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Religious information

Part 1: Prejudice in the U.S. towards various
religions, genders, sexual orientations: 1937 to now

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Barna Research 1995 poll on prejudice towards other religions:

Barna Research Ltd. is the most active conservative religious polling organization in the United States. They conduct telephone polls about a variety of topics -- mainly involving Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians. 1

George Barna, president of Barna Research commented: "While many Americans are not practicing Christians, they retain some identity with the Christian faith and remain protective of it. They are suspicious of other faith groups because they are unknown but different—and we are generally uncomfortable with those who are not just like us..." 

Barna asked a random selection of American adults in 1995-JUL whether they thought that various religions had a positive or negative effect on U.S. society. 2 Many public opinion polls from that era showed that about 85% of Americans identify with the Christian religion. A later, ARIS poll involving tens of thousands of subjects has suggested that this value has dropped to about 77% by 2001 and 76% by 2008. The following data are thus primarily based on the responses of Christians. The margin of error is within 3 percentage points:  

Religion % who say that the impact is positive * % who say that the impact is negative * % undecided * % Unfamiliar with the religion
Christianity 85%     6%
Judaism 58%     23%
Islam about 42% about 51% about 7% 35%
Buddhism 45% 51% 4% 35%
Mormonism 43% 27% 30% 26%
Scientology   63%   38%
Atheism 13%      

* These are the responses of those subjects who were familiar with the religion being considered. Thus, for Christianity, 6% of the subjects were unfamiliar with the religion and 94% of were familiar. Of the latter, 85% gave a positive assessment. 

Unfortunately, the Barna news release is missing many pieces of data. The study apparently classified the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, as a non-Christian denomination. Conservative Christians frequently define Mormonism as a non-Christian cult -- perhaps bordering on Christian Gnosticism -- rather than as a Christian denomination.  Barna Research apparently follows this practice.

American adults, whether Christian or non-Christian, apparently regard only Christianity and Judaism as having a positive influence on society. The remaining five religions are viewed by the average American as having a negative impact on society. These beliefs do not bode well for the future of religious tolerance and peace in the U.S. -- particularly in view of the rapid increase in religious diversity in that country.

Barna also compared the beliefs of those who go to church regularly with the unchurched:

Religion % of churchgoers who view the impact is positive * % of unchurched who view the impact is positive *
Christianity 89% 83%
Islam 21% 34%
Buddhism 21% 35%
Mormonism 38% 47%

Attending church obviously influences people to value Christianity more, and to hold a lower opinion of  other religions. Surveys consistently show that about 40% of Americans say that they regularly attend religious services. But these numbers appear to be inflated. Groups who have actually counted church attendance report that 20% is a closer estimate. 

Prejudice against those of other religions becomes even more serious when born again Christians are compared to non-Christians: 

Religion
% of born-again Christians who view the impact as negative *
% of non-Christians who view the impact as negative *
Islam 71% 24%
Buddhism 76% 22%
Scientology 81% 30%
Atheism 92% 50%

We suspect that mainline and liberal Christians have opinions that are intermediate between the above two groups. The percentage of American adults who are "born-again" is about 35%. The percentage of non-Christians is about 15%.

The extremely low regard for Atheists may well be mainly based on two factors:

bulletAtheism and Communism are often linked in news articles, sermons, etc. Although the vast majority of American Atheists are not Communists, the two have been often associated in the public's mind -- particularly in the past.

bulletThe vast majority of American adults believe in the existence of a personal deity. Atheists, of course, no such belief. Adults might view the Atheists as attacking their God.

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Repeated Gallup polls on prejudice based on religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, age, etc.:

Polls from 1937 to 2011 by the Gallup Organization are of particular value because they have asked essentially the same question of American adults for over four decades. One series of questions is typically worded:

"If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be a 'X' would you vote for that person?"

"X" is Atheist, Baptist, Black, Catholic, Homosexual, Jewish, Mormon, Woman, etc. Percentage of unprejudiced adults (those answering "yes") at approximately 20 year intervals have been:

Factor 1937 1959 1967 7 1978 1999 2007 7 2011
Atheist - 22%   40% 49% 45% 49%
Baptist - 94   - 94 - 92
Black 37 49 53 77 95 94 94
Catholic 60 70 90 91 94 95 92
Homosexual - -   26 59 55 67
Jewish 46 72 82 82 92 92 89
Mormon - -   75 79 72 76
Woman 33 57 57 76 92 88 93
Hispanic           87 89
Married 3 times - - - - 67 -
72 years of age - -   - - 57 -

In the past seven decades, Americans have made impressive gains in overcoming bigotry on the basis of religion, sex, and race. However, they have lots of room for improvement in reducing bigotry towards Atheists, homosexuals, and the elderly.

In 1978, the most discriminated-against characteristic was homosexuality; only about one in four Americans would vote for a well-qualified homosexual. Gays and lesbians have made impressive gains in acceptance. Now, about two in three Americans would consider voting for one.  

In 1978, the second most-discriminated against group were Atheists. Only four Americans in ten would vote for a well-qualified Atheist. In 1999, Atheists had made a slight gain; half would vote for one.

The data shown for 2007 was collected between February 9 and 11. A later survey, taken in 2007-DEC showed that the acceptance level for a Mormon president had risen from 72% to 80% during the year. This increase was probably due to the presence of Mitt Romney as a Republican candidate for the presidency.

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Americans improve their view of Muslims after 9/11:

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press conducted a public opinion poll among 1,500 adults on 2001-NOV-13 to 19. The margin of error is within 3 percentage points. The results were surprising:
bullet

The percentage of Americans with a favorable view of Muslims rose from 45% in May to 59% in November.


bullet

The percentage of conservative Republicans with a favorable view of Muslims rose from 35% to 64%!


bullet

"Most respondents -- 89%--completely or mostly rejected the idea that the [911 terrorist] attacks were a sign God was not protecting the United States. Evangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson had made that argument, then later apologized for the remarks." 10

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This topic continued in a separate essay

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Related essays:

bulletHow Christians view other religions

bulletHow Roman Catholics view other denominations and religions

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References

  1. Barna Research has a home page at: http://www.barna.org
  2. "Christianity has a strong positive image despite fewer active participants," Barna Research, 1996-FEB-5, at: http://www.barna.org/
  3. "Americans today much more accepting of a woman, black, Catholic or Jew as president; Still reluctant to vote for Atheists or homosexuals," The Gallup Organization, 1999-MAR-29, at: http://www.gallup.com/
  4. "U.S. Muslims' Image Gains, Poll Finds," Associated Press, 2001-DEC-7, at: http://www.latimes.com/
  5. Frank Newport, "Americans' Views of the Mormon Religion: Most frequent top-of-mind impression of Mormons is polygamy," The Gallup Poll®, 2007-MAR-02, at: http://www.galluppoll.com/ This may be a temporary listing.
  6. "Washington Post-ABC News Poll," 2007-FEB-27, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  7. "Some Americans Reluctant to Vote for Mormon, 72-Year-Old Presidential Candidates," Gallup, 2007-FEB-20, at: http://www.gallup.com/
  8. "Percentage Unwilling to Vote for a Mormon Holds Steady," Gallup, 2007-DEC-11, at: http://www.gallup.com/
  9. "In U.S., 22% Are Hesitant to Support a Mormon in 2012," Gallup, 2011-JUN-20, at: http://www.gallup.com
  10. "Poll finds improved view of U.S. Muslims," Associated Press, 2001-DEC-07, at: http://www2.ljworld.com/

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 Home page > Christianity > Christian history, belief... > Polls > here

 Home page > Religious info. > Basic info. > Polls > here

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 Home page > Religious info. > Basic info. > Polls > here

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Copyright © 1999 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-DEC-8
Latest update: 2011-JUN-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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