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Pew study: Religion plays key role in deciphering public opinion

Pew study says faith plays role in some, but not all, issues

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 22 2010 12:15 p.m. MDT

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SALT LAKE CITY — While a number of Americans cite religion as the most important influence on shaping their opinion on key social issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion and the death penalty, religious attitudes play a substantially lesser role when it comes to opinions on poverty, immigration and the environment.

So shows a recent nationwide poll — the 2010 annual religion and public life survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Same-sex marriage is the leading issue where respondents say religion belief is the most important influence in their opinion — at 35 percent, including 60 percent of those identifying themselves as conservative and 5 percent of liberals.

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Following that are abortion and the death penalty, at 26 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

Conversely, government assistance to the poor and hungry (10 percent), immigration (7 percent) and the environment (6 percent) are the issues where the fewest respondents say religious beliefs take the top role in forming opinion.

Poll participants were given 13 social issues and asked to rank them going into this fall's elections as very important, somewhat important, not too important or not important at all.

A majority of responders gave "very important" marks to 11 of the 13 issues, led by the economy and jobs at 90 and 88 percent, respectively. Rounding out the top five — all with at least two-thirds of the vote — were health care, terrorism and the budget deficit.

Three of the bottom five — Afghanistan, immigration and the environment — still earned "very important" consideration by a majority of respondents. At the end of the rankings were abortion at 43 percent and same-sex marriage at 32 percent.

The poll results were based on responses provided by 3,003 adults in the continental United States contacted in late July and early August via landline telephone and cell phone calls.

On immigration, 24 percent of respondents said their clergy at places of worship had spoken on the issue. Of that group, nearly half said the clergy spoke favorably toward immigrants and immigration allowances, while another quarter said their clergy were delivering anti-immigration messages.

Forty-two percent respondents said they look for immigration policies that give equal priority to both better border security and stronger enforcement as well as creating paths for illegal immigrants to become U.S. citizens.

By comparison, 33 percent wanted priority first to security and enforcement, while 22 percent preferred paths to citizenship.

Regarding the environment, 47 percent reported hearing their clergy speak out, mostly to encourage environmental protections. A great majority of those surveyed — 81 percent — favor greater protections, while 14 percent oppose.

Poverty and hunger was the social issue most often heard from the clergy, as identified by 88 percent of the respondents. Sixty-three percent favor more generous aid to the poor, with 31 percent opposed — partisan lines were most obvious here, with 80 percent Democrats in support and 50 percent Republicans opposed.

Regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage, 44 percent of those surveyed had heard clergy speak on the issue, an overwhelming majority in opposition.

Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they had heard their clergy speak out on abortion — higher than any issue other than hunger and poverty.

The complete questionnaire and survey results can be found online, at: pewforum.org/Politics-and-Elections/Few-Say-Religion-Shapes-Immigration-Environment-Views.aspx.

e-mail: taylor@desnews.com

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