GOP Candidates Seen as Religious—Except Trump

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Jan. 27, 2016) – While the conventional wisdom in American politics has long been that someone who is not religious cannot be elected president of the United States, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that one of the candidates who is widely viewed by Republicans as a potentially “good” or “great” president, Donald Trump, is not widely seen as a religious person, even by those in his own party. And on the Democratic side, the share of Americans who say Hillary Clinton is not a religious person now stands at 43 percent, which is sharply higher than it was in the summer of 2007, when she was seeking the presidential nomination for the first time.

The new survey, conducted Jan. 7-14, 2016, among 2,009 adults, finds that the leading Republican presidential candidates are more widely viewed as religious people than are Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Roughly two-thirds of adults (68 percent) say they think Ben Carson is “very” or “somewhat” religious, while 65 percent say the same about Ted Cruz and 61 percent think Marco Rubio is a religious person. By comparison, 48 percent of adults say they believe Clinton is a religious person, and 40 percent think Sanders is “very” or “somewhat” religious.

The major exception to this pattern is Donald Trump; just 30 percent of U.S. adults view Trump as a religious person.

The new survey confirms that being an atheist continues to be one of the biggest perceived shortcomings a hypothetical presidential candidate could have, with 51 percent of adults indicating they would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who does not believe in God. The study also shows that having a president who shares their religious beliefs is important to many Americans, with about half of U.S. adults saying it is “very important” (27 percent) or “somewhat important”(24 percent) to have someone in the White House who shares their religious perspective. This view is particularly common with Republicans, among whom 64 percent say it is at least “somewhat important” to them that the president share their religious beliefs.

At the same time, many Republicans think Trump would be a good president despite his perceived lack of religiousness. Of the 56 percent of GOP voters who think Trump would be a good or great president, a substantial minority of them (17 percent of Republican registered voters overall) say they think Trump is not religious. The pattern is very different for the other leading GOP candidates; virtually all Republicans who think Cruz, Rubio and Carson would be successful presidents (and who express a view about their religiousness) also say they view those candidates as at least somewhat religious. Just 2 percent of GOP voters think Rubio would be a good president and that he is not particularly religious, with just 1 percent saying the same about Cruz and Carson.