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  •   About This Survey

    Thursday, October 29, 1998

    Religion and Politics

    America is a nation of believers, but the country is divided on the role religion should play in politics:

    Q: How important is religion in your everyday life?

    Extremely important, but not the most important thing:  20%
    Very important:  29%
    The most important thing in your life:  19%
    Not important at all:  8%
    Somewhat important:  23%
    No opinion:  1%
    Q: Would you rather see religious and spiritual values have greater influence in politics and public life than they do now, less influence, or about the same influence as they do now?
    Same                                              38%
    Greater                                           38%
    Less                                              22%
    No opinion                                         2%
    Q: Religion has had an increasing impact on the political views of many Americans. Which of the following two statements comes closer to your view?
    It is important for organized religious groups to stand
    up for their beliefs in politics.:  52%
    Organized religious groups of all kinds
    should stay out of politics.:  45%
    Neither/no opinion:  3%
    The government should take special steps to
    protect America's religious heritage.:  48%
    There should be a high degree of separation
    between church and state.:  47%
    Neither/no opinion:  5%
    Religious people must take political action
    in order to protect their rights.:  56%
    The influence of religion on American politics
    threatens to divide us as a country.:  35%
    Neither/no opinion:  9%
    Republicans are only somewhat more likely than Democrats to say that church and state should be more closely aligned. Black Democrats support government involvement in protecting religion more often than their white counterparts.
    All                   Democrats           Republicans
    All        White      Black
    Government should take steps to protect religious heritage
    48%         45%         41%         55%       54%
    High degree of separation between church and state
    47          52          55          40        42
    Those with a more intense religious commitment see a larger role for religion in politics. Still, about a third of the most religious Americans want to maintain a strict divide between church and state.
    How important is religion in your life . . .
    Most      Extremely Very      Somewhat   Not at all
    important important important important  important
    Government should take steps to protect religious heritage
    64%         59%         51%         35%         14%
    High degree of separation between church and state
    30          38          43          61          84
    Results presented here are from a Washington Post/Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University telephone survey of 2,025 randomly selected adults nationwide, conducted July 29 to Aug. 18. Percentages may not add to 100 because responses of those with no opinion are not always shown. The margin of error for overall results is plus or minus 2 percentage points, and somewhat higher for subsamples. Sampling error is one of many potential sources of error in this or any other public opinion poll. Interviewing was conducted by Chilton Research of Horsham, Pa.

    The Survey Team

    These surveys are the fifth in a series of projects that The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University are conducting on contemporary issues.

    Representatives of the three sponsors worked closely to develop the survey questionnaire and analyze the results on which this series is based. The Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, with Harvard University, are publishing independent summaries of the findings; each organization bears the sole responsibility for the work that appears under its name. The Kaiser Family Foundation and The Post paid for the surveys and related expenses. The survey data will be sent later this year to the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut, where copies of the survey questionnaire and data will be available.

    The project team included Richard Morin, Post director of polling, and Claudia Deane, assistant director of polling; Robert J. Blendon, a Harvard University professor who holds joint appointments in the School of Public Health and the Kennedy School of Government, and John Benson, deputy director for public opinion and health/social policy at the Harvard School of Public Health; Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation; and Mollyann Brodie, director of special projects for the Kaiser Foundation, a nonprofit organization that sponsors research into health care and other public policy issues.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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