Published on Sunday, January 23, 2005 by the Reuters
Survey Finds Church-Going Americans Less Tolerant
by Michael Conlon
CHICAGO - Church-going Americans have grown increasingly intolerant in the past four years of politicians making compromises on such hot issues as abortion and gay rights, according to a survey released on Saturday.
At the same time, those polled said they were growing bolder about pushing their beliefs on others -- even at the risk of offending someone.
The trends could indicate that religion has become "more prominent in American discourse ... more salient," according to Ruth Wooden, president of Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research organization which released the survey.
It could also indicate "more polarized political thinking. There do not seem to be very many voices arguing for compromise today," she said in an interview. "It could be that more religious voices feel under siege, pinned against the wall by cultural developments. They may feel more emboldened as a result."
The November U.S. election saw voters in a number of states back gay marriage bans, and President Bush won re-election with heavy support from fellow religious conservatives.
The findings came from a telephone survey of 1,507 adults made in 2000 and a second similar survey of 1,004 adults done during the summer of 2004 that tracked the same issues. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Those surveyed were nearly all Christians, not by design but because the sample reflected the makeup of the population, the group said. A 2002 Pew Research Council survey found that 82 percent of the U.S. populace considered itself to be Christian, while 10 percent identified with no religious group.
On the question of whether elected officials should set their convictions aside to get results in government, 84 percent agreed in 2000. However, four years later that had dropped to 74 percent. There was a sharper decline on the same question among weekly church-goers from 82 percent in the first survey to 63 percent in the second.
About 40 percent of Americans claim to be weekly church-goers, according to Corwin Smidt, director of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College in Michigan. Some surveys have placed the figure at 25 percent.
In the survey, 32 percent of those who attended church once a week said they were willing to compromise on abortion issues -- a 19-point drop in four years. Among the same group the question of compromising beliefs on gay rights was acceptable to only 39 percent, down 18 points from 2000.
The poll also found that 37 percent overall felt that deeply religious people should be careful not to offend anyone when they "spread the word of God," a decline from 46 percent four years earlier.
The number of those who felt that committed faithful should spread the word "whenever they can" rose to 41 percent, up 6 points.
On another issue, the survey found little change in opinion on whether the U.S. political system can handle greater interaction between religion and politics. Asked if there was a threat if religious leaders and groups got a lot more involved in politics, 63 percent in 2000 and 61 percent in 2004 said the system could "easily handle" it. But the remainder continue to believe the system would be threatened.
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