skip to main content
Public Favors Bush's Faith-Based Charities Initiative

Public Favors Bush's Faith-Based Charities Initiative

Support strongest among Republicans, conservatives and churchgoers


PRINCETON, NJ -- President Bush hopes to pass legislation that would give religious organizations access to federal grants to help them fund the social services they provide, what he calls "faith-based initiatives." For the most part, only secular groups can receive funds to assist in providing most social services, such as those to combat hunger, homelessness, and domestic violence. On July 19, the House passed a bill that would significantly expand the number of program areas for which religious charitable organizations could receive federal aid. Its status in the Democratic-controlled Senate is uncertain at this point, even though President Bush has set the August Congressional recess as his goal for signing a bill into law.

The following are the major findings on the issue from this year.

  • Americans favor the idea of allowing religious organizations to receive federal funds to provide social services.
  • There is a range of support found in polls, depending on the context in which the question is asked.

    • At the low end is a February 1-4 Gallup poll which found 48% of Americans approved and 44% disapproved of an "initiative which will use government funds to help religious organizations provide social services." The previous question in this particular survey associated the plan with President Bush, which led most Democrats and many independents to oppose the idea.

    Other polls, which have asked about faith-based initiatives in other contexts, have shown higher levels of support.

    • A March CBS/New York Times poll showed that 66% thought it was a good idea and 30% thought it was a bad idea for the "federal government to give money to religious organizations so they can provide social services."
    • Similarly, a March Pew Research Center poll showed 69% favored and just 26% opposed charitable organizations that have a religious affiliation "applying for government funds to provide social services."
    • An April ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that 58% of Americans thought federal funds should be given to non-religious groups, while just 33% thought they should be given to secular groups only.
  • Support for faith-based initiatives is somewhat dependent on which charities benefit.
  • Many Americans who support the idea in general still do so when they are told the funds would go to conservative Christian or Islamic religions.

    • Among those who said they approved of Bush's initiative in the February Gallup poll, 87% said they would still approve if the funds went to help conservative Christian churches.
    • Fewer, but still a majority (62%), said they would still approve if the funds went to help Islamic religious organizations provide social services.
    • The ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that supporter's opinions were even more susceptible to change if "Hare Krishnas, Nation of Islam, and Scientologists" were able to apply for funds. Forty-seven percent who earlier said they would approve now said they would disapprove, while an equal proportion said they would still approve.

    Taken together, these data suggest that support for the plan could diminish if the specific religions that might benefit were made known to the American public. Less than a majority of Americans would probably favor the proposal if they knew that the Hare Krishnas, Scientologists, and Nation of Islam would benefit, but a majority would still favor the aid if it went to conservative Christian and possibly Islamic groups.

  • Conservatives, Republicans and frequent churchgoers are much more likely to favor faith-based initiatives.
  • In the February Gallup poll, a majority of those who indicated they attend church at least monthly favored Bush's faith-based initiative, while only 37% of those who "seldom" or "never" attend church favored it.

    Additionally, nearly seven in 10 Republicans approved of Bush's initiative, as compared to just 32% of Democrats. The numbers are quite similar among conservatives (62% approve) and liberals (30%).

  • Americans generally approve of the way President Bush is handling the issue.
  • A July 10-11 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows that 46% of Americans approve, 32% disapprove and 22% have no opinion of the way Bush has handled "faith based initiatives." Compared to other issues tested, Bush's approval ratings on faith-based initiatives are among the lowest, however this is due in part to the fact that many Americans do not have an opinion on the issue.

    As would be expected, Republicans are much more likely to approve of Bush on this issue (69%) than are independents (41%) and Democrats (28%). In fact, a majority of Democrats (52%) disapprove of Bush's handling of faith-based initiatives.

  • Americans are paying attention to the issue.
  • The February Gallup poll showed that 60% of Americans were closely following the issue, including 21% who said they were following it "very closely." This is much higher than the percentage of Americans who are following other topical issues, including campaign finance reform (49%), the president's energy plan (46%), stem cell research (38%), and a patient's bill of rights (36%).

  • The public has a moderate amount of confidence in faith-based charitable organizations.
  • Thirty-seven percent of Americans say they have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in faith-based charitable organizations, and an additional 40% have "some" confidence. That places faith-based charities in the middle of a list of 16 institutions Gallup tested this year. Many more Americans, 60%, said they have confidence in organized religion.

Now I am going to read you a list of institutions in American society. Please tell me how much confidence you, yourself, have in each one -- a great deal, quite a lot, some, or very little?


2001 Jun 8-10
(sorted by "a great deal/quite a lot")

Great deal/ Quite a lot


The military


The church or organized religion


The police


The U.S. Supreme Court


The presidency




The medical system


The public schools


Faith-based charitable organizations




Television news


The electric power utilities


Big business


Organized labor




Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs)


Survey Methods

Results reported here are based on telephone interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 18+, in each of three separate polls conducted February 1-4, 2001, June 6-8, 2001, and July 10-11, 2001. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030