Over the past few years, as rancor and division has increased, Americans’ feelings about all sorts of religious groups have become much more positive. According to a Pew study:
While Americans still feel coolest toward Muslims and atheists, mean ratings for these two groups increased from a somewhat chilly 40 and 41 degrees, respectively, to more neutral ratings of 48 and 50. Jews and Catholics continue to be among the groups that receive the warmest ratings – even warmer than in 2014.
Evangelical Christians, rated relatively warmly at 61 degrees, are the only group for which the mean rating did not change since the question was last asked in 2014. Americans’ feelings toward Mormons and Hindus have shifted from relatively neutral places on the thermometer to somewhat warmer ratings of 54 and 58, respectively. Ratings of Buddhists rose from 53 to 60. And mainline Protestants, whom respondents were not asked to rate in 2014, receive a warm rating of 65 in the new survey.
The increase in mean ratings is broad based. Warmer feelings are expressed by people in all the major religious groups analyzed, as well as by both Democrats and Republicans, men and women, and younger and older adults.
The poll has some other interesting findings. Younger Americans are more positive toward Muslims and atheists than are older Americans, but less positive toward Protestants and Jews—even though they remain positive toward those groups overall. Evangelical Christians, meanwhile, aren’t so hot on atheists—and vice versa. Across the board, Jews and Catholics receive the warmest ratings.
To your average open-minded American, these numbers probably aren’t very surprising. But to some, they fly in the face of established narratives. Most obviously, elements of the alt-Right will have a steeper hike than they thought in their efforts to brand Jews, Muslims, and others as threats to America. On the Left, meanwhile, these data complicate the story of rising Islamophobia.
Religious freedom is a cornerstone of American liberty, and it arises from more than abstract adherence to liberal philosophy. Americans traditionally like all sorts of religious groups. Even as the earth seems to be shifting under our feet, that hasn’t changed.