Americans increasingly view the Democratic Party as unfriendly toward religion, according to a poll released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press and Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Public impressions of the Democratic Party’s attitude toward religion have changed markedly over the past year. Just 29 percent see the party as being generally friendly toward religion, down from 40 percent a year ago and 42 percent in 2003.
Both parties, however, are widely viewed as being too beholden to ideological constituencies. Forty-four percent believe non-religious liberals have too much control over the Democratic Party, while about as many, 45 percent, say religious conservatives have too much control in the Republican Party.
Two thirds of Americans say Democrats have gone too far in trying to keep religion out of schools and the government, but they are divided over whether conservative Christians have gone too far in trying to impose their religious values on the country: 45 percent say yes and 45 percent say no.
“The public’s low view of the Democratic Party’s attitude toward religion is hardly surprising, especially when one considers how the religious right has demonized the Democratic Party as the enemy of God and baptized the GOP as God’s Only Party,” said Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
“At the same time, the Democratic Party suffers from a bad habit of self-inflected wounds, ranging from rhetorical gaffs to the failure of network-building with the mainstream religious community to the inability to frame issues in clear moral terms.”
“What is surprising,” Parham said, “is the percentage of Republicans that have grown weary of their party being controlled by fundamentalist preachers like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.”
A majority (51 percent) view Republicans as being more concerned with protecting religious values, while 52 percent say Democrats are more concerned with protecting personal freedoms.
The change in perception about Democrats being unfriendly toward religion occurred across the political spectrum but was strongest among independents. In August 2004 a 43 percent plurality of independents viewed the Democrats as generally friendly toward religion. Today only about a quarter (24 percent) hold that view.
Both Democrats and Republicans are more critical of the other party than their own, but significant concern comes from within both parties as well. More than a third of Democrats (34 percent) say non-religious liberals have too much influence in their party, and 30 percent of Republicans believe their party is too controlled by religious conservatives.
The public remains ambivalent about religious organizations being involved in politics. About half (51 percent) think churches and other houses of worship should speak out on social and political questions, while 44 percent say they should stay out of political matters.
While still a minority, a growing number of Americans say they are uncomfortable with President Bush’s public expressions of faith. Twenty-eight percent say Bush mentions faith and prayer too much, double the 14 percent who said so two years ago.
The survey also reveals division over evolution. Fewer than half (48 percent) believe humans and other living things evolved over time, while 42 percent–and 70 percent of white evangelicals–humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.
Despite that, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) favor teaching creationism along with evolution in public schools, while 38 percent say creationism should be taught instead of evolution.
About half of those who believe in evolution accept the Darwinian model, which says evolution occurred through natural processes, while nearly four in 10 (18 percent of the public as a whole) believe evolution was guided by a supreme being for the purpose of creating life as it exists today.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.