Republicans express a much wider array of feelings toward people of different religious groups than do Democrats, according to a new Pew Research Center report. Pew asked respondents to rate different faiths on a "feeling thermometer" ranging from 0 (most negative) to 100 (most positive). Overall, Americans had the most positive feelings toward Jews, Catholics and Evangelical Christians, and more negative feelings toward atheists and Muslims.
But there are striking differences between respondents of different political parties. Republicans are much more positively disposed toward Evangelicals and Mormons than Democrats, and they have significantly more negative views of atheists and Muslims. The chart below says it all.
Overall, the Democratic spread between most-liked and least-liked faith groups is 18 points, compared to 38 points among Republicans. This reflects a number of political realities, the first being that Republicans are more than three times as likely as Democrats to be white evangelical Protestants. Republicans are also more likely to say that religion plays an important role in their lives.
Republicans' embrace of a predominately white, evangelical flavor of Christianity is both an asset and a liability at the ballet box. It's been great for shoring up their support among religious conservatives, but their support among the religiously unaffiliated - a rapidly growing demographic - has been eroding for decades.
Today's Pew study indicates that these trends are self-reinforcing. Republicans hold negative views of atheists and Muslims, which causes these groups to leave the Republican party, which in turn leaves the party with a more religiously homogeneous core. Meanwhile, the opposite dynamic is occurring among white Evangelical voters.
Religious identity is less fundamental to the Democratic party, so Democrats' disposition toward religious groups are more muted than Republicans'. In the end this makes for a broader religious coalition, but one with less intensity of feeling.
For more on the Pew poll, read Michelle Boorstein's take: "Which is your favorite faith group? Most Americans answer: My own."