An Abiding Relationship: Republicans and Religion

by Frank Newport

Regardless of gender, Republicans more religious

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats and independents to report that religion is very important in their lives. This basic relationship is particularly strong among whites and those who report their race or ethnicity as something other than black. Women who are Republicans are more likely to be religious than women who are independents and Democrats. The same relationship between religion and party identification holds among men. All in all, the percentage of Americans who say that religion is very important in their lives ranges from 40% among men who are independents to 76% among women who are Republicans.

These conclusions are based on a special Gallup analysis of more than 9,000 interviews conducted over the past five years.

Importance of Religion

Roughly 6 in 10 Americans report that religion is very important in their own lives. About one in four say that religion is "fairly" important, while less than one in five say that religion is not very important. There have been year to year variations in this percentage over the past decades, but the same basic pattern of this measure of religion has stayed stable.

How important would you say religion is in your own life -- very important, fairly important, or not very important?

 

 

Very

Fairly

Not very

No opinion

Recent Trends

%

%

%

%

2007 May 10-13

56

26

17

1

         

2006 Sep 15-17

57

26

16

1

2006 May 8-11

56

28

16

*

2005 Nov 17-20

60

24

16

*

2005 May 2-5

55

28

16

1

2005 Apr 18-21

57

25

17

1

2004 Dec 5-8

59

23

17

1

2004 Jun 3-6

59

26

15

*

2004 May 2-4

55

29

15

1

2003 Nov 10-12

61

25

14

*

2003 May 5-7

58

28

14

*

2003 Feb 17-19

60

23

17

*

2002 Dec 9-10

61

27

11

1

2002 Sep 2-4

65

23

12

*

2002 May 6-9

56

30

13

1

2002 Mar 18-20

58

27

14

1

2002 Mar 1-3

61

25

14

*

2001 Dec 14-16

60

26

13

1

2001 Sep 21-22

64

24

12

*

2001 May 10-14

57

28

15

*

2001 Feb 19-21

55

30

15

*

2000 Aug 24-27

57

31

12

*

2000 Mar 17-19

61

27

12

*

Yearly Averages

2006

57

27

16

1

2005

59

25

16

*

2004

59

24

16

1

2003

61

24

15

*

2002

60

27

13

*

2001

58

28

14

*

2000

59

29

12

*

1999

59

29

11

1

1998

61

27

12

1

1997

60

27

12

1

1996

57

28

15

*

1995

58

29

12

1

1994

58

29

12

1

1993

59

29

12

*

1992

58

29

12

1

1991

58

29

13

*

1990

58

29

13

*

1989

55

30

14

1

1988

54

31

14

1

1987

53

32

14

1

1986

55

30

14

1

1985

55

31

13

1

1984

56

30

13

1

1983

56

30

13

1

1982

56

30

13

1

1981

56

29

14

1

1980

55

31

13

1

1978

52

32

14

2

1965

70

22

7

1

1952 ^

75

20

5

*

* = Less than 0.5%

^ Ben Gaffin and Associates

Party Identification and Importance of Religion

The analyses that follow in this report are based on an aggregation of more than 9,000 interviews conducted by Gallup over the last five years. The resulting data show that on average 57% of Americans say that religion is very important in their lives, 26% say that religion is fairly important, and 16% say that religion is not very important:

 

Importance of Religion in Life,
Aggregate Sample 2004-2007

 

%

Very important

57

Fairly important

26

Not very important

16

Don't know

*

Refused

*

* = Less than 0.5%

An initial look at the basic cross-tabular relationship between party identification and importance of religion underscores the expected -- and important -- relationship between religion and political orientation. Those Americans who identify as Republicans are significantly more likely to report that religion is very important than independents or Democrats.

 

Importance of Religion in Life, by Political Party,
Aggregate Sample 2004-2007

 

Very important

Fairly important

Not very important

 

%

%

%

Republicans

66

24

10

Independents

48

29

22

Democrats

57

26

17

These data reveal interesting patterns.

  • Sixty-six percent of Republicans report that religion is very important, the highest of any of these three political groups
  • Forty-eight percent of independents say that religion is very important, the lowest of the three groups.
  • Democrats are in the middle; 57% say that religion is very important.

That independents are the least likely to find religion important in their lives is not surprising. Americans who identify themselves as independents (i.e., say they do not identify with either the Republican or Democratic Party) are by definition less likely to be involved in politics. The assumption is that they are also less likely to be involved in other social and organizational aspects of life, including religion. Political independents, in other words, may tilt toward being "independent" in their general approach to life.

The Race Factor

These data show that 20% of Americans who identify as Democrats are black, compared to only 2% of Republicans, and 8% of independents.

 

Composition of Party Segments, by Race,
Aggregate Sample 2004-2007

 

Republicans

Independents

Democrats

 

%

%

%

Whites, and others who do not identify as black

97

90

79

Blacks

2

8

20

Previous research has robustly documented that blacks are the most religious of any identifiable racial or ethnic group in America today. This suggests that self-reported importance of religion among Democrats -- although lower than among Republicans -- may be distinctly different between black Democrats and non-black Democrats.

This table investigates this hypothesis by breaking the sample down into six segments, based on the intersection of party identification and race (defined for the purpose of this analysis as blacks and all others).

 

Importance of Religion
Aggregate sample 2004-2007

 

Saying religion is very important

   

%

Whites, and others who do not identify as black

   
 

Republicans

66

 

Independents

45

 

Democrats

50

     

Blacks

   
 

Republicans

#

 

Independents

77

 

Democrats

83

# = Sample size too small to provide meaningful data

Here, we see the pattern is as expected. The percentage of non-black Democrats who say religion is very important drops to 50%, compared to 83% of black Democrats. In similar fashion, only 45% of non-black independents say that religion is very important, compared to 77% of black independents. (There are too few black Republicans in the sample to allow for meaningful comparison with non-black Republicans.)

Considered differently, the data show that the relationship between importance of religion and being a Republican is particularly strong among Americans who are white or some other non-black ethnic group.

Gender

Past research has shown that women are significantly more religious than men, regardless of the indicator of religiosity being used. In this particular sample, 65% of women in America as measured in these 2004-2007 surveys say that religion is very important in their lives, compared to just 49% of men.

 

Importance of Religion in Life, by Gender,
Aggregate Sample 2004-2007

 

Very important

Fairly important

Not very important

 

%

%

%

Male

49

29

21

Female

65

24

11

Women are significantly more likely to be Democrats than are men. This table shows that fully 6 in 10 Democrats in America today are women, compared to slightly less than half of Republicans and independents.

 

Composition of Party Segments, by Gender,
Aggregate Sample 2004-2007

 

Republicans

Independents

Democrats

 

%

%

%

Male

52

52

40

Female

48

48

60

There are, then, interesting cross-currents tugging at one another in the American population. Women are more likely to be religious than men, and Republicans are more likely to be religious than are independents and Democrats. Yet Democrats on the whole are less likely to be religious than Republicans. In other words, the less religious orientation of Democrats in America today exists despite the fact that Democrats are disproportionately composed of women -- who are typically more religious.

This table helps disentangle some of these relationships.

 

Importance of Religion in Life,
Aggregate sample 2004-2007

   

Saying religion
is very important

   

%

Women

   
 

Republicans

76

 

Independents

57

 

Democrats

62

Men

   
 

Republicans

58

 

Independents

40

 

Democrats

48

The results show that the impact of two variables -- party and gender -- appear to operate somewhat independently.

Women who identify as Republicans are more likely to report that religion is very important in their lives than women who identify as independents and Democrats. And men who identify as Republicans are more likely to report that religion is very important in their lives than are men who identify as independents or Democrats. Thus, there is a political party effect within each gender group.

One can look at these same data from a different perspective and conclude that there is a noticeable gender effect within each political group. Women are more religious than men among Republicans, among independents, and among Democrats.

There appears to be a self-selection of sorts in American society. Those particular women who identify as independents and Democrats are less religious than the particular set of women who identify as Republicans. The same pattern holds within men. Even though men tend to be less religious overall, those particular men who identify as Republicans are more religious than men who identify as independents or Democrats.

Bottom Line

The data reviewed in this analysis reinforce one of the basic conclusions about political life in America today. There is significant relationship between being religious and identifying with the Republican Party among whites and other non-black groups. (Blacks defy this pattern; they are both highly religious and highly likely to identify as Democrats).

This analysis used self-reported importance of religion as the measure of religiosity. A little less than 6 in 10 Americans say that religion is very important in their life, a number that jumps to 66% among Republicans, but drops to 45% among non-black independents and 50% among non-black Democrats. Although women are both more religious and more likely to be Democrats than men, the analysis shows that religious women are more likely to be Republican than are less religious women. The same pattern holds among men.

Survey Methods

These results are based on nine surveys, which in turn are based on telephone interviews with randomly selected national samples of approximately 1,000 adults each, aged 18 and older, conducted between May 2004 and May 2007. For results based on the overall sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±2 percentage points. The maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is larger among subgroups of the overall sample. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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