Pew Report Tracks How Politics Correspond With Religion

Jul 13, 2016
Originally published on July 13, 2016 7:23 pm
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The political division between people who support Donald Trump and those who support Hillary Clinton corresponds with a religious split. A new report from the Pew Research Center shows our religious preferences say a lot about how we'll vote. Here's NPR's Tom Gjelten.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Polarization in America, it seems, runs in parallel along political and religious lines. Alan Cooperman, Pew's director of religion research, says his organization's latest survey of registered voters found two large, counterbalancing Groups.

ALAN COOPERMAN: White, evangelical Protestants, on the one hand, who make up about a fifth of all registered voters in the United States. And on the other side, so-called religious nones - N-O-N-E-S - people who don't identify with any religious group. They are now also about a fifth of all registered voters.

GJELTEN: And they're sharply divided politically. White evangelicals are, by far, the largest religious group in the Trump camp. So-called nones, meanwhile - the atheists, agnostics and the religiously unaffiliated - account for, by far, the biggest share of Clinton supporters. The evangelicals' pro-Trump position - nearly four out of five say they'll vote for him - is notable, Cooperman says, because Trump is not seen as a very religious person.

COOPERMAN: Even though any number of evangelical leaders have come out against Donald Trump, the evangelical rank and file is rallying behind Trump, much in the way that it did behind Mitt Romney just four years ago.

GJELTEN: Perhaps is another sign of anti-elite sentiment. People just don't follow their leaders that much anymore. Could be true for evangelicals as it is for others. Or maybe this support among evangelicals for a worldly candidate like Trump shows that Americans, evangelicals included, don't really care so much whether they're presidents are all that religious. Pew researcher Alan Cooperman cites a figure from back in 2000.

COOPERMAN: About 70 percent of Americans said that it's important to them that a president have strong religious beliefs. In 2012, that dipped a little bit, and so far in 2016, it's dipped even more.

GJELTEN: Down to 62 percent. The shift is most pronounced among millennials. Less than half - just 42 percent - say a candidate's religious beliefs are important to them. One more note - despite the overwhelming evangelical support for Trump and the corresponding support for Clinton among the religiously unaffiliated, neither group seems hugely enthusiastic about its candidate. Many Trump voters are motivated by animosity to Clinton. Many Clinton voters are simply anti-Trump. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.