

Religion. Conservative and progressive religious activists are deeply religious, but have strikingly different religious profiles.

  • In terms of religious affiliation, conservative activists are almost exclusively Christian, whereas progressive activists are more diverse. Among conservative activists, 54% identify as evangelical Protestant, 35% as Roman Catholic, and 9% with Mainline Protestantism.  Among progressive activists, 44% identify as Mainline Protestants; 17% as Roman Catholics; 10% as evangelical Protestants; 12% as interfaith, mixed faith, or Unitarian; 6% Jewish; and 8% who have no formal religious affiliation or identify as formerly affiliated.
  • In terms of beliefs, conservative and progressive religious activists have strikingly different beliefs about scripture. Nearly half of conservatives (48%) view scripture as the literal word of God, a view held by only 3% of progressives.
  • In terms of practices, both groups of activists report religion is important in their lives at higher levels than the public at large.  Among the conservative religious activists, 96% say religion is extremely or very important in their lives; among the progressive activists, that figure is 74%; among the public, it is 62%.

Issue priorities. Conservative and progressive religious activists have strikingly different issue priorities. A majority of conservative religious activists gave priority to abortion and same-sex marriage, while progressive religious activists gave priority to a number if issues, including economic justice, the environment, and peace. Conservative religious activists overwhelmingly identify abortion (83%) and same-sex marriage (65%) as most important priorities among a set of eight issue areas. 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%).

Issue positions. Conservative and progressive religious activists have sharply different views on cultural, foreign policy, and economic 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.
  • Iraq War. Conservative religious activists strongly back the war in Iraq, with an overwhelming majority saying it was either completely (35%) or probably (48%) justified. Progressive religious activists are staunchly opposed, with 80% saying it was completely unjustified and 13% saying it was probably unjustified.  The two groups are also mirror images of each other on the so-called “Bush doctrine” of preemptive military action, with about three-quarters of conservatives supporting it and nearly the same proportion of progressive activists in opposition.
  • Role of Government and Taxes. Sixty-eight percent of progressive religious activists believe government should increase spending and provide more services; 89% say tax cuts should be directed toward lower income people.  By even larger margins, conservative religious activists believe that government should provide fewer services and cut spending (86%).  Sixty-one percent back tax cuts targeted at upper-income individuals.

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 were initially more split among GOP contenders, with 28% calling Mike Huckabee their top choice, with Romney getting 22% and McCain 17%. In the general election, however, 90% report voting for McCain.
  • 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.

Political engagement in 2008. 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.  Nearly all conservative activists believe America was founded as a Christian nation, a view shared by only 37% progressive 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.

Read the full report here.
Read the conference transcript here.
Read the Progressive Activist Questionnaire, Topline Results and Survey Methodology here.
Read the Conservative Activist Questionnaire, Topline Results and Survey Methodology here.