Poll: Most Democratic Candidates Not Seen as Religious

Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden raise their hands at a primary debate in Charleston, S.C., on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

(CN) – As Democratic candidates march through the 2020 presidential primary, most voters in the party say former Vice President Joe Biden is at least somewhat religious but they see the other contenders as nonreligious, a survey released Thursday shows.

In a Pew Research Center survey of 6,395 Americans between Feb. 4 and 15, just after the Iowa caucuses, 55% of Democratic respondents said that Biden was somewhat or very religious. Out of the top four candidates – also including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg – Biden was the only candidate to reach this majority perception.

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and entrepreneur Tom Steyer were not included in the survey.

Thirty-six percent of Democrats thought Warren was religious, whereas nearly half (49%) said she was not. Democrats were most split on Buttigieg – 32% said he was religious, 38% said he was not, and 30% either said they had never heard of him or gave no answer. In contrast, 60% of Democrats said Sanders was not religious, versus 34% who said he was religious.

Buttigieg has made his Christian faith a notable facet of his campaign and has cited it as his moral guidance as an Episcopalian, a denomination historically more favorable to the LGBT community. One possible factor is Buttigieg’s status as the only openly gay candidate, which could affect religious Democrats’ perceptions of his credentials as a Christian, based on broad interpretations of religious teachings outside his own denomination.  Another possible factor is that Buttigieg appeared to have the least name recognition in the survey for respondents from both major political parties.

Republicans cited Biden most often as religious at 37%, but majorities and pluralities of Republicans said that all the top candidates were not religious at 58% for Biden, 64% for Warren and 74% for Sanders. Forty-seven percent of Republicans said Buttigieg was not religious, but 31% said that they had never heard of him or gave no answer, which was much higher than other candidates.

Researchers also stratified respondents by denomination and other affiliations, including Jewish Americans, agnostics and atheists, and they found that white evangelicals were the least likely to view any of the four candidates as religious, especially Sanders, of whom 75% said was not religious. Overall, Protestants were slightly more likely to affirm Biden’s religiousness at 49% versus 46%.

In contrast, pluralities and majorities of black Protestants viewed all the measured Democratic candidates as religious. They saw Biden as most religious at 72%, followed by Sanders at 61%, Warren at 53% and Buttigieg at 39%.

Catholics overall aligned closer with Protestants, with a 59% majority viewing Biden as religious. Catholics viewed other candidates inversely, with 56% saying Sanders was not religious compared to 46% for Warren and 36% for Buttigieg.

Similarly, most atheists and agnostics viewed Biden as religious and viewed the other three candidates as not religious. There was not a majority of any group that saw Buttigieg as religious, due to the high number of respondents who did not recognize him or gave no answer.

Jewish respondents were slightly more likely to say that Buttigieg was religious at 44% versus 43% who said he wasn’t. Like the other groups, a 52% majority of Jews surveyed said Biden was religious. Majorities of Jewish respondents also said Warren and Sanders were not religious, at 62% and 75%, respectively.

Notably, researchers indicated in the analysis that religiousness may play a slightly smaller role going forward. From 2009 to 2019, Democratic voters who identified as religious fell from 72% to 55%, and respondents who severed their faith from any particular denomination jumped from 20% to 34%.

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