We had a remarkable speech from the president at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington this week. Obama spoke very openly about his religion and his Christian faith.
Obama talked about the fact that his "entry into public service was actually through the church," that “ . . . I came to know Jesus Christ for myself and embrace Him as my lord and savior,” and that "when I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to give me the strength to do right by our country and its people."
This makes Obama's religion pretty clear to those who doubt have doubted that he is a Christian. And it appears he is quite religious to boot -- even if he has not been a regular church attender since taking office.
Being a Christian puts Obama in the company of 79% of Americans. That's the percentage who are Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, or some other Christian faith, based on over 30,000 interviews Gallup conducted in January 2011. In case you are interested, Americans who are not Christian are strongly likely to have no religious identity, rather than to adhere to another non-Christian faith. In fact, in January, 2011, 16% out of the 21% of Americans who are not Christian say they have no religious identity, are atheist or agnostic, or simply don’t answer the religious identity question. What about the remaining 5%? Two percent are Jewish, and 3% are some other non-Christian religion. So the U.S. is a dominantly-Christian nation, and an overwhelmingly Christian nation when you take into account only those who have a religious preference.
As a black Democrat, Obama is in one of the more interesting situations we have in America today when it comes to religion and politics. In a nutshell, blacks are very Democratic in political orientation in general, and also very religious in general. That flies in the face of the fact that very religious Americans tend to be Republicans, not Democrats.
Here are some data -- again, from our January Gallup Daily tracking. We find that 55% of non-Hispanic blacks attend church weekly or almost every week. That compares to 43% of the total population and 41% of non-Hispanic whites. Additionally, 84% of non-Hispanic blacks say that religion is important to them, compared to 66% of the total population.
So blacks in America today are religious. In fact, the most religious racial or ethnic subgroup we have routinely identified.
But. Overall, the weekly church attenders are the least likely of any church attendance group to be Democrats and the most likely to be Republicans, as I noted. Similarly, Americans who say that religion is important to them in their daily lives are less likely to be Democrats than are those for whom religion is not important.
And, in January of this year, our data showed that 82% of blacks in the U.S. are either Democrats or independents who lean to the Democratic party. That compares to 45% of the total population who are Democrats or lean in that direction. By contrast, a lonely 8% of blacks say they are Republican or lean Republican, while another 8% are staunchly independent and don’t lean toward either party.
Being religious in American society is associated with conservative social positions. Identifying as a Democrat in American society is associated with liberal social positions. Blacks have both a high degree of religiosity and a high level of identification with the Democratic Party. This creates a fascinating pattern of cross-pressures. Blacks are more closely akin to conservative, highly-religious Republicans than to Democrats on social issues such as gay marriage and abortion.
All of this does not appear to have an impact on blacks' (and Obama's) strong identification with the Democratic Party.
Obama's Job Approval Rating
Meanwhile, Obama’s job approval ratings have fallen to 46% in Gallup’s three-day average Feb. 1-3. That comes after a fairly steady stream of daily averages right at the 50% level. And also after a 49% average in January, which was his highest monthly average since last March. This may be a short-term blip, so we’ll monitor it over the days and weeks to come.
Of interest is the finding by my colleague Jeff Jones that Obama’s job ratings in 2010 were the most polarized for any U.S. president’s second year in office in Gallup’s history. Part of this may have nothing, per se, to do with Obama. It appears that Americans are becoming more polarized in general. I believe some of that could be reflective of the way the media, and information in general, today are more polarized. Americans have the ability to pick and choose their media in a way that allows them to hear only information that reinforces their own pre-existing positions.
Last February, we found that Egypt was viewed favorably by 58% of the American public. That put it in the top half of all countries rated, just below France, but more positively rated than Mexico. (The most positively rated countries were Canada and Great Britain; the most negatively were Iran and North Korea.) We are in the field now with our 2011 February GPSS Foreign Affairs poll. By early next week we’ll have a sense of what has happened to the image of that country. Early indications are that Egypt's image will be less positive.
Hard to resist some reference to the Super Bowl, the single-most-watched television broadcast of the entire year and a major cultural phenomenon in America society. As you know, the Super Bowl is being played in Arlington, Texas (not Dallas, as some people keep saying; having grown up in Fort Worth, I'm not very partial to Dallas getting undue credit!). The Super Bowl this year pits the Green Bay Packers against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The only national poll I find about the Super Bowl was conducted by the Marist folks at Marist College in New York. The results show that Americans who are planning on watching the Super Bowl -- by a 76% to 24% margin -- say they are watching for the game rather than for the commercials. Women are a little more interested in the commercials than are men.