Pew Research Poll: Faith-Based Programs Still Popular, Less Visible

Washington, D.C. — A new report based on a recent national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press finds that more than eight years after former President George W. Bush unveiled his faith-based initiative, the policy continues to draw broad public support. At the same time, many Americans express concerns about blurring the lines between church and state, as was the case when Bush first announced the initiative.

The survey, conducted Aug. 11-27 among 4,013 adults, finds that 69% of Americans say they favor allowing churches and other houses of worship, along with other organizations, to apply for government funding to provide social services such as job training or drug treatment counseling, while just 25% oppose this approach.

The report reveals notable shifts among political parties, as Democrats are now more supportive of this program than Republicans. Democratic support has increased from 70% in March 2001 to 77% currently. By contrast, Republicans are less supportive of this program today, with 66% in favor, down from 81% in 2001.

While generally supportive of faith-based social programs, the public also expresses certain reservations. A majority of Americans view the possibility that the government might get too involved in religious organizations as an important concern (69%). A smaller but still sizable majority views the idea that people who receive help from faith-based groups might be forced to take part in religious practices as an important concern (60%).

In addition, about three-quarters (74%) of Americans say religious organizations that receive government funds to provide social services should not be able to hire only people who share their religious beliefs, a long-running point of contention in the debate.

At the same time, when people are asked generally whether religious organizations, non-religious organizations or the government can do the best job providing services for the needy, a plurality (37%) chooses religious organizations. That is up slightly from 2008 (31%) and matches the percentage expressing this view in 2001. And there has been a sharp increase since 2001 in the proportion saying that religious organizations could do the best job of feeding the homeless, with 52% saying religious organizations could do the best job, up from 40% in March 2001.

The report, including an overview, methodology and topline questionnaire, is available online.

This report is a joint effort of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Both are projects of the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.

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