Americans have a more positive impression of most major faith groups today than they did three years ago, displaying warmer feelings even toward atheists and Muslims, whose public persona suffers from divisive political debates and negative news, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
Pew’s updated “feeling thermometer” shows increases in the rating of seven religions on a scale from 0 to 100. Muslims now have a mean rating of 48, up eight degrees from three years ago. Mormons, Hindus, Buddhists and atheists also saw their ratings increase by more than five degrees.
“Evangelical Christians were the one exception in that their rating hasn’t changed, but they’re still at a pretty warm 61 degrees,” said Jessica Martinez, a senior researcher at Pew. This was the first year Pew asked about mainline Protestants.
Shifts in the ratings of the seven other religions were broad-based, meaning it wasn’t just people with Muslim friends or Jewish coworkers who caused the temperature increases, Pew reported.
“Warmer feelings are expressed by people in all major religious groups analyzed, as well as by both Democrats and Republicans, men and women, and younger and older adults,” researchers noted. The survey analyzed responses from more than 4,000 U.S. adults and was conducted from Jan. 9 to 23 this year.
These results were striking because many Americans spent much of 2016 engaged with presidential election news, some of which was unflattering to faith groups, Martinez said, noting that recent media coverage of religion was part of what inspired Pew to repeat its 2014 thermometer study.
“In a contentious election year, we saw a lot of divisions by partisan politics. It emphasized the divisions in American society,” she said. “It’s possible that (these results) are sort of a reaction to that. People may be tired of negativity.”
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