Taking It on Faith, Reluctantly

This campaign season has featured non-stop injections of faith into the Republican presidential primary, and it’s an open debate how that’s affected the chances of the candidates.
But new results from a Pew survey indicate that all the God talk is provoking a backlash among the general public. In dramatic contrast to a decade ago, more Americans than ever before think there are too many “expressions of religious faith and prayer by politicians” and that churches should “keep out of political matters.”
When the poll was conducted by Pew in 2001, according to the data it released, some 60% of the American public thought there was the right amount of expressions of faith and prayer by politicians, with 22% saying there was too little and a mere 12% saying there was two much. Now, in a dramatic reversal, a plurality of 38% say there’s too much, with 30% saying there’s too little and 25% saying there’s the right amount.
Similarly, while 54% thought churches should “express views on social and political questions” back in 1996, only 43% thought they shouldn’t. Now the tables are turned, with 54% thinking churches should stay out of politics and 40% saying they should continue to express their political views.
However, supporters of the most conservative candidate in the GOP race and the one that’s done the most religious sleeve-wearing – former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum – disagree.
A majority of Santorum backers do think churches should express their views in the political sphere and that there currently are too few expressions of faith by politicians.
In contrast stand supporters of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Romney has struggled to win over evangelicals – a stunningly clairvoyant predictor of whether or not he will win a state in a primary contest is whether evangelicals make up more than half of voters – and has had to battle with those who have a stigma against Mormons.
Most of his supporters say churches should keep out of politics, while just a quarter believing there is too little expression of faith and prayer by political leaders.
Of course, it is not only the Republican candidates that have brought issues of faith to the forefront of the public debate. The White House decision – or series of decisions – about whether to mandate insurance coverage of contraceptives by employers who oppose birth control, such as Catholic hospitals, sparked a major public back-and-forth – which Republicans then seized on, magnifying the issue.
Pew did not speculate on what caused the poll results, saying only that the survey found “signs of public uneasiness with the mixing of religion and politics.”
It then added somewhat more emphatically that, “The number of people who say there has been too much religious talk by political leaders stands at an all-time high since the Pew Research Center began asking the question more than a decade ago.”
- Hilary Leila Krieger