As Republican presidential hopefuls try to outdo one another on religious rhetoric, a new poll finds that puts off an increasing number of voters — with a notable exception among Rick Santorum’s supporters.
The Pew Research Center poll, released Wednesday, found that 38% of those surveyed say there has been too much expression of religious faith by politicians, an all-time high during the decade-plus that Pew has been asking the question. Thirty percent said there has been too little. Those positions have flipped since 2010, when 37% said there was too little religious talk by politicians and 29% said there was too much. “The percentage saying there is too much … has increased across party lines, but this view remains far more widespread among Democrats than Republicans,” Pew notes on its website.
Pew also found that 54% of respondents thought churches and other houses of worship should stay out of politics, with 40% saying these institutions should “express views on social and political questions.” This is the third consecutive poll in which the former has exceeded the latter, Pew officials say.
Among Republican and Republican-leaning voters, 57% of those who favor Mitt Romney for the presidential nomination said churches should avoid politics. However, 60% of Santorum’s supporters said churches should be politically outspoken. Santorum, a devout Roman Catholic, is well known for his religion-based opposition to LGBT equality and abortion rights.
Santorum may have to tone down his rhetoric to broaden his appeal, observed Colorado State University instructor Kimberly Conger, a scholar of the interaction of religion and politics, in an interview with MSNBC.com. “It’s clear from the breakdown of religious and political groups that Rick Santorum ought to keep talking about religion as long as he’s fighting for the Republican nomination,” she said. “But if he were to win the nomination, he’d have to start appealing to independents, a key voting group that’s uncomfortable with candidates’ religious talk.”