High Office And Higher Power

Americans continue to sort out how they feel about the role of faith in politics, at a time when religious non-affiliation is rising.

Most citizens still say it is important for a president to have strong religious convictions, but that percentage has been waning for the last two election cycles, according to a Pew Research Center poll.

“In 2008, 72 percent said this was an important characteristic,” Pew reported in July. “That share dipped slightly in 2012 to 67 percent, and now 62 percent say that having strong religious beliefs is an important presidential trait.”

Black Protestants and white evangelicals remain especially committed to the idea of a president with strong religious commitments. Nones are least inclined to say they want a religiously minded president, the report said.

Those who identify with the GOP are more likely than Democrats to say religious convictions are important in a president. But in both groups this view is declining, the report said.

Even so, being an atheist remains one of the biggest liabilities that a presidential candidate can have, Pew reports. Half of American adults say they would be less inclined to vote for a hypothetical presidential candidate who does not believe in God; 6 percent say they would be more likely to vote for a nonbeliever.

Other Pew findings:

  • 68 percent of Americans believe religion is losing influence in the US. Most who hold this view say that’s a bad thing for American society.
  • Some 40 percent of Americans think there has been too little expression of religious faith and prayer by political leaders, compared with 27 percent who say there has been too much religious expression by politicians.
  • 51 percent of Americans believe religious conservatives have too much control over the Republican Party, while 44 percent think liberals who are not religious have too much control over the Democrats.
  • 26 percent say they would be less likely to vote for a gay or lesbian presidential candidate, while 69 percent say it would make no difference to them. This latter figure has been steadily rising since 2007.

Source: Pew Research Center (pewforum.org)