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Support for War Modestly Higher Among More Religious Americans

Support for War Modestly Higher Among More Religious Americans

Those who identify with the religious right most likely to favor military action

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- There is a modest relationship between Americans' strength of religious attachment and support for war in Iraq. The strongest relationship is observed among those who identify themselves as members of the religious right. Those who identify themselves in this way are significantly more supportive of military action against Iraq than are those who do not. Americans who indicate that religion is not very important in their daily lives are the least likely to support war with Iraq. These relationships are in part explained by the underlying tendency for those who are most religious to identify with the Republican Party.

Just War?

The issue of religion and attitudes toward war is one that has risen off and on throughout history when there have been major military conflicts. Ministers, priests, and other religious leaders have often been at the forefront of protests and efforts to stop wars, including the current build-up to a possible war in Iraq. To some this seems like a natural relationship. Most religions preach a doctrine of love and acceptance, concepts that to many are antithetical to hostile, violent ways of solving conflicts.

At the same time, other religious individuals have found throughout history that some wars are necessary, moral, and justifiable. The Christian thinker St. Augustine is among those credited with having developed the theory of a "just war" consisting of criteria that a war would have to meet in order to be considered morally justifiable. In February 1991, the Gallup Poll tested several of the "just war" or "casus belli" requirements and found that the Persian Gulf War at that time generally met all of them as far as the American public was concerned. About three-quarters of Americans said that the Persian Gulf War was a "just" one, and 54% said that there was a just or moral reason for taking that particular military action.

The Data

All of this has raised the question about the relationship between religion and support for the current possibility of war in Iraq. The data presented in the following table are based on the Feb. 17-19, 2003, Gallup Poll, which included Gallup's basic question on attitudes toward the looming military conflict ("Would you favor or oppose invading Iraq with U.S. ground troops in an attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power?") and also a variety of religious indicators. The rows in the table are ranked based on level of support for military action:

 

FAVOR OR OPPOSE MILITARY ACTION IN IRAQ

By Religious Attitudes and Behavior

February 17-19, 2003

Favor Military Action/Iraq

Oppose Military Action/Iraq

Sample Size

%

%

%

Member of Religious Right

70

26

148

Born Again or Evangelical

64

32

394

Attend Church Almost Every Week

63

34

123

Religion Fairly Important

62

35

245

Attend Church at Least Once a Week

62

33

327

Attended Church Within Last 7 Days

61

35

393

Religion Very Important

60

36

584

Member of Church/Synagogue

60

36

654

NATIONAL AVERAGE

59

38

1,002

Did Not Attend Church Within Last 7 Days

57

40

607

Attend Church Once a Month

57

42

136

Seldom Attend Church

56

40

289

Not Member of Religious Right

56

41

802

Not Member of Church/Synagogue

56

41

346

Not Born Again

56

41

563

Never Attend Church

55

42

123

Religion Not Very Important

49

49

170



As can be seen, the differences between support for war and these various subgroups of the U.S. population are not large, for the most part, but those who are most religious (based on these indicators) generally tend to be above average in their support for military action, while those who are less religious tend to be less in favor.

  • Clearly one of the biggest discriminators is self-identification with the religious right. Seventy percent of those who say they are members of the religious right (about 18% of the population) support the war, compared with 56% of those who do not identify with the religious right.
  • Those who accept the label of "born again" are eight points more likely to favor the war than those who do not.
  • The roughly 17% of Americans who say that religion is "not very important" in their lives are significantly below the national average in terms of support for war (49% as opposed to 59% for the national average).
  • Similarly, those who say they never attend church (a small group of about 13% of Americans) are less likely to support the war than those who attend every week or almost every week. There is, however, little significant difference between those who attended church in the last seven days before the poll took place and those who did not.

The Party Dimension

One explanation for these findings lies in the fact that there is a relationship between religiosity and political party identification in America today. Almost all recent studies show that Americans who report being more religious are more likely to be Republicans, while those who report being less religious are more likely to be either independents (that is, do not claim to identify with either party) or to be Democrats.

Here, by way of example, is a table that shows the relationship between each of the religious indicators discussed above and partisan identification:

 

POLITICAL PARTY IDENTIFICATION

By Religious Attitudes and Behavior

February 17-19, 2003

Republican

Independent

Democrat

Sample Size

Born Again or Evangelical

39

27

34

394

Attend Church Almost Every Week

38

32

30

123

Attend Church at Least Once a Week

38

26

36

327

Attended Church Within Last 7 Days

38

30

32

393

Member of Religious Right

38

34

28

148

Member of Church/Synagogue

36

29

35

654

Religion Very Important

34

30

36

584

Religion Fairly Important

30

34

37

245

Attend Church Once a Month

29

32

40

136

Not Member of Religious Right

29

34

37

802

Did Not Attend Church Within Last 7 Days

27

37

35

607

Not Born Again

26

39

35

563

Seldom Attend Church

26

40

34

289

Never Attend Church

23

45

31

123

Not Member of Church/Synagogue

23

45

32

346

Religion Not Very Important

23

52

26

170



The correlation between religion and identification with the Republican Party is clearly visible in these data. Thirty-eight percent or more of those who are born again, attend church almost every week or more, attended in the last seven days before the poll, and who are members of the religious right identify with the Republican Party. Less than 25% of those who never attend church, who are not members of a church or synagogue, and for whom religion is not very important are Republicans.

In the current situation, there is a very strong relationship between partisan identification and support for the war. The Feb. 17-19 poll shows that 84% of Republicans support the war, compared with 57% of independents and only 37% of Democrats. This is not surprising given that the possibility of war is being pushed by a Republican administration, but clearly demonstrates that one's political orientation is the most powerful predictor of one's stance on possible military action against Iraq.

Thus, at least part of the explanation for the relationship between higher levels of religiosity and support for military action against Iraq is based on the interrelationship among three factors: being Republican, being religious, and supporting the war.

Survey Methods

The latest results are based on telephone interviews with 1,002 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 17-19, 2003. 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. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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