(CN) – Americans acknowledge that religious institutions are losing influence in public life, but still believe they do more good than harm overall, the Pew Research Center reported Friday. Most, however, want such institutions to avoid endorsing political candidates.
In a survey of 6,364 adults from March 18 to April 1, researchers found that 63% felt that churches and other religious institutions should “keep out of political matters” generally. Seventy-six percent felt that churches should not endorse political candidates.
However, respondents were more split on how much religious influence is already present in politics. Thirty-seven percent said religious organizations have “too much” influence, 28% said that such organizations have “not enough” influence, and 34% said that religious organizations have “about the right amount” of influence.
Though respondents had conflicting opinions on religious influence in politics, most of those surveyed affirmed religion’s positive effect on society overall. Fifty-five percent of respondents said that religious institutions do more good than harm, 53% said they “strengthen morality in society”, and half said such institutions “mostly bring people together.”
Of the 78% who agreed that religion is losing influence in American life, a 42% plurality of respondents said that is a bad thing. Notably, much of the lamentation came from Republicans.
Sixty-three percent of Republicans said the loss of religious influence in public life was a bad thing, whereas 27% of Democrats said the same – though only 25% of Democrats said that the loss of influence is a good thing. In addition, 71% of Republican respondents said that religion does more good than harm in society, versus 44% of Democrats who said the same.
When asked about their own religious institutions of choice, nearly half of those surveyed said they were unsure of the political affiliations of their clergy members and 27% said their clerics are a mix of people from either party.
Pluralities of both Republicans and Democrats said that they were unsure of their clergy members’ political preferences, at 43% and 44%, respectively. Twenty-nine percent of Republicans and 27% of Democrats said that their clerics are a mix of both conservatives and liberals.
Seventy-four percent of Republicans and 71% of Democrats said that there was “about the right amount” of political discussions during sermons, and 62% of overall respondents said they generally agree with their clergy members when politics comes up.
When asked about church leaders’ credibility on specific political issues, respondents who actively participate in religious services were most confident in their clerics on abortion, with 69% who said they had at least “some” confidence in their institutions’ ability to provide useful guidance.
Sixty-four percent of churchgoers were confident in their clergy members’ guidance on immigration. However, only 49% of churchgoers were confident in their church leaders regarding climate change. Just 13% had “a lot” of confidence in climate change guidance.
Overall, respondents indicated that they generally trust their religious leaders. Sixty-five percent of respondents said that their clergy members have high ethical standards. Those who attended services regularly were even more supportive of their leaders, at 88% for their own clergy members and 78% for religious leaders in general.
Broadly, respondents seemed to appreciate the ethical influence of religious leaders, but were less unified regarding political influence in sermons and outward religious influence in politics. Such conclusions reflect the public debate about the intersection of church and state that has continued since the inception of the United States.