According to the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press on the 2012 presidential race, many churchgoers say their clergy have encouraged them to vote, but few say their clergy have discussed the candidates directly or favored one over the other. 

While many regular churchgoers say they have been encouraged to vote by their clergy, relatively few say church leaders are discussing the candidates directly or favoring one candidate over the other.

  • Black Protestants are far more likely than white Protestants or Catholics to say they are hearing about the candidates and the importance of voting, and the messages they are hearing overwhelmingly favor Barack Obama.
  • Among those who attend religious services at least once or twice a month, 52% say their clergy have spoken out about the importance of voting over the past few months.
  • 19% say their clergy have spoken about the candidates themselves
  • 79% of black Protestant churchgoers say their clergy have spoken out about the importance of voting, compared with about half of white evangelical Protestant (52%) and white Catholic (46%) churchgoers.
  • Only about a third (32%) of white mainline Protestants who attend services say their clergy have discussed the importance of voting.
  • 40% of church-going black Protestants say their clergy have spoken directly about the candidates, compared with 17% of white Catholics, 12% of white evangelicals and just 5% of white mainline Protestants.

Most regular churchgoers say the messages they are hearing in church are neutral when it comes to the 2012 election. Only 30% say what they hear at church is more supportive of one candidate or the other. Among those who feel their clergy’s messages favor a candidate, roughly equal numbers say the messages support Obama (15%) as Romney (14%).

What people are hearing varies greatly by race. Nearly half (45%) of black Protestant churchgoers say the messages they hear at church favor a candidate, and every one of those says the message favors Obama. Fewer white churchgoers say they are hearing things that favor a candidate, but among those who are, the messages are far more favorable to Romney than Obama. In particular, white evangelical churchgoers say their clergy have tended to be more supportive of Romney (26%) than Obama (5%). Among white Catholic churchgoers, 21% say their clergy’s messages have been more supportive of Romney, compared with 4% who say the messages have been more supportive of Obama.

Clergy Discussion of the Issues

Three-quarters of those who say they attend religious services at least monthly (74%) say their clergy have recently spoken out about hunger and poverty. Roughly one-third said their clergy have spoken out about abortion (37%) and homosexuality (33%). One-fifth of those who attend religious services at least monthly have heard their clergy speak out about government policies they believe restrict religious liberty (21%), and 16% say their clergy have addressed immigration.

Large majorities of churchgoers in all major religious groups say their clergy have spoken out about hunger and poverty, including 83% of white Catholics, 74% of black Protestants, 73% of white mainline Protestants and 69% of white evangelicals.

Catholics report having heard about abortion from the pulpit at higher rates than other groups; 62% of Catholics say their clergy have discussed abortion, compared with 36% of white evangelical Protestants, 29% of black Protestants and 19% of white mainline Protestants. Three-in-ten Catholics (32%) also say their clergy have spoken out about religious liberty; fewer Protestants (18%) say their clergy have discussed this issue.

Four-in-ten white evangelicals say their clergy have spoken out recently about homosexuality, and 37% of black Protestants say the same. By comparison, fewer white mainline Protestants (24%) and white Catholics (20%) say their clergy have addressed this issue.

The full survey, which also explores campaigns’ outreach efforts and activism, early voting and robo-calls, is available on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press website.  For more news and data on the 2012 election, visit the Pew Forum resource page,Religion & Politics 2012.”