There’s skepticism among Americans about mixing religion with politics, despite saying their beliefs influence political views and voting choices
A declining share of Americans overall believe it is very important to reduce divisiveness, but Americans who are both religious and spiritual are more eager to connect across partisan lines
A majority of Americans think religion and spirituality can bring people together, but fewer think making religion or spirituality bigger factors in American life would reduce divisiveness.
Many Americans think religion and spirituality can bring people together but question its role in political life, according to Public Agenda/USA TODAY’s new Hidden Common Ground report released today. This report also finds that religion and spirituality influences political views and voting.
The report features findings from a national survey that asked Americans about their attitudes toward religion and spirituality and delves into how these factors interact with their views on partisan divisiveness. The report is the latest in the Public Agenda/USA TODAY Hidden Common Ground® initiative, which challenges the narrative that Americans are hopelessly divided and incapable of working together to create equitable and productive solutions to the challenges of our time. This research is supported by the Fetzer Institute.
“Our new Hidden Common Ground research finds that while Americans view religion and spirituality as tools for navigating conflict, they also see danger in connecting those personal dimensions of life to politics,” said Andrew Seligsohn, President of Public Agenda. “Americans recognize that religion and spirituality can both unite and divide. So it’s not surprising that the respondents in our survey-and the public as a whole-struggle to find the right relationship between personal commitments and public life.”
Below are highlights:
- There’s skepticism among Americans overall about mixing religion with politics, despite some saying their beliefs influence political views and voting choices: Among people who are both religious and spiritual, more Republicans (75%) say that their religion influences their political views compared to Democrats (61%) and Independents (51%).
- Furthermore, About four in ten Americans overall, including about six in ten Republicans, say that a politician’s religious beliefs or their spiritual values are important when considering who to vote for.
- However, about two-thirds of all Americans believe it is a problem that politicians make decisions based on their own religious beliefs or spiritual values. And 59% of all Americans think it is a problem that religious leaders share their stances on political or social issues and that they express support for political candidates. 49% of Americans also say religious institutions have too much influence in national politics.
- Nearly half of Americans perceive partisan divisiveness as a serious problem, but many think the extent has been exaggerated: 80 percent of Americans say political hostility among ordinary people is a serious problem, including 48 percent who say it is very serious. This is similar to findings from a 2021 Public Agenda survey, in which 45 percent of Americans said political hostility and divisiveness between ordinary Americans was very serious.
- 48% of Americans believe it is very important to reduce divisiveness (a decline since 2019, when 65% believed doing so was very important).
- Among Democrats, 59% overall believe that reducing divisiveness is very important, with little variation by religiosity or spirituality.
- Fewer Republicans and Independents believe reducing divisiveness is very important. But Republicans (50%) and Independents (56%) who are both religious and spiritual are more likely to believe that reducing divisiveness is very important than Republicans and Independents who are neither religious nor spiritual.
- 68 percent of all Americans say there is more common ground among the American people than the news media and political leaders portray.
- People’s religion and spirituality may help them navigate challenging political conversations, about half of Americans are skeptical about religious people’s willingness to compromise: Among Americans who are both religious and spiritual, 77% say their religion and 82% say their spirituality helps them remain calm when confronted with political views they disagree with.
- 86% of religious and spiritual people also say they try to understand where people are coming from when their political views differ, compared to 71 percent of largely religious people and 72 percent of neither religious nor spiritual people.
- However, 52% of all Americans believe that religious people are too stuck in their ways and unwilling to compromise, and only 45% think that religious people respect other people’s opinions when they disagree.
- A majority of Americans think religion and spirituality can bring people together, but fewer think making religion or spirituality bigger factors in American life would be effective ways to reduce divisiveness: 62% of Americans think that spirituality can bring people together in the nation, and 57% think religion can bring people together.
- But when asked how to reduce divisiveness or destructive disagreements, only about 45% of Americans think making religion or spirituality bigger factors in American life would be effective, while 80% believe giving ordinary people a voice in the decisions that affect their lives would be effective.
- This desire to give people more of a voice in civic and political life is consistent with findings from Public Agenda’s recent Political Alienation Barometer.
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About Public Agenda
Public Agenda is a research-to-action nonprofit organization dedicated to creating and sustaining a stronger democracy. Through research, public engagement, and communications, we amplify public voice in institutional and government decision-making. The organization was founded in 1975 by the social scientist and public opinion research pioneer Dan Yankelovich and former secretary of state Cyrus Vance.
Methodology in Brief
This report summarizes findings from a nationally representative survey of 2,219 adult Americans 18 years and older. The survey was designed by Public Agenda and fielded August 24-26, 2022, by Ipsos. Respondents completed the survey online in English. The survey has a credibility interval of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for all respondents. Credibility intervals are greater for population subgroups.
The sample was randomly drawn from Ipsos’ online panel, partner online panel sources, and “river” sampling. Ipsos calibrates respondent characteristics to be representative of the U.S. population using standard procedures such as raking-ratio adjustments. The source of these population targets is U.S. Census 2019 American Community Survey data. Post-hoc weights were made to the population characteristics on gender, age, race/ethnicity, region, and education. Party ID benchmarks are drawn from recent high quality telephone polls.
Public Agenda conducted three demographically diverse online focus groups in April 2022 with religious and spiritual people in Washington State, Texas and New York State.
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