Pew Study on Attitudes Towards Religions

Pew recently conducted a study of Americans’ ratings of various religions on a “thermometer” scale of 0-100 (here). The finding they highlight is that most Americans feel “warmer” towards religions than they did in 2014, as shown below. But they offer no explanation, and this is probably just a response bias of little importance.

pew thermometer1

Perhaps the most important finding is that Americans generally do not like atheists and Muslims, and to a lesser extent, Mormons. It would be interesting to see how ratings of Muslims changed after 9/11. I suspect they would have received relatively low ratings even before 9/11. The low ratings for Mormons and atheists have nothing to do with terrorism or anti-social behavior. Both groups behave far better than the average American. The ratings mainly reflect religious and cultural biases, and Pew makes no attempt to study them.

Curiously, Jews are the highest-rated religion overall. I suspect these favorable ratings are largely due to political correctness. The study basically asks people to specify the type and strength of their religious bigotry, and people understandably filter the results. Pew makes no attempt to relate these ratings to behavior. In the case of attitudes towards the Jews, I note that the ratings bear little relation to anti-Semitic behavior (see ADL study here).

Differences by age groups are striking. The youngest group, 18-29, is far more accepting of both “splinter” religions in America and atheism. Americans 50 years or older strongly favor traditional religions.

But I think the most interesting results are the religious ratings of Democrats and Republicans:

pew thermometer2 party

First of all, Democrats are far less concerned with religion. Their difference between the most and least favored religion is less than 15 points – less than half the 32 point difference of Republicans. Republicans are dominated by Evangelicals, while Democrats rate them near the bottom, worse than even atheists and Muslims. To a large extent, Evangelicals control the national Republican Party.

This is a relatively recent phenomenon. Prior to the civil rights acts of the mid-1960s, Evangelicals were partisan, “yellow dog” Democrats. Understanding the true nature of their Christianity, Republicans under Nixon and Reagan played to their racism. By the mid-1980s they were largely Republican, and by 2000, they dominated the party and elected George W. Bush. Traditionally, the Republican Party was almost exclusively Mainline Protestant; now they play a minor and diminishing role.

In closing, I want to stress that the study should be taken with a large dose of salt. As Pew points out in the fine print, the study had less than a 3% response rate. That is, virtually everyone who was selected to participate refused. The sample may contain large biases. For practical purposes, this means that you should attend only to large, dramatic effects, while ignoring relatively small differences.