Im­por­tance of can­di­dates’ re­li­gion di­min­ishes

Poll: Devout­ness not as key to vot­ers, though many want faith to shape fed­eral pol­icy

The Dallas Morning News - - Focus On Elections - David Crary, The As­so­ci­ated Press

NEW YORK — Re­li­gion’s role in pol­i­tics and pub­lic pol­icy is in the spot­light head­ing to­ward the midterm elec­tions, yet rel­a­tively few Amer­i­cans con­sider it cru­cial that a can­di­date be de­voutly re­li­gious or share their re­li­gious be­liefs, ac­cord­ing to a poll re­leased Tues­day by The As­so­ci­ated Press-NORC Cen­ter for Pub­lic Af­fairs Re­search.

Just 25 per­cent of Amer­i­cans say it’s very or ex­tremely im­por­tant that a can­di­date has strong re­li­gious be­liefs, ac­cord­ing to the poll. Only 19 per­cent con­sider it very or ex­tremely im­por­tant that a can­di­date shares their own be­liefs, and nearly half say that’s not very im­por­tant or not im­por­tant at all.

Still, most Amer­i­cans see a role for re­li­gion in shap­ing pub­lic pol­icy. A solid ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans, 57 per­cent, want the in­flu­ence of re­li­gion on govern­ment pol­icy to ex­tend be­yond tra­di­tional cul­ture war is­sues and into poli­cies ad­dress­ing poverty. Amer­i­cans are more likely to say re­li­gion should have at least some in­flu­ence on poverty than on abor­tion (45 per­cent) or LGBT is­sues (34 per­cent).

There is lit­tle pub­lic sup­port for the cam­paign by some con­ser­va­tive re­li­gious lead­ers, backed by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, to al­low clergy and re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions to en­dorse po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates while re­tain­ing their tax-ex­empt sta­tus. Such a change is op­posed by 53 per­cent of Amer­i­cans and sup­ported by 13 per­cent. The rest ex­pressed no opin­ion.

Trump’s stance on po­lit­i­cal en­dorse­ments by clergy is one of many rea­sons he has re­tained strong sup­port among white evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians, de­spite as­pects of his be­hav­ior and per­sonal life that don’t neatly align with Chris­tian val­ues. The AP-NORC poll found that 7 in 10 white evan­gel­i­cal Protes­tants say they ap­prove of Trump, a Repub­li­can.

Re­li­gious, po­lit­i­cal di­vides

The im­por­tance of a can­di­date’s re­li­gious faith var­ied across re­li­gious and po­lit­i­cal groups.

Among white evan­gel­i­cal Protes­tants, 51 per­cent con­sider it very or ex­tremely im­por­tant that a can­di­date has strong re­li­gious be­liefs. An ad­di­tional 25 per­cent think it’s mod­er­ately im­por­tant. Far fewer Catholics and white main­line Protes­tants con­sid­ered this im­por­tant.

Roughly two-thirds of Repub­li­cans said it’s at least mod­er­ately im­por­tant that a can­di­date has strong re­li­gious be­liefs, com­pared with 37 per­cent of Democrats.

Jack Kane, an ac­coun­tant from Key West, Fla., was among the Repub­li­can­lean­ing poll par­tic­i­pants who said it wasn’t im­por­tant to him whether a can­di­date was deeply re­li­gious.

“I’d much rather have a guy run the govern­ment and not spend all our money, in­stead of sound­ing off on what’s go­ing on in the church or on things like abor­tion,” said Kane, 65, who de­scribes him­self as non­re­li­gious. “Who is Catholic, Jewish, South­ern Bap­tist — I could care less, as long as they’re go­ing to carry the torch of free­dom.”

Kent Ja­que­tte, a Repub­li­can­turned-in­de­pen­dent and a for­mer United Methodist pas­tor who lives near San An­to­nio, said he does not base his choice of can­di­dates on their re­li­gious faith.

“In pol­i­tics, you need to look at a per­son where their morals are, where their val­ues are,” he said. “It may or may not have any­thing to do with their re­li­gion.”

Ja­que­tte also ques­tioned the mo­tives of evan­gel­i­cals who sup­port Trump.

“To me, it’s sup­port­ing some­one who gives no in­di­ca­tion he in­tends to live a Chris­tian life,” said Ja­que­tte, 63. “I be­lieve that Chris­tians should do things that Christ taught — feed the hun­gry, visit peo­ple in jail, help im­mi­grants.”

Ac­cep­tance of diver­sity

At the high­est lev­els of po­lit­i­cal of­fice, it’s still rare for a politi­cian to pro­fess that he or she is an athe­ist; sur­veys in­di­cate that roughly 10 per­cent of Amer­i­cans do not be­lieve in a higher power. In re­cent years, only a small hand­ful of mem­bers of Congress have iden­ti­fied them­selves as non­be­liev­ers.

How­ever, there is some ev­i­dence of in­creas­ing ac­cep­tance of re­li­gious diver­sity — for ex­am­ple, the re­cent vic­to­ries by Mus­lim-Amer­i­can women in Demo­cratic con­gres­sional pri­maries in Michi­gan and Min­nesota.

The AP-NORC poll found broad in­ter­est in re­li­gion hav­ing at least some in­flu­ence on a range of pol­icy is­sues.

In ad­di­tion to the con­cern about poverty, 49 per­cent of Amer­i­cans want to see re­li­gion have some in­flu­ence on ed­u­ca­tion, 44 per­cent on health care pol­icy, 43 per­cent on im­mi­gra­tion, 38 per­cent on gun pol­icy, 36 per­cent on in­come in­equal­ity, 34 per­cent on for­eign pol­icy and 32 per­cent on cli­mate change.

From each of the largest re­li­gious groups, there was strong sup­port for greater re­li­gious in­flu­ence on poverty pol­icy — 71 per­cent of white evan­gel­i­cal Protes­tants, 54 per­cent of white main­line Protes­tants, 75 per­cent of non­white Protes­tants and 67 per­cent of Catholics.

The Rev. Jim Wal­lis, founder of the Chris­tian so­cial jus­tice or­ga­ni­za­tion So­journ­ers, said the poll find­ings sig­naled a po­ten­tially broader and more vi­brant role for or­ga­nized re­li­gion in U.S. pol­i­tics.

“Re­li­gious is­sues are much broader and deeper and dif­fer­ent from the is­sues cho­sen by the re­li­gious right,” he said. “The is­sues like poverty, im­mi­gra­tion, what hap­pens to the home­less — those are be­com­ing the moral and po­lit­i­cal and vot­ing is­sues for more and more Chris­tians.”

The find­ings were wel­comed by Mau­reen Mal­loy Ferguson, a se­nior pol­icy ad­viser for The Catholic As­so­ci­a­tion, which de­picts its mis­sion as “be­ing a faith­ful Catholic voice in the pub­lic square.”

“It’s en­cour­ag­ing to see that so many Amer­i­cans rec­og­nize that re­li­gion can be a force for good in so­ci­ety,” she said.

2017 File Photo/The As­so­ci­ated Press

Re­li­gious lead­ers, in­clud­ing First Bap­tist Dal­las pas­tor Robert Jef­fress (sec­ond from left), prayed last Septem­ber with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump af­ter he signed a procla­ma­tion for a national day of prayer. Rel­a­tively few Amer­i­cans con­sider it cru­cial that a can­di­date be de­voutly re­li­gious or share their re­li­gious be­liefs, ac­cord­ing to a new poll.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.