*Note: This graphic is not available for republication.

ideologies final

Update: Go here for chart featuring a drill down of Catholics; eight types added to graph. 

What are the political positions of religions and churches in America? This new graph maps the ideologies of 44 different religious groups using data comes from Pew’s Religious Landscape survey. This survey included 32,000 respondents. It asked very specific questions on religion that allow us to find out the precise denomination, church, or religion of each person.

How to read the graph

  • Each circle represents a denomination, church, or religion. There are several circles for types of Americans with no religion: self-identified “atheist”, self-identified “agnostic”, and those who say that have “no religion in particular”.
  • The size of the circle represents the relative size of the religion in the United States. For very small groups, I put them in groups with other similar churches. In these cases, the circle represents collections of similar churches, e.g., nondenominational evangelicals, all Baptists who aren’t in one of the larger denominations, or all Hindus. The decision for how specific to make the circle was based on the size of the group in the survey.
  • The color of the circle indicates the religious tradition of the group: evangelical Protestant (historically white), Mainline Protestant (historically white), historically black Protestant, Catholic, a catch-all category for other Christian groups, all other religions, and those with no religion. (yes, there are some disagreements about whether some groups should be coded as evangelical (e.g., Seventh Day Adventist) or even Christian or not (e.g., Jehovah’s Witness). We can debate these decisions in a future post.
  • The location of the circle represents where a group’s members stand on the two major ideological divides in American politics. The numbers represent the percentile location of each group (details below). The political ideologies of religious groups are placed along two dimensions.
    • Government involvement in the economy (x-axis). This is the major ideological divide in the country. At one end are the “small government” folks who want a  less regulation, fewer services, and more market-oriented policies. At the other are those who want a stronger safety net, tougher consumer protections, and greater checks on the economy. In the Pew survey, this is measured by a question asking whether they wanted: “a smaller government providing fewer services” or “a bigger government providing more services”?
    • Government involvement in morality (y-axis). How much should government be involved in regulating morality? Some people believe that the government should protect morality and should uphold traditional values and religion. Others think government should “stay out of bedrooms” and keep up a high wall between church and state. This can be measured using a question that asked people to pick which statement comes closest to their beliefs: “The government should do more to protect morality in society” or “I worry the government is too involved in this issue”?

Observations from the graph

There’s a lot of information stuffed into this one graph, but here are a few key things we can see:

  • Churches that are similar religiously are also similar ideologically.
  • Evangelicals are classic conservatives (small role in economy, protect morality). Pentecostals want a larger role for government on economic issues.
  • Presbyterian Church in America, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and smaller Methodist churches have historical ties to both evangelicalism and mainline denominations. On the question of government and morality, they are between other evangelical churches and mainline denominations.
  • Mainline churches hold similar economic views as evangelicals but want less government involvement protecting traditional morality.
  • Christians in traditionally black denominations and evangelicals are similar in their views toward morality policy, but there is a large divide on economics.
  • Catholics are large and represent the center on both dimensions.
  • Jews are centrist on the economy. There is a major divide between both Conservative and Orthodox Jews and other streams of Judaism. This divide falls along the morality dimension.
  • The “nones” are united on their ideology toward morality (keep government out!) but there are interesting divides on government services. Atheists want more government services; agnostics favor less governmental involvement in the economy. If you consider Unitarians part of this group, then they’re the most supportive of government services.

Geek note on measurement

The range of each dimension ranges from zero to 100. These scores were calculated by calculating the percentage of each religion giving each answer. The percentages were then subtracted (e.g., percent saying “smaller government” minus percent saying “bigger government”). The scores were then standardized using the mean and standard deviation for all of the scores. Finally, I converted the standardized scores into percentiles by mapping the standardized scores onto the standard Gaussian/normal distribution. The result is a score that represents the group’s average graded on the curve, literally.

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144 Comments

      • All churches interpret the bible to suit their own idea of who God is. Only someone who decides ” I am right, I know the truth and those who disagree are wrong” could see things otherwise.

          • While I agree there IS an absolute truth, this “truth” is so far beyond any human’s comprehension it’s ridiculous to try and base any large group of people’s laws on it.

            the “Mysteries of God’s Will” only cause chaos when we try to use them to run our day-to-day lives. We end up with people killing each other, driven insane trying to comprehend this “absolute truth” you speak of.

            The “Bible”, as it is currently formed, even is in much debate. Which books are “true”, which are heresy. How do we take into account other “lost books” in the “whole story” of this “absolute truth”? Obliviously you can’t, no one can…we, as a species, need to take our fingers off the “collective trigger” of attempting to implement “God’s Will” with whatever horrid weapons we’ve devised.

          • With the possible exception of fundamental number theory, no, Frank, there isn’t. Even if there were, for someone to claim their particular interpretation of Iron Age superstition is the sole repository of such is so utterly baffling that I would argue Quadrant I is the main part of the graph to “ignore”.

            Well, not ignore, more “be terrified by”.

          • accidentalfission

            Perfect truth may in fact exist. No imperfect human has it. Do you claim otherwise? Is there some currently living human that you claim is like unto God?

            Is there perfect truth contained in your bible? If so, which translation? If you claim all of them, then you embrace some wild contradictions. You may choose to believe whatever you wish. That doesn’t it make it absolute truth.

          • The same church that decided that you could pay to get your relatives out of purgatory (see: Indulgences)? The same church that decided it would excommunicate (i.e. doom to hell) anybody who spoke out about pedophilia within the church (see: Crimen sollicitationis)? The same church that allows and encourages prayer to idols (or as you call them, saints)? Yeah, I’m sure that is the one true way to god, never mind that it is the most divergent religiously from the book it helped put together.

      • Occupy Christianity

        I’m not quite clear on how a graph plotting the place of government social programs and its supposed role in protecting morality correlates with a position that a person of a certain perspective on these matters “creates their own god and manipulates the bible to suit their desires.” Could you clarify that connection for me?

      • Although I understand your desire to protect your religious beliefs, it would behoove you to realize you (we) live in a place called the United States of America, and according to the Constitution we are governed under, the law says we shouldn’t have to put up with your beliefs. We are free to worship (or not) whoever and whatever we choose.

        Get over it.

        • Excellent Susan, you’re quite correct! I grow sick of self-righteous political trolls in churches, mine as well. I told our Sunday School teacher recently, “Please Phil, SHUT UP in here about politics or some of us are leaving. We don’t come to hear you run on, we can read and decide for ourselves.

      • Your ranting makes no sense, Jesus didn’t talk politics, didn’t preach it, didn’t push it. Self righteous ranters turn the rest of us away. I’m a conservative but keep your politics to yourself, not in my church!

  1. Tobin Grant

    No, it’s an empirical statement. All of the historically not-white religions are left of center (economically).

    Interesting that you think all of the black churches have manipulated the Bible, but not the agnostics, United Church of Christ, and others in the lower right.

    • Everyone manipulates the bible to some degree. The left side are just experts at it.

      I am curious what you consider the take away from this? You didn’t say I ten article but apparently have a point to make in the comment section.

      • As far as manipulating the Bible to suit their needs, the award for that, in my opinion, should go to the “name it and claim it” or “prosperity gospel” churches; generally non-denominational megachurches that would end up on the right side of the graph. The “God wants you to be rich” – arguably an oversimplification, true, but pretty accurate – is about as opposite from Biblical teaching as one can get. I can’t imagine an eternal God suggesting that he wants you to have a Mercedes and live in a gated community.

      • You’d be mostly wrong. Attend a service/meeting or two…you’ll find it’s about 2:1 with a scattering of ‘other’ mixed in. And that’s just skin color. There are frequently Jewish folks, fallen-away Catholics, other people hard to categorize. That’s what makes UU churches so worthwhile – we DON’T categorize…we just welcome.

        • You’re also not a church, nor part of THE church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
          Just an humanistic association of tax-exempt liberals, plotting the strategy of the democratic party, who’d crucify our Savior all over again in the twinkling of an eye.

          But oh when He comes in Glory, and He looses the binds on the Lambs book of Life, you better watch out, lest ye repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ it’s the death of the unrepentant sinner for you.

          Now if I haven’t alienated you all.. As far as government I could leave that out of the church, as long as they believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, repent of every sin, harken unto His every commandment and immerse themselves in His Word which is the Holy Bible, then hallelujah amen, black, white, yellow or red we’re brethren and I love’ em dearly, we can argue politics and I believe in small government all the way I can go but it is not cardinal and it is not necessary for salvation, we can have that argument later, or not at all.

          Needless to say the Uniting Church and most of the mainline churches are apostate bible perverters, who wield a goldilocks gospel of works, neither hot nor cold, but oh my is it ever lukewarm.
          God bless you all, I pray that y’all would all accept the Lord Jesus Christ and be gloriously saved, Amen.

          • Michael J. Lowrey

            Well, friend Elijah, no-one can say thee hasn’t made thy opinion of most of us Quakers and other Christians clear, can they?

            Me? I’ll continue to love the Lord and follow His commandments as my inner light leads me.

    • I would be curious to see this same statistical model applied to other times and places! Image showing…Roman cults and major religions from archeology, charting where their gods and goddesses stood on these same issues. I would bet that there would be similar patterns…all the cults of the Gods bring specific mindsets of people together. I believe most of our perception of God comes from the Third Man paradox, and is both genetic and ancient related to the survival of the species.

  2. Tobin Grant

    Two takeaways. No, three.

    1) We see groups that are similar to each other religiously also near each other in their political ideologies.

    2) It just looks cool — you can use this one graph to see how over 40 different religious groups stand on two major political ideologies, compare their relative size, and see what religious tradition each is (and how they’re together politically).

    3) All the detail. Proximity of Mormons to evangelicals, conservative Jews to Catholics, the difference between pentecostals and other evangelicals, how break-off groups from Mainline are between other evangelicals & mainline groups. That sort of thing.

    • I’ve got an idea, the politicians can use it as a dart board to see who’s opinion they should listen to in making policies! Keep throwing until you hit a circle, multiple religions gets a whole committee. Makes as much sense as trying to squeeze together a functioning government based on an esoteric egyptionized Christian cult.

    • I love this diagram. It’s quite impressive in terms of the information it provides… and of course, it proves (I suppose I can use that verb) what we all believe to be true about the various religious groups listed on the graph. Nice way of putting it all together.

  3. I’m interested that ‘Episcopalian’ is not there (and is presumably grouped in under ‘Anglican’). I would have thought that the difference between TEC Anglicans and non-TEC Anglicans is at least as big as the observed differences between the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Lutheran denominations…

    • Assuming that the classification is taken from the Pew Forum, the group labeled “Anglican” is mostly made up of members of the Episcopal Church (TEC formerly ECUSA) but also includes members of the Church of England, the Church of Ireland, and those who said they were “Anglican” or “Episcopal” but did not say they were “Conservative Anglican”, “born again” or “evangelical”.

      Those who said “Conservative Anglican”, those who said “Anglican” or “Episcopal” and also said they were either “born again” or “evangelical”, and those who were members of the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) were all in a separate category which was too small to be included in most of the data tables.

      It is worth noting that the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) did not exist at the time that this survey was conducted.

  4. Tobin Grant

    There are differences, but few that are clearly not TEC anglicans. There are self-identified “Anglicans” and others who are “TEC” but they could be the same thing. For this stuff, there isn’t much of a difference; there are also not many “Anglicans” in the data compared to TEC.

    • Tobin Grant

      Thanks — gender is actually really cool (future post) because there’s surprising diversity in the pews. Age — Could do one pretty much like this but one for younger and one for older…many possibilities….

      • The graph design is nice because it really is limited to two questions (two axes)…. which makes it manageable and not overwhelming in terms of information that it provides.

  5. As a politically liberal Episcopalian, it’s distressing to me to see, via the graph, how much “Anglicans” still resemble the 1950s stereotype “the Republican Party at prayer”. }-/

  6. The position of the LDS Church (Mormons, top right) is interesting. They are not precisely small-government. They predominantly oppose government intervention in economics (Utah is, of course, a right-to-work state), but they strongly favor government regulation of personal behavior (drinking, marriage).Maybe you need a three-dimensional graph!

    • Err, those are exactly the two things the graph is charting. What would be on the third axis (I suppose isolationist vs. interventionist foreign policy)?

      • If that’s what they are charting, why is the morality label not called “big government – more moral controls / smaller government – less moral controls” Trying to pretend that the moral controls are not “big government” is the point of the above comment, I think.

      • Perhaps gender breakdown on the Z axis, as mentioned generally, above.

        As a historian, I’d like to see trends over time. Some would be speculative, but with a wider SD, still pretty accurate.

        • I would like to see a z-axis used for attitude towards inclusion of religion into government. Some groups, like the non-religious would stand out in opposition, while other groups, would be fully in support. I would really like to see that chart.

  7. I think it would be interesting to see each group’s standard deviation from their position — which groups are highly consistent, or more diffuse — IF there were significant differences in std dev between groups.

  8. Did the data come from the denomination or from surveys of people who identify as that denomination? I’d be curious to see how different the two data sources would be.

    For example; I know a lot of Catholics in America don’t agree with church policies on birth control. It would be interesting to see how well the denominations actually represent their members.

  9. Hi

    Top-right quadrant is interesting … smaller government but more involvement in protection of morality. I guess a rather selective down-sizing of government would be required? Or perhaps even contradictory?

  10. Michael J. Lowrey

    I’m nauseated by the guy who believes that people can be measured as to whether they follow the Bible, by whether they believe government should protect people from poverty and suffering. I assume he is reading the Ayn Rand edition of the Bible, with the Book of Acts, the Beatitudes, and large portions of Isaiah and Jeremiah left out, and the Parable of Galt’s Gulch put in.

  11. Really interesting scatterplot. I have a hard time believing, though, that the average ELCA member is really more of small government type than the average Southern Baptist. The survey question there is so vague. Are there better proxies for true support of or opposition to government programs? Opinions on the ACA, tax levels, etc.?

  12. 1. Orthodox Christians are labeled “other Christian” along with JWs and Mormons. Orthodox are the oldest Christian Church and do not even consider JWs and Mormons to be Christians. Like Muslims they believe Jesus is merely a created being.
    2. The Assemblies of God is the larget Pentecostal denomination but the chart treats it like something other than Pentecostal.

    • Tobin Grant

      1. Orthodox are included with the catch-all “other Christians” This includes any group that considers itself Christian. Orthodox would be its own category, but it’s too small a tradition in the survey.

      2. “Pentecostal (white)” includes all other historically white pent. churches; it does not include AOG, which is separate.

      • roi de guerre

        I realize that the data you report in is not of your making, but we’re Pagans included? There are more Pagans than Hindu folks in the US, they tend to be slightly better educated than the national average, and have a slightly higher percentage in the higher income bracket than the average.

        (Assertions from “Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States”)

    • Actually, Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) believe that Jesus is a God and part of the Godhead. But LDS doctrine is non-trinitarian–is that what you were thinking of?

      • KingAlfredtheGreat

        Since Joseph Smith said that all the creeds of the Christian churches were “an abomination” it’s not surprising few people think of LDS as Christians. I think it’s also because monotheism is a basic tenet of Christianity, so anyone who considers Jesus “a god” falls outside of the group.

        • To clarify, I was not trying to get into an argument about whether or not Mormons are Christians– people have been arguing about the definition of Christianity for millennia, and I am under no illusion that I would be able to persuade anyone one way or another. I simply thought it was misleading to say that Mormons believe that Jesus is “merely a created being.”

  13. I’m surprised to see UU and UCC at the bottom of “greater protection morality axis”. If you’d just been talking about governments practicing public prayer, outlawing abortion, or restricting marriage rights to “one straight man, one straight woman of the same race”, then, yes, I’d expect that spread.

    But I personally have morals about slavery, genital mutilation, civil rights, remedying racial inequalities, and providing for the neediest among us. How it is moral for a black child to have less opportunity in America than my own children? In that context, liberal religious sects would strongly prefer government action to promote moral behavior.

    Like the quip, “Liberals want government out of bedroom, conservatives want government out of the boardroom.”

    • Michael J. Lowrey

      Those are not “morals” in the sense of “enforcement of religious and cultural taboos tied to traditional religious beliefs”, which is the only meaning of “morals” recognized by most of the more conservative U.S. religions and imposed on the rest of society.

      • It seems that the idea of defending “traditional values” is only Tobin’s interpretation and perhaps a bad assumption. He says the survey question is, ““The government should do more to protect morality in society” or “I worry the government is too involved in this issue”?” Nothing about “traditional” morality there. Certainly many, probably most, will intepret it that way, but others obviously do not.

        The results indicate that atheists/agnostics do not like acknowledging that they too have a moral system that they want to see enforced by govt.

    • accidentalfission

      For me, the vertical axis makes more sense with the top labeled “authoritarian” and the bottom labeled “liberal”. A problem arises from the debasement in the U.S. of terms like “liberal” (same root as liberty) and “conservative” with terms like neo-liberal adding much confusion.

      Perhaps the bottom of the vertical axis should be some like “Respecting personal autonomy.”

  14. I wonder if individual groups listed under Anabaptist should be broken out into smaller categories. I would imagine that there could be a substantial difference on economic intervention between some of the Mennonite peace churches and more traditionalist Anabaptist groups.

    • are there any Anabaptist churches that aren’t pacifist? If so, they would be very fringe (among Anabaptists).

      But yes, as a former Mennonite, I was surprised to see Anabaptists so far on the upper right (but hey, people get Mennonites and Mormons confused all the time, so maybe I shouldn’t be that surprised). I agree that a lot of Mennonites would probably lean toward the “more government programs” end of the spectrum.

  15. Dave Strickland

    Is there is a mistake in the plot or the text?

    Your text says “Government involvement in the economy (x-axis).” but the plot axis label for the horizontal axis says “less involvement in protecting morality”.

  16. I’m really surprised that the UMC plots out as being so small-government oriented. Attending the General Conference of the UMC is kind of like attending the DNC’s Presidential Nominating Convention — many of the same people are in both places, espousing much the same kinds of things regarding public policy. The Book of Resolutions of the UMC is HEAVY in calling for more and more government programming, support for social services, etc.. So … are the UMC rank-and-file surveyed here that far removed from those who represent them at General Conference??

  17. Mr. Tobin, could you please share with us the exact questions which were asked in conducting the survey which was used to create this graph? Thank you.

    • Tobin Grant

      People were asked to pick which statement they agreed with more. For the first one, people are asked if they want “a smaller government providing fewer services” or “a bigger government providing more services”. For the second, “The government should do more to protect morality in society” or “I worry the government is too involved in this issue” I then use the responses to create the scores (see the geek note)

  18. How are Catholics in the center when it comes to morality? Catholics are the most conservative when it comes to Morals from any of the Christian denominations. They don’t allow abortion, contraception, divorce, gay marriage, sex before marriage, euthanasia, and the death penalty. A lot of Protestant churches allow many of these things. This graph is not very accurate in any way

    • Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey

      Kajo, this is not a study of denominational beliefs. This is a survey of the opinions of the human beings who identify themselves as belonging to these different religious categories.

      • Also, there’s only one question for each axis. The chart is NOT a ranking between very small, small, medium sized etc, but shows the number in each group who say “larger” vs the number who say “smaller”.

        A center position does not mean people in that group want a medium sized government, but means the group is split in the middle between “larger” and “smaller”. Slightly to the left means a small majority says “smaller”. Further to the left means a larger majority says “smaller”.

        It is possible that some groups would have placed differently if someone had asked people multiple questions abut government involvement, ranked each respondent from 1 (Very small government) to 10 (very large government) and then plotted that into a similar chart.

  19. Buddhists overlap atheists? Maybe, if you are looking only at western converts to Zen and Theravada. Factor in Vajrayana converts and the need to support a free Tibet will start moving things to the left. The ethnic Buddhist communities (Chinese, Vietnamese etc) would likely be more conservative all round and pull Buddhism further towards the center.

  20. God Bless MARTIN LUTHER!

    “Ye shall know THE TRUTH, and THE TRUTH shall set you FREE!”

    TO EVERY CATHOLIC WHO SEEKS THE TRUTH:
    Read THE BOOK OF CONCORD (CPH.ORG)

    GOD SAVE OUR FUTURE!

  21. “Some people believe that the government should protect morality and should uphold traditional values and religion.”

    This is a poor explanation of morality.

  22. Summer Gotschall

    I think that there is an error in this graph – being a mainline Protestant, I am in favor of public monies being expended on social justice, and you have me over next to “smaller government”. I don’t know how the Baptists of various kinds stack up on this issue but I am assuming from having met some, that they are more conservative on the issue of government spending on social issues. Therefore, I think the legend on the x axis is accidentally reversed – “smaller government” should be on the right side and “bigger government” should be on the left.

  23. I call bs. I know plenty of atheists and agnostics who call on govt to enforce their moral beliefs that “no one should be poor”, “no one who works full time should earn less than the poverty line,” “health care is a right,” “guns should be banned,” “no one needs to have more than $10 million dollars,” etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc…

  24. Jesus didn’t preach, rant or vent politics- EVER! He had more important things to share. I would leave any church preaching politics. I may be a conservative but I can read and make my own calls on voting. Leave your ranting on politics at home, period!

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  1. […] Politics of American church buildings & religions in a single graph What are the political positions of religions and church buildings in America? This new graph maps the ideologies of forty four totally different spiritual teams utilizing knowledge comes from Pew's Spiritual Panorama survey. This survey included 32,000 respondents. It requested very … Learn extra on Religion News Service […]

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