Bill Hobbs emails me a link to an interesting report released yesterday by The Pew Research Center titled "The 2004 Political Landscape: Evenly Divided and Increasingly Polarized". There are 9 major parts to the report, and I haven't had time to read the whole thing yet, but "Part 8: Religion in American Life" alone provides some interesting tidbits.
America remains an intensely religious nation and, if anything, the trend since the late 1980s has been toward stronger religious belief. Eight-in-ten Americans (81%) say that prayer is an important part of their daily lives, and just as many believe there will be a Judgment Day when people will be called before God to answer for their sins. Even more people (87%) agree with the statement "I never doubt the existence of God."These trends probably reflect the ascension of the Millennial generation, which tends to be much more conservative than its Boomer parents.
Clearly, views on these three statements are highly related, and when these three questions are combined into a single indicator of religious intensity, fully 71% agree with all three statements, while just 7% disagree with all three. Both of these figures are slightly higher than was the case 16 years ago, when 68% agreed with all three statements, and 5% disagreed with them all. With more people at each end of the spectrum, somewhat fewer Americans express mixed views about their religious beliefs today (22%) than was the case in the late 1980s (27%).
Growing religious intensity also is seen in how Americans, especially self-described Protestants, characterize their religious faith. In the late 1980s, 41% of Protestants and 24% of the population overall identified themselves as "born- again or evangelical" Christians. Today, 54% of Protestants describe themselves this way, and evangelical Protestants make up the largest single religious category (30% of the population).Although, apparently under-30s are identifying themselves as "Protestants" less than they did 15 years ago, with a drop of 52% to 45%. However, as the study goes on to note, this may just be a shift away from denominational identification, and not a shift towards secularism.
Moreover, younger generations are becoming much more religious as they age. Fifteen years ago, 61% of people in their late teens and twenties agreed with all three religious statements. Today, 71% of people in these generations now in their thirties and forties express this level of strong religious faith. Over the same period, the percentage of Protestants in this age group identifying themselves as born again or evangelical has risen from 41% in the late 1980s to 55% now. As a result of these gains, people in their 30s and 40s today are considerably more religious than their 30-to-49-year-old counterparts were in the late 1980s.The study goes on to describe some striking differences between the religious beliefs of Democrats and Republicans that weren't present in the late 80s.
Over the past 15 years, religion and religious faith also have become more strongly aligned with partisan and ideological identification. Republicans and Democrats were equally likely to express strong personal religious attitudes in 1987 and 1988; the same percentage in both parties affirmed the importance of prayer, belief in Judgment Day and strong belief in God (71% in each). But over the past 15 years, Republicans have become increasingly united in these beliefs, opening up a seven-point gap between the parties (78% vs. 71% of Democrats).Finally, the report contradicts an earlier poll showing that abortion is losing acceptance among women. That poll found that a majority of 51% of women believe that abortion should be prohibited or limited to extreme cases, such as rape, incest, or life-threatening complications. The Pew study says that:
Most Americans (57%) say they oppose changing the laws to make it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion, while 36% are in favor, and there have been only slight changes in public opinion on this question over the past sixteen years. While abortion is a significantly more divisive issue today than was the case in 1987, most of the partisan and religious divisions were firmly in place a decade ago, and have changed little since. ...Perhaps the difference is in the phrasing of the questions, because otherwise I can't explain it. The Pew results themselves go on to contradict these findings.
A small gender gap over the abortion issue in 1987 has gradually disappeared, as support for stricter abortion laws among women has fallen by eight points (women used to be somewhat more conservative than men on this issue.) The change among women has occurred primarily among older groups. Sixteen years ago fully half of women age 50 and older favored stricter limits on abortion, today just 35% in this age group say the same.
Liberal Democrats are the only major demographic or political group where a majority does not agree with protecting the rights of the unborn in almost all cases (only 44%). Among religious groups, nine-in-ten white evangelical Protestants (91%), 61% of non-evangelicals, and 74% of white Catholics hold this opinion, compared with 53% of seculars.So, which is it? Those numbers seem to indicate that there's a strong majority in favor of protecting the rights of the unborn, but the results of the earlier question say that there isn't a majority in favor of making abortions more difficult to obtain. It's hard for me to imagine confusion over such an issue, but what other explanation is there?
I'll take a read through the other 8 sections when I have time. It looks like there's a goldmine statistical information in there (which I love), and it'll probably be fodder for later posts. If any of you write about any of the other sections, let me know and I'll link to it.