With election season in full swing, a growing number of Americans believe that religion is losing its influence in public life — and they are unhappy about it.

That’s the finding of a Pew Research Center poll released today that found that 72 percent of Americans believe religion is losing its influence, up five points from 2010.

“Most people (overwhelmingly Christians) view this as a bad thing,” said Greg Smith, associate director of Pew’s Religion & Public Life Project. “That unhappiness may be behind their desire for more religion and politics.”

So what should churches and other places of worship do about it?

The poll found that 49 percent of Americans want churches to “express their views on day-to-day social and political questions,” up from 43 percent just before the 2010 elections.

The numbers of Catholics who want their Church to be more engaged in the political arena increased, too, to 48 percent today, up from 37 percent in 2010. Forty-three percent of Catholics believe political leaders express their faith too little.

“People still see religion as one of the foundational sources of morality. They still want to see that in their leaders,” said John Green, professor of political science at the University of Akron and senior research adviser for the Pew Research Center.

Further, while still a minority, a growing number of Americans, 32 percent, think churches should endorse candidates, up from 24 percent in 2010. Of course, churches and other houses of worship are barred by their tax-exempt status from getting too involved in partisan politics, which includes a prohibition on candidate endorsements.

More Hispanic Catholics, 38 percent, want churches to endorse candidates than white Catholics, at 28 percent. There was a slight gap about whether or not members of Congress should have a strong religious faith, with 63 percent of Hispanic Catholics and 59 percent of white Catholics agreeing with that sentiment.

Half of Hispanic Catholics view religion’s waning influence as a “bad thing” with more white Catholics, 67 percent, agreeing.

Unsurprisingly, the poll found lower numbers of the religiously unaffiliated and Democrats looking for churches to be more vocal in the political sphere.

Obama administration seen as “unfriendly” to religion

Just 30 percent of Americans view the Obama Administration as “friendly toward religion,” down seven points from 2009.

Catholic bishops have been engaged in public battles with President Obama over certain elements of his healthcare law, and to a lesser extent, comprehensive immigration reform. The numbers from Pew show a sharp decline in the number of Catholics who believe his administration is friendly toward religion, with 30 percent saying yes, down 8 points from 2009.

A third of Catholics believe they face discrimination, though only 19 percent of all Americans share that belief. The most discriminated group according to the study? Gays and lesbians, with 65 percent of all Americans saying that members of that group face discrimination. Sixty-seven percent of Catholics agree.

Both parties viewed as unfriendly, neutral toward religion

When it comes to political parties, both are viewed as “unfriendly” or “neutral” toward religion by most Americans. Forty-one percent of Catholics view the Republican Party as friendly toward religion, and 28 percent of Catholics say the same about Democrats. White Catholics see the GOP as the friendlier party, while Hispanic Catholics point to the Democrats as the friendlier of the two. More Catholics believe the Democratic Party does a better job representing their political beliefs than the Republican Party, yet white Catholics identify more strongly with the GOP while Hispanic Catholics are more likely to identify with Democrats.

When it comes to voting this November, nearly 80 percent of Catholics say they will “definitely vote,” up 11 points from 2010. Catholics fall in line with other religious groups on issues important to them, ranking terrorism, the economy, and healthcare at the top.

“Social issues such as birth control, abortion and gay marriage are consistently at the bottom of the list of what’s most important to voters,” said Jessica Martinez, a Pew research associate. “There’s no evidence these will be deal breakers now.”

Small drop in support for same-sex marriage

The survey found a five-point dip from February in support for same-sex marriage, at 49 percent in favor and 41 percent opposed. “It is too early to know if this modest decline is an anomaly or the beginning of a reversal or leveling off in attitudes toward gay marriage,” the report states.

Half of all Americans “considers homosexuality a sin,” up from 45 percent in 2013, but 49 percent of Americans believe business should be required to provide wedding services to same-sex couples, with majorities of white and Hispanic Catholics agreeing.

When it comes to homosexual behavior, 44 percent of Catholics say it’s a sin, below the 50 percent of the general population and 82 percent of white Evangelicals who believe this.

A slight majority of Catholics, 52 percent, favors legalizing same-sex marriage, with Hispanics favoring it slightly more than white Catholics.  Among religious groups surveyed by Pew, Catholics are second only to white mainline Protestants when it comes to support for same-sex marriage.


Just over half of all Catholics believe abortion should be “legal in all or most cases,” with 55 percent of the general population sharing this belief.

The survey of 2,002 U.S. adults was conducted Sept. 2-9 on cell phones and landlines. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Material from the Religion News Service was used in this report.