Poll finds evangelicals stand apart on evolution
Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service
October 06, 2011

Poll finds evangelicals stand apart on evolution

Poll finds evangelicals stand apart on evolution
Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service
October 06, 2011

WASHINGTON – White evangelicals and Tea Party members are

less likely to believe in evolution and climate change than most Americans, a finding

that could pose a particular problem for Republican presidential hopefuls.

A new poll released Sept. 22 also showed that a majority of

Americans (57 percent) believes in evolution, and an even larger majority (69

percent) believes in climate change – though many still disagree that the

phenomenon is based on human activity.

But most Americans do not insist that their presidential

candidates share their views on these issues, nor do they believe scientists

have come to a consensus on them, according to the poll conducted by the Public

Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in partnership with Religion News Service.

The views of white evangelicals and Tea Party members stand


Even though these issues aren’t deal-breakers for most

voters, they are “symbolically important for two groups that play an outsize

role in Republican primary politics: white evangelical Protestants and members of

the Tea Party,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI.

“Because evangelicals and Tea Party members hold views that

are significantly different than the general population, the challenge for Republican

candidates is to talk about these issues now in a way that will not hurt them

later in the general election,” Jones said.

On evolution, a third (32 percent) of white evangelicals

affirm a belief in evolution, compared to two-thirds of white mainline Protestants,

six in 10 Catholics and three-quarters of the unaffiliated.

On climate change, though strong majorities in every

religious group say they believe the earth is getting warmer, white

evangelicals (31 percent) are significantly less likely to believe the change

is caused by human activity. That compares to 43 percent of white mainline Protestants,

50 percent of Catholics and 52 percent of the unaffiliated.

The poll reveals an unusual political schism on climate change.

Typically, Republicans come down on one side of a question, Democrats on the

other, and independents in the middle, said Dan Cox, PRRI’s research director.

On climate change, Republicans (49 percent) cluster with Tea

Party members (41 percent) on whether there is solid evidence that the earth is

warming. That compares to 81 percent of Democrats and seven in 10 independents.

“There is no reason for climate change to be a partisan

issue,” said Cox. “But the political leadership on the issue has led to a polarization

of opinion, with Democrats and independents on one side and Republicans on the


Many Americans say they do not care much about a candidate’s

stance on either evolution or climate change: more than half (53 percent) say a

belief or disbelief in evolution wouldn’t affect their vote, and about as many

say the same about a candidate who doesn’t believe climate change is caused by

human activity.

White evangelicals, however, care.

Only four in 10 evangelicals say a candidate’s views on evolution

would make no difference in their vote, and those who say they cared about a

candidate’s position say they would be less likely to vote for someone who

believes in evolution. By contrast, Americans overall who cared about evolution

say they’d be more likely to vote for a politician who believes in it.

Tea Party members (33 percent), more than any other group,

are more likely to support a candidate who does not believe in climate change. That

compares to 16 percent of Republicans and 5 percent of Democrats.

Americans also doubt a strong consensus exists among

scientists on climate change, a phenomenon that has frustrated the vast

majority of climatologists who consider it a problem caused by human activity.

Only four in 10 Americans believe a consensus exists.

A slight majority (51 percent)

says a consensus of scientists believes in evolution, though evolution is

overwhelmingly endorsed throughout the scientific community.

In other findings:

  • On stewardship of the earth, 57 percent say God wants humans

    to live responsibly with animals and plants. A sizable minority (36 percent), however,

    prefers the idea that “God gave human beings the right to use animals, plants

    and all the resources of the planet for human benefit.”

  • Black Protestants are evenly divided on evolution, with 47

    percent affirming it and 46 percent affirming creationism.

  • Though most Americans believe in evolution, they disagree

    on its driving force. Of those who believe in evolution, 30 percent say it’s driven

    by natural selection or another natural process, compared to 22 percent who say

    a divine being guides it.

The PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey was based on telephone

interviews with 1,013 adults between Sept. 14 and 18. The poll has a margin of error

of plus or minus 3 percentage points.