What Religious Left? Few Americans See Democratic Presidential Field as Very Religious - Word&Way

What Religious Left? Few Americans See Democratic Presidential Field as Very Religious

Democratic presidential candidates
Democratic presidential candidates

From left, Democratic presidential candidates, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and businessman Tom Steyer, participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at the Gaillard Center, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, in Charleston, S.C., co-hosted by CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

(RNS) — Both Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a United Methodist, and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, an Episcopalian, turned to Scripture when asked about their personal mottos at this week’s Democratic debate in South Carolina.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, a lifelong Catholic, has spoken throughout his campaign about running for president to “restore the soul of our nation.”

And Sen. Bernie Sanders has a new campaign ad declaring, “I am very proud of being Jewish, and that is an essential part of who I am as a human being.”

But few Americans see the Democratic presidential candidates as very religious, according to a survey released Thursday (Feb. 27) by Pew Research Center.

Of those four candidates, Americans were most likely to say Biden was “very” or “somewhat” religious — but that still was just over half (55%) of survey respondents, according to Pew data.

The former vice president was followed by Warren (36%) and Sanders (34%), who most (60%) said was “not too” or “not at all” religious.

graphic of responses

“Sanders isn’t particularly religious, according to most Americans” Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

Perhaps surprisingly, respondents were least likely (32%) to say Buttigieg was very or somewhat religious, despite the fact the candidate frequently speaks about his faith. The former mayor — who is the first openly gay candidate to launch a major campaign for president — also has been critical of white evangelical Protestants’ overwhelming support for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, making one of his rallying cries on the campaign trail, “God does not belong to a political party.”

But then, respondents also were most likely (30%) to say they had never heard of Buttigieg or to give no answer about him compared with other candidates.

Those who identified as Democrats or leaning Democrat were much more likely to view all four candidates as religious than those who identified as Republicans or leaning Republican. Fully 70 percent of Democrats said Biden was very or somewhat religious, compared with 37% of Republicans, according to Pew data.

Among religious traditions, black Protestants, whom Pew characterized as highly religious and overwhelmingly Democrat, were most likely to view the candidates as religious — with the exception of Buttigieg. Among black Protestants, 72% saw Biden as very or somewhat religious; 61%, Sanders; 53%, Warren; and 39%, Buttigieg, according to the survey.

Meanwhile, white evangelical Protestants, who are both highly religious and overwhelmingly Republican, were least likely to view any of the Democratic candidates as religious. Among white evangelical Protestants, 36% saw Biden as very or somewhat religious; 20%, Warren; 20%, Buttigieg; and 19%, Sanders, according to the survey.

Pew surveyed 6,395 U.S. adults on its online American Trends Panel from Feb. 4-15, 2020. The survey began just one day after jumbled caucus results showed Buttigieg and Sanders nearly tied for the vote in Iowa and ran through the New Hampshire primary, which Sanders won. Sanders also won Saturday’s Nevada caucuses.

The survey covered only Biden, Buttigieg, Sanders and Warren.

The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 1.6 percentage points, according to Pew.