Survey: Churchgoers want candidates to go, well, elsewhere
Americans have a message for political candidates considering campaigning in their churches over the next year — butt out.
A new Fox 5-The Washington Times-Rasmussen Reports poll found that less than one in four of those surveyed said it’s appropriate to campaign at their religious services, and a whopping 62 percent said it’s not right.
Seventy percent said they don’t want their priest, minister, rabbi or imam to “suggest” whom to vote for, either.
“There are lines that people feel you shouldn’t cross. Different people might draw them at different places, but they clearly exist,” said Scott Rasmussen, who conducted the survey. He said that doesn’t mean voters don’t want candidates to show up and attend their services, but they also “don’t want to see a sermon or something presented as a sermon by a presidential candidate.”
Religion has popped up repeatedly
in the presidential campaigns, stoked by the presence of a Mormon candidate and an ordained Baptist preacher in the Republican field and questions over the role of faith and government in the Democratic field.
On the Republican side, there also has been a contest to win the backing of religious conservative leaders, including former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s endorsement by televangelist Pat Robertson.
But the poll said that could hurt more than help — 29 percent said Mr. Robertson’s endorsement made them less likely to support Mr. Giuliani, while only 6 percent said they now are more likely to support him. That was consistent across all such demographic categories as age, party affiliation and income.
Showing up at churches during campaign season has become a rite of passage, particularly for Democratic candidates. In 2004, Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry frequently could be found spending Sunday mornings in October at ma- jority-black churches in the key electoral states of Ohio or Florida.
It can cause trouble, though. After a Miami church appearance in October of that year, attended by both the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton, the Internal Revenue Service announced an investigation into complaints that the service amounted to a campaign rally.
“Certainly, some congregations are more open than others, and there is a difference between showing up at church and having a campaign event at church services,” Mr. Rasmussen said.
Black voters were less certain of their opposition to both campaigning at services and to religious leaders suggesting how to vote. Although 46 percent said campaigning was wrong, 31 percent said it was OK, and 22 percent wouldn’t rule it out. And only 55 percent of blacks said they don’t want clergy suggesting whom to vote for — 18 percentage points less than whites.
The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the liberal Interfaith Alliance, said the results show a desire for separating religion from politics.
“Even in the midst of a highly competitive political campaign, people want to protect the integrity of religion and the sanctity of houses or worship,” said Mr. Gaddy, whose group fights what it sees as increasing entanglement between government and religion.
His group’s own polling found 41.4 percent of adults surveyed thought religious leaders should have influence on voters, while 57.7 percent rejected that.
“I think the American public is ready to say — and is saying — ‘Enough,’ “ Mr. Gaddy said. “We have a deep interest in knowing about a candidate’s religion, but American voters are aware that we are not electing a pastor-in-chief, we are electing a commander-in-chief.”