Discussing religion and politics at a neighborhood barbeque may be considered bad form, but a new two-dimensional survey commissioned by the non-profit and non-partisan Presidential Prayer Team (PPT), first to the general public (reflected here) and second to the vast prayer team membership, shows that the mixing of prayer and politics is pretty common – and sometimes produces some surprising outcomes.
Engaging in Prayer
Although the United States is in an era of the reshaping of religious beliefs, habits, and experiences, prayer remains a widespread practice across the nation. In the general public, nearly half of all adults claims to pray every day (45%). An additional one out of five (20%) prays at least once a week, but not daily. Almost as many (17%) pray irregularly, with 15% saying they never pray.
Projected across the adult population these statistics estimate that more than 160 million adults pray each week.
The general public survey also discovered that conservatives and moderates are far more likely than liberals to pray regularly. For instance, a majority of conservatives (53%) pray daily, compared to four out of ten moderates (42%) and just one-third of liberals (33%). At the other end of the prayer continuum, three out of ten liberals never pray (30%), which was substantially higher than the number of non-praying moderates (14%) or conservatives (9%).
Similarly, a majority of Republicans (55%) in the general public pray each day, compared to 43% of Democrats and 40% of independents. Roughly two out of ten Democrats and independents never pray, compared to one out of 14 Republicans.
Prayer and Politics
While a popular narrative suggests that people who consistently pray remain at arms-length from politics, the survey found just the opposite. Those in the general public who pray regularly are more likely than those who do not to pay “a lot” of attention to news about politics and government. Among people who pray at least once a week, 30% pay a lot of attention to such news compared to just 21% among people who pray less often or never.
The general public survey also revealed that some issues are of greater interest than are others to praying adults. The issues of comparatively greater interest included support for senior citizens (26% among regularly praying adults versus 18% among those who do not pray regularly); national defense (17% vs. 9%, respectively); crime prevention/law and order policies (16% vs. 10%); global religious persecution (15% vs. 1%); and domestic religious freedom (12% vs. 1%).
On the other hand, the general public survey also identified a pair of issues that was of greater interest to adults who pray infrequently than among those who pray regularly. Those issues included environmental care (36% versus 20%, respectively) and gun policies (21% vs. 12%).
A large number of issues were of similar interest to both those in the general public who do and do not pray regularly. Those issues included abortion, the economy, education, government size and authority, and poverty reduction policies.
General public survey respondents were asked for their insights into the workings of prayer. Their responses revealed yet more differences that conservatives and liberals, as well as Republicans and Democrats, have regarding why they pray, who they pray for, and how they believe God responds to prayer.
Why Bother Praying?
Overall, Americans in the general public are most likely to engage in prayer because they believe it is a meaningful way to communicate with God (64%). Other popular motivations were that prayer is central to their personal relationship with God (57%); it is one of their ways of worshiping God (57%); it helps them to cope with challenging situations (55%); and praying gives them reason to hope for a positive resolution to difficult situations (53%).
Conservatives in the general public were substantially more likely than liberals to engage in prayer because it gives them hope (58% of conservatives versus 48% of liberals); is their way of personally communicating with God (71% vs. 58, respectively); is a way in which God can transform them (50% vs. 40%); is central in their relationship with God (63% vs. 48%); and is a means by which they worship God (64% vs. 53%).
There were no reasons for praying that liberals were more likely than conservatives to mention.
There were four reasons for praying for which there was not a statistically significant difference between conservatives and liberals. Those reasons included prayer helping to cope with situations; prayer reducing anxiety or concerns; prayer influencing God’s actions; and praying simply because it is something they have always done.
Interestingly, the gap between Republicans and Democrats in the general public was smaller than that between conservatives and liberals. Further, Independents were the least likely of the three party-associated segments of respondents to choose any one the nine reasons to explain why they pray.
Who We Pray For
Respondents in the general public were asked which, if any, of six entities they pray for in a typical week. A majority of adults say they usually pray at least once a week for three of those six: other people they know (75%); the country (61%); and the military (53%).
Once again the most prolific prayer groups across political parties and ideologies were Republicans and conservatives. Republicans were more likely than both Democrats and independents to pray for the people in each of the six prayer recipient categories, and conservatives were more likely than liberals to pray for the people in each of the categories as well.
A majority of Republicans in the general public prayed for each of the six groups evaluated. Those included other people (83%); the country (73%); the military (65%); the president (64%); other government officials (58%); and people with whom they disagree on important issues (52%). In contrast, a majority of Democrats prayed only for other people they know (72%) and for the country (58%). Those were also the only two groups that a majority of independents prayed for on a weekly basis.
A majority of conservatives in the general public prayed for five of the six categories of recipients, the exception being the people whom they disagree with on important issues. A majority of liberals prayed for recipients in three of the six categories: people they know, the country, and the military.
How God Responds to Prayers
Americans have a variety of perspectives regarding how God deals with their prayers. The most widespread assumption (held by 39%) is that God hears and answers all prayers, although the answer is sometimes “no.” Half as many (20%) believe that He hears all prayers but He carries out His will regardless of what people have prayed for. One out of ten people (11%) believes that He hears all prayers but answers them only if the person praying is truly committed to God. Less than one out of ten chose other responses such as God answers a prayer only if many people pray it or it has been prayed consistently for a long time (6%); God does not hear prayers (3%); and there is no God (7%). One out of seven adults (14%) admitted that they have no idea how God handles prayers.
While the most common response for people representing each of the party affiliations and each of the three ideological segments was that God hears and answers all prayers, none of the segments featured a majority giving that answer.
The biggest distinction between Republicans and Democrats in the general public, as well as between conservatives and liberals, was that Democrats and liberals were far more likely than their counterparts to reflect indifference toward prayer (i.e., God does not hear prayers, God does not exist, don’t know what happens with prayers). Democrats and liberals were more than twice as likely to register such indifference.
Prayer and Politics Can Mix
President of The Presidential Prayer Team Jim Bolthouse said, “The general views of the American public on prayer pose no surprise. Over our 19 years of promoting prayer for the nation’s leaders, however, we have seen a much different appreciation of prayer and prayer life among our members.” He continued, “Yet, given the importance of the general survey results, we are challenged by the great opportunity to reach for and help Americans understand and know what praying to Almighty God is really all about.”
About the Research
The research was developed and implemented by George Barna, Director of Research of the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University. The survey was conducted among a nationwide sample of 1,000 adults associated with an online survey panel managed by Braun Research. The data were collected in April 2020. The demographic profile of the survey results reflects that of the adult population of the U.S., as determined by the U.S. Bureau of the Census.
The two-dimensional study was commissioned by The Presidential Prayer Team (PPT), a non-partisan, non-profit organization as part of their national prayer initiative, Pray the Vote 2020. Their national headquarters is located in Scottsdale, AZ. The information in this release was gathered from the general public and does not represent the responses from The Presidential Prayer Team’s membership.
The second study will be an inward dimension. The focus will be on prayer team membership in order to learn ways to better encourage their members, provide helpful prayer resources, and to improve their prayer life during the upcoming election season and into the future.
Since its inception in 2001, PPT has become the nation’s largest intercessory prayer movement. Regardless of party politics and ideology, PPT is dedicated to encouraging and facilitating prayer for the nation’s president, political leaders, and military leaders. It seeks to ignite a lifestyle characterized by robust prayer based on its belief that prayer will transform the nation, one heart at a time.
More information about The Presidential Prayer Team and the national survey can be accessed at www.presidentialprayerteam.org or www.praythevote.org.
Interviews with President James Bolthouse available.
SOURCE The Presidential Prayer Team
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