On July 18, the religion, policy and politics project at Brookings co-hosted an event with the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) to release a new survey and accompanying report co-authored by Brookings Senior Fellows E.J. Dionne and William Galston and PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones, PRRI Research Director Daniel Cox, and PRRI Research Associate Juhem Navarro-Rivera.
The 2013 Economic Values Survey tackles a range of topics, including perceptions of economic wellbeing and upward mobility, the role of government, how well capitalism is working, the importance and availability of equal opportunity, values that should guide government policy on economic issues, and specific economic policies. With its large sample size, the survey explores a range of fault lines on these issues, including racial and ethnic or generational divides. Additionally, the survey takes up the question of the existence and vitality of religious progressives, compared to religious conservatives, and examines the relationship between theological beliefs and the views of both groups on capitalism and economic policy.
I would like to express some serious doubts about this future potential of religious progressives. I don’t doubt their existence of course, which is nicely defined and documented here. What I doubt is whether its specifically religious character can play anything like the motivating, energizing and organizing force of religion among religious conservatives. – Peter Steinfels, Fordham University
Robert P. Jones presented findings from the survey, emphasizing data regarding widespread pessimism about the efficacy of the U.S government. He also focused on data demonstrating the decline of religious conservatism across generations, and the rise of religious progressivism among the country’s younger population.
William Galston and E.J. Dionne offered highlights from their report. Galston examined gender differentiations found in the survey, explaining that overall women identified as more religious and more politically liberal. Galston also said the survey may shed light on some of the mistrust in American society, as the data reveals deep tensions between religious believers and non-believers. Dionne discussed some of the contradictions apparent in the survey, noting that many Americans want government to do more to address the country’s problems but have significant doubts about whether the government will implement adequate solutions.
Laura Olson said that for decades the religious right has emphasized sexual and family issues to the exclusion of economic and justice-based issues, which has allowed them to mold a narrative in which Americans see any political organizing based in religion as necessarily conservative. That narrative, she explained, has discouraged the idea that religion can energize social justice movements.
Peter Steinfels said that while the study might suggest that religious progressives are the “wave of the future,” he is skeptical about whether progressives will be able to use religion as an organizing political force as effectively as conservatives have.
Reverend Alvin Herring said that although the survey reveals a great deal of pessimism about the effectiveness of American government, he believes a large segment of society retains hope about the future of U.S. politics and much of that hope is politically motivated.
Although it seems from PRRI’s data that religious conservatism might to an extent be on the wane, it isn’t going to disappear entirely. – Laura Olson, Clemson University