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Poll: Americans grow leerier of religion in politics

The public is increasingly uneasy with the mixing of religion and politics, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Church and StateIn fact, the number of people who say there has been too much religious talk by political leaders stands at an all-time high since the Pew Research Center began asking the question more than a decade ago.

Nearly four in ten Americans (38 percent) now say there has been too much expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders, while 30 percent say there has been too little. That’s a significant flip from just two years ago, when 37 percent said there was too little religious expression and 29 percent said too much. The percentage saying there’s too much expression of religious faith by politicians has increased across party lines, but this view remains far more widespread among Democrats than Republicans.

Also, slightly more than half of the public (54 percent) says churches and other houses of worship should keep out of politics, compared with 40 percent who say religious institutions should express their views on social and political matters. This is the third consecutive Pew poll conducted in the past four years in which more people wanted churches out of politics than wanted them in, although the balance consistently tilted in the opposite direction from 1996 to 2006.

And the poll found a sharp divide among voters backing the two leading GOP presidential candidates. Almost six in ten (57 percent) Republican and Republican-leaning voters who favor Mitt Romney say churches should keep out of political matters; meanwhile, 60 percent of GOP voters who support Rick Santorum say that churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political questions.

For my own part, I’ve got to wonder how much of this GOP split is attributable to Rick Santorum’s supporters being more comfortable with his Catholic faith than most Mitt Romney supporters are with his Mormon faith.

The survey, conducted March 7-11 among 1,503 adults, has an overall margin of error of three percentage points; among the GOP voter subsample, it’s a six-point margin.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • John W.

    The routine practice of ending speeches with “God bless America” seems to have started with Nixon. Other presidents would occasionally ask for God’s wisdom. But that’s a bit of a different concept that asking for an endorsement.

  • Truthclubber

    Perhaps Nixon (and other GOPers to follow) felt they did not need to invoke the standard “so (please) help me, God!” as they were superior beings…