Religion and politics are intertwined in American life, despite constitutional guarantee that the church and state must remain separate. But how does your religion influence your political views? And is it possible to tell where an individual stands politically simply by knowing that person’s religious affiliation — or lack thereof?
Most of us probably prefer to believe that we “think for ourselves,” but a detailed new chart based on an extensive survey of American religious and political attitudes shows that, in fact, we’re all pretty predictable, and that the religion with which we identify is a highly accurate predictor of our political viewpoints.
The data used by Tobin Grant, a professor at Southern Illinois University who studies the relationship between religion and politics for a living, to compile this chart comes from a survey of 32,000 Americans conducted by The Pew Research Center and is part of the center’s ongoing Religion and Public Life Project, which has compiled vast amounts of hard data on the religious behavior of Americans.
The chart itself is below, or you can see a larger version at this link. But first, here’s a brief primer on how to understand what you’ll be looking at.
Each circle represents one of 44 religious groups. Those include “atheist,” “agnostic,” and people who say they have “no religion in particular,” as well as most every major religion in the country. The size of the circle represents the size of that religious group relative to the U.S. population.
The location of each circle shows you where members of that group stand on the two most basic questions about a person’s political stance:
• Should government be bigger or smaller?
• Should government be more or less involved in regulating morality.
The first question asks people whether they believe that government should provide more social services and place more regulations on, for example, environmental pollution or the financial industry.
The second question is basically asking how much you believe government should stay “out of the bedroom” and other aspects of American private lives. It also covers beliefs about whether government should support religion — by allowing school prayer, for example — or just keeps church and state completely separate.
Here’s the graph. Find your religious affiliation and see if it matches where you stand on those issues.
The graph shows, for instance, that people who identify as “Southern Baptist” lean toward a belief in smaller government that provides fewer services. At the same time, they believe the government should be highly involved in regulating the “moral” behavior of Americans.
American Muslims also want government to regulate morality, but they want government to provide more social services and take a stronger hand in regulating the economy.
Members of the Jewish faith who identify with the Conservative and Orthodox branches of Judaism are mostly in the political center. They somewhat favor a bigger government and one that regulates moral behavior, but their feelings are not strong on either count.
All other American Jews are emphatic about keeping government out of the private lives of Americans, but their preference for a bigger government is noticeable, but slight — about the same as their Conservative and Orthodox brethren.
Do you see yourself on this chart? How do your political beliefs line up with your religion?