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Are Religious Progressives Poised to Outnumber Faithful Conservatives? This New Study Might Surprise You


"Democrats often face the challenge of balancing diverse religious perspectives within their coalition."

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Will religious progressives soon overtake conservatives in size and scope?

Traditionally, the proportion of the faithful with right-of-center views has been much larger than its leftist counterpart, however a new study from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the left-leaning Brookings Institute shows that there could be growth among religious progressives in years to come.

The results found that, currently, 28 percent of Americans are religious conservatives, 19 percent are religious progressives and 38 percent are religious moderates. Additionally, as has been consistently found, 15 percent of Americans consider themselves non-religious.

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“Our new research shows a complex religious landscape, with religious conservatives holding an advantage over religious progressives in terms of size and homogeneity,” explained Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI.

Despite this advantage, though, Jones noted that the proportion of religious conservatives has shrunk over the generations and that Millennials -- today's young Americans -- are more progressive than they are conservative.

"What we see is not a one-to-one replacement of religious conservatives with religious progressives," Jones said, according to the Huffington post, noting that as religious conservatism appears to be decreasing, progressivism is remaining steady.

In covering the study, HuffPo also provides the following warning for religious conservatism: "With each generation, the popularity of religious conservatism has declined. Forty-seven percent of the Silent Generation (ages 66 to 88) are religious conservatives, compared with 34 percent of Baby Boomers, 23 percent of Gen Xers and 17 percent of Millennials.:

Here's how a press release from PRRI more fully describes the paradigm:

Religious progressives are significantly younger and more diverse than their conservative counterparts. The mean age of the religious progressive population is 44 – just under the mean age in the general population of 47 – while the mean age of religious conservatives is 53. Twenty-three percent of Millennials (ages 18-33) are religious progressives, while 17 percent are religious conservatives. Among Millennials, there are also nearly as many nonreligious (22 percent) as religious progressives. Conversely, 12 percent of the Silent Generation (ages 66-88) are religious progressives, while 47 percent are religious conservatives. One-in-ten (10 percent) of the Silent Generation are nonreligious.

Religious progressives are considerably more diverse than religious conservatives. Catholics (29 percent) constitute the largest single group among religious progressives, followed by white mainline Protestants (19 percent), those who are not formally affiliated with a religious tradition but who nevertheless say religion is at least somewhat important in their lives (18 percent), and non-Christian religious Americans such as Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims (13 percent). Notably, white evangelical Protestants constitute only four percent of religious progressives. By contrast, white evangelical Protestants constitute more than 4-in-10 (43 percent) religious conservatives, followed by Catholics (17 percent) and white mainline Protestants (15 percent). Black Protestants comprise about 1-in-10 of both the religious progressive (9 percent) and religious conservative (8 percent) coalitions.

The theological disparities between the two parties are clearly notable. While progressives generally believe that being religious is about doing the right thing (79 percent) only four-in-10 conservatives agree (38 percent). For the latter group, it is more about having the proper religious beliefs.

And what about the differences in political views?

Naturally, religious conservatives in the study were much less likely than their liberal counterparts to believe that the government should do something to cut down the gap between the rich and poor (37 percent versus 88 percent). This dynamic exists for other indicators as well, with Brookings senior fellow Bill Galston noting that Republicans are more "religiously homogeneous" than Democrats.

This, naturally, creates a scenario in which he contends that, "Democrats often face the challenge of balancing diverse religious perspectives within their coalition."

While some may claim that religious progressivism is on the rise, there's no telling where the culture is truly headed. It's entirely possible that right-of-center values will take hold and that shifting dynamics will unfold in the future. Regardless, the study provides some interesting points worth pondering.

Read the full results of "The Economic Values" study here. PRRI and Brookings interviewed 2,002 individuals who were 18 years of age and older via telephone. The margin of error is +/- 2.6 percentage points.

Photo Credit: ShutterStock.com

(H/T: Huffington Post)


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