Americans Warm up to Religious Groups—Except Evangelicals

crowd American religious attitudes

By Bob Smietana

Pew 2017 religious feeling thermometerIn the last seven years, fewer Americans say they know an evangelical Christian. Potentially as a result, evangelicals were the one religious group that didn’t experience an increase in warmth among Americans.

Pew Research asked Americans to rate their feelings toward major faith groups on a “feeling thermometer,” ranked from zero to 100—the higher the ranking, the more positive the impression.

Overall, Jews (67 degrees), Catholics (66 degrees), and mainline Protestants (65 degrees) were rated warmest. Muslims (48 degrees) and atheists (50 degrees) got the coolest reception.

The survey also found that American views towards religious groups in general are getting warmer. Almost all faith groups—except evangelicals—received higher ratings in 2017 than they had in a similar 2014 survey.

Muslims and atheists made the biggest leap. In 2014, both received a cool response, with Muslims at 40 degrees and atheists at 41. This year, Americans’ feelings toward those groups are more lukewarm. Muslims were rated at 48 degrees, atheists at 50. Other groups saw smaller increases.

Feelings toward evangelical Christians were unchanged. They rated at 61 degrees in both surveys.

Knowing someone in real life matters

Americans’ views toward faith groups also depend on the people they know. Americans who know an evangelical, for example, rate that group at 66 degrees. If they don’t know one personally, they rate evangelicals at 54 degrees.

Pew Research know an evangelicalThose who know a Muslim rank Muslims in general at 56 degrees. That drops to 42 degrees for those who don’t know any Muslims.

For the most part, Americans seem to have diverse social circles when it comes to religion. More than half know someone who is Catholic (86 percent), not religious (77 percent), evangelical (61 percent), Jewish (61 percent), atheist (60 percent) or mainline Protestant (58 percent).

Fewer know someone who is Muslim (45 percent), Mormon (43 percent), Buddhist (23 percent), or Hindu (22 percent).

Two notable changes from 2014: The number of Americans who know a Muslim went up, from 38 percent in 2014 to 45 percent in 2017, while the number who know an evangelical dropped from 70 percent in 2014 to 61 percent in 2017.

Age plays a major role

Age affects how Americans see faith groups, Pew found. Americans 65 and older feel warmest toward mainline Protestants (75 degrees), Jews (74 degrees), Catholics (71 degrees), and evangelicals (67 degrees). They’re colder toward Muslims (44 degrees) and atheists (44 degrees).

Americans 18 to 29 are fondest of Buddhists (66 degrees), Catholics (64 degrees), and Hindus (64 degrees). They’re coolest toward Mormons (54 degrees).

Younger Americans are as warm to atheists as they are to evangelicals. They’re also more likely than older Americans to be friendly to religion in general, with warm feelings among 18- to 29-year-olds toward every major faith group from Mormons and Muslims to Catholics and Buddhists.

age breakdown Pew Research religion feelings thermometer


BOB SMIETANA (Bob.Smietana@LifeWay.com) is senior writer for Facts & Trends.

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