Both sides of the political debate agree that there’s a schism of sorts in America, a cultural battle that transcends ordinary politicking and goes to the heart of how we see ourselves and our fellow Americans. And one of the elements of that cultural battle, the latest I&I/TIPP Poll suggests, is religion.
The monthly I&I/TIPP sounding of public opinion asked: “Do you agree or disagree with the statement “religion is under attack in the U.S.?”
Among those responding, 52% said they agree, while 40% said they disagree. About 9% said they weren’t sure (numbers don’t add to 100% due to rounding).
Perhaps this is not surprising, given the widening disagreements between the political left and right on a host of issues, ranging from race and election laws to taxes and regulations, and everything in between.
Indeed, a look at the poll’s data breakdown shows a sharp split between right and left on the issue.
It will come as no surprise, perhaps, that those most convinced that religion is under attack in the U.S. are those who self-describe as Conservative. Some 76% agreed with the statement, while just 21% disagreed.
Just 34% of self-described Liberals, on the other hand, believed that religion was under attack, while 60% disagreed.
Moderates, as is often the case, stood somewhere in the middle, with a plurality of 48% agreeing and 42% disagreeing.
These data by political ideology are mirrored by party affiliation. Democrats (43% “agree”, 49% “disagree) are mostly skeptical, while Republicans (74% vs. 21%) and Independents (45% vs. 43%) mostly agree.
One group that especially stands out in their disagreement with the notion: The very young.
Among those 18-24, just 40% say religion has come under attack, while 52% disagree. This is the only age group below 50% on answering “agree.” All of the three older age categories were 51% “agree” or higher.
January’s I&I/TIPP poll included 1,308 adults and was carried out online from Jan. 5-8 by TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, I&I’s polling partner. It has a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points.
But even among religious people, there is no unanimity. For instance, 64% of Protestants, 57% of Catholics, 69% of Mormons, and 67% of “other” Christians see religion under attack. And 56% of Muslims do.
But only 32% of followers of Judaism and 42% of those who belong to the various Orthodox Christian churches agree.
Broken down that way, 62% of Christians agree, but only 44% of all “other religions” do. Lower still are those with no religion: 29%.
There is little question that attacks on religion have picked up in recent years, especially during the pandemic and recent riots in major American cities.
Is the sudden post-Trump political resurgence of far-left identity politics and the so-called progressive left to blame? Or is it part of a longer trend? Possibly, both.
“The number of violent attacks on churches and church gatherings witnessed in recent months is unsettling,” according to a Newsweek op-ed back in August 2020, during the George Floyd riots and the first summer of COVID. “Using the pandemic as an excuse, elected officials have threatened to permanently shut down synagogues, banned drive-in church services, and forbidden singing or chanting in religious services, while decreeing that massive protests with shouting and singing are allowed.”
But there’s another possible explanation: Americans are just becoming less religious and thus less likely to see religious rights as important.
The Gallup Poll has tracked longitudinal trends in American religiosity all the way back to the 1930s.
In two polls last year, Gallup found that just under 75% of Americans identified themselves as having a specific religious faith. Some 69% were Christian, 2% Jewish, and 6% were other, (including 1% Muslim and 1% Buddhist). Another 21% said they “have no religious preference,” Gallup said.
That marks a sea-change in American life over the last two decades.
As recently as 2000, 84% identified as Christian, 2% as Jewish, and 5% as “other.” Only 8% said they had “no religion,” a shift of 13 percentage points.
In demographics, where changes often happen at a glacial pace, this marks a huge and rapid shift.
Even so, religion continues to play a key role in American life. Which, to believers, makes attacks on religion all the more distressing.
As the Heritage Foundation recently noted: “An estimated 350,000 religious congregations operate schools, pregnancy resource centers, soup kitchens, drug addiction programs, homeless shelters, and adoption agencies. These serve 70 million Americans each year and the value of their services are estimated at over $44.3 billion annually.”
And yet, even as Americans become less religious, they still treasure the idea of religious freedom, polls show. But will they act to protect it?
I&I/TIPP plans to continue providing timely and informative data from our monthly polls on this topic and others of interest. TIPP has distinguished itself by being the most accurate pollster for the past five presidential elections.
Terry Jones is an editor of Issues & Insights. His four decades of journalism experience include serving as national issues editor, economics editor and editorial page editor for Investor’s Business Daily.