Religious Americans more inclined to have upbeat outlook
But the Baylor poll found that the more religious someone is, the more likely they are to believe that people start life with equal chances and prosper based on hard work. Of those who said they were very religious, 92 percent said anything is possible for those who work hard.
"What we picked up on is religion is a motivator for people who say that despite their circumstances they believe with hard work things will get better and maybe by God's grace and help we are going to make it," said Kevin Dougherty, a sociologist who also worked on the Baylor study.
One's faith in God and concept of who God is can also be a factor in their outlook on life, Froese said.
"People who think God is in control are more happy than other people," he said the survey found. "People who think God is loving and caring and not judgmental and wrathful aren't as pessimistic about things. There are people who have a happier picture of God and stay happy no matter where they are economically."
Under the heading "God Worriers," the Baylor study showed that worriers or those who are sad or depressed are less likely to attend church or consider themselves very religious.
About America's future, the PRRI survey found 54 percent overall believe the country's best days are still ahead. But some are more optimistic than others. Nearly six-in-10 (57 percent) white college-educated Americans believe that America’s best days are ahead of us, while white working-class Americans are evenly split in their outlook at 46 percent.
White evangelical Protestants were the most pessimistic about the future with 47 percent saying America's best days are behind us, compared to 64 percent of black Protestants and 58 percent of Catholics saying the best days are yet to come.
Regardless of their outlook on the future, all religious segments in the PRRI poll, except the religiously unaffiliated, agreed that their country has a divinely ordained place in human history. Leading out on that question were white evangelical Protestants (85 percent) and black Protestants (82 percent), compared to 63 percent of Catholics and 55 percent of white mainline Protestants.
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