WASHINGTON -- Politicians should keep their religion to themselves and quit publicly praying and talking so much about their faith, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The number of people saying "there has been too much religious talk by political leaders" stands at an all-time high since Pew's Forum on Religion & Public Life began asking the question more than a decade ago. Most Americans continue to say that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of politics. Nearly 4 in 10 Americans, or 38 percent, say they have heard "too much expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders." Members of both parties say there is too much discussion of religion but that view is more common among Democrats than Republicans.
Not everyone is tired of the religion talk; 30 percent of those interviewed said there has been too little discussion of candidates and their faith. White evangelicals are the least likely to say there is too much God talk on the campaign trail. College graduates (49 percent) and those unaffiliated with any religious group (64 percent) are most likely to have heard enough.
The findings come as Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney edges closer to becoming the first Mormon to win a presidential nomination even though the former Massachusetts governor has been more reluctant than many of his competitors to talk about his religion.
His main challenger, former Sen. Rick Santorum, has taken every opportunity to talk about his conservative brand of Roman Catholicism in a bid to win over evangelical voters.
Yet from Herman Cain singing gospel to Michele Bachmann telling Iowa caucus voters of how Jesus became her savior, at times it has seemed as if God were also on the ballot. And then there's Newt Gingrich appeal to pastors to overlook his years of infidelities as a time when he was "too far from God."
While 24 percent of voters who favor Romney said there is too little expression of religious faith and prayer by political leaders, 55 percent of Santorum backers said they could hear more discussion of religion in the election.
Many consider the religion talk over-the-top not just at campaign stops but at the pulpit at well, according to Pew.
In the third consecutive poll conducted over the past four years, more than half of those surveyed, 54 percent, said religious institutions should keep out of politics while 40 percent said such institutions should express their views on social and political matters. From 1996 to 2006, the balance tilted the other way.
About half the public says religious conservatives have too much control over the GOP.
At the same time, opinions about whether the Obama administration is friendly toward religion have shifted little since 2009. Today 39 percent say the White House is friendly to religion, 32 percent say it is neutral and 23 percent say it is unfriendly. That's comparable to the results three years ago, except back then only 17 percent said the administration was unfriendly to religion.
There was one noticeable shift, though. The percentage of white Catholics who say the Obama administration is unfriendly to religion has nearly doubled, from 17 percent to 31 percent, since 2009. Pew suggested the current controversy over insurance coverage for contraception might explain the shift.
The survey of 1,503 adults was conducted from March 7 to 11.
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