Survey Reveals Depth of Religious, Political Diversity among Millennials

When researchers at the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University set out earlier this year to sketch a portrait of college-age millennials, they expected to find a lot of diversity.

What they didn’t anticipate, says Daniel Cox, director of research and co-founder of the institute, was so much division.

“One of the things that we were most startled by was the significant division that we found, particularly on issues of race and religion,” Cox said regarding one of the institute’s latest reports, titled “A Generation in Transition: Religion, Values, and Politics among College-Age Millennials: Findings from the 2012 Millennial Values Survey.”

Cox said while the Millennial Generation — today’s 18 to 29-year-olds — is often thought of as more diverse and more tolerant than previous generations, “we found stark differences between the views of White millennials and African-American and Hispanic millennials, particularly around the vote.”

Indeed, the survey — which the institute conducted jointly with Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs — found stark differences in viewpoints along both racial and religious lines not only with respect to the 2012 presidential election, but when it comes to things that range from whether poor people have become overly reliant on government assistance programs to whether Whites are being subjected to reverse discrimination. The survey also found differences in which millennials list their religion on their Facebook pages.

When it comes to religious identity, however, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to put this generation into one particular religious category, the survey found.

That’s because they are moving away from the religions in which they were raised at unprecedented rates, although this phenomenon is occurring mostly among White millennials, particularly in the Catholic faith, the survey found.

Disenchanted with the Establishment

Mark Taylor, a millennial expert who works with faculty to help them better connect with young people, suggests this movement is being driven by many college-age students coming to view organized religion as “strongly morally judgmental without accepting responsibility to accept truly ‘religious’ missions, like helping the poor and socially disenfranchised.”

Taylor said there are other factors turning millenials away from identifying with a particular religious affiliation.

“Sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church, accusations of fiscal mismanagement and opulent living in the public faces of mainstream Evangelical pastors point to hypocrisies that reduce millennial support,” Taylor said.

The “Generation in Transition” study adds to the growing body of research that shows millennials being less religion-affiliated and coalescing around support for various social issues, according to some specialists.

“We’ve also seen a rise in the percentage of young people who do not identify with a particular religion,” said Scott Keeter, Director of Survey Research at the Pew Research Center.

“Their [PRRI and Georgetown’s] findings on support for legal abortion are similar to ours, as are their findings on support in this age group for same-sex marriage.”

The Effect of Race on Politics

While millennials are evidently becoming less religious-affiliated, where clear religious lines do exist, often so do divergent views, the survey found. The same is true along lines of race and ethnicity. The upcoming 2012 presidential election is a case in which the survey found significant divisions along lines of both race and religion.

For instance, while President Barack Obama held “overwhelming leads” over a generic Republican opponent among Black and Hispanic millennial voters (92 percent vs. 2 percent, respectively, and 61 vs. 28 percent, respectively), only 33 percent of White millennial voters said they would like to see Obama win re-election while a majority — 55 percent — said they would prefer a Republican win the 2012 election. (At the time of the survey Mitt Romney had still not secured the GOP presidential nomination. PRRI and Georgetown plan to update the survey later this year.)

The views toward Obama changed when educational attainment was factored into the equation. Specifically, among White millennials with a college degree, 45 percent favored Obama, while 44 percent favored a Republican candidate.

Along religious lines, only 27 percent of “White mainline Protestants” and 11 percent of White evangelical Protestants said they would like to see Obama re-elected, while more than 63 percent of White mainline Protestants and 79 percent of White evangelical Protestants said they would like to see a Republican elected.

Roughly half of Catholic millennials preferred Obama, versus 39 percent who favored a Republican. Among religiously-unaffiliated voters, 64 percent said they would like to see Obama re-elected.

Taylor said the gap between Black and White millennial voters in support for Barack Obama is “especially striking” and might reflect millennials following their parents’ voting patterns.

“For White millennial voters, fiscal responsibility issues, where Republicans might be perceived as stronger, might trump the social issues where Democrats might be more sympathetic and active, while this might be flipped in Black millennials, who might have a closer, more historical and more personal relationship with some social issues,” Taylor said.

Here are a few other examples of instances where the survey turned up sharp differences along lines of race, ethnicity and religion.

 

Minority Issues: While only 24 percent of Black millennials and 37 percent of Hispanic Millennials agree that the government has “paid too much attention to the problems of blacks and other minorities,” 56 percent of White millennials agreed with this statement. Among White Catholics, 65 percent agreed with the statement while only 38 percent of Latino Catholics agreed with it.

 

Government Assistance: While 71 percent of White millennials agreed that “poor people have become too dependent on government assistance programs,” the proportion drops to 64 percent among Hispanic millennials and 50 percent among Black millennials. Similarly, while “strong majorities” of White Evangelical (86 percent), White mainline Protestants (76 percent) and Catholics (72 percent) agreed with the statement, “less overwhelming majorities” of Black Protestants (58 percent) and religiously unaffiliated (60 percent) agreed.

Same-Sex Marriage: While 69 percent of White Evangelicals opposed same-sex marriage, Black Protestants were evenly split over the issue at 48 percent for and against. The greatest support for same-sex marriage was found among religiously-unaffiliated millennials, a group in which only 17 percent opposed it and 81 percent favored it.

Perception of others

The survey also sought to deal with this generation’s views on various religions themselves. When it comes to “present-day Christianity,” the survey turned up “conflicting views.” Asked whether contemporary Christianity is “relevant to your life,” 58 percent agreed but 40 percent disagreed. And 64 percent described Christianity as “anti-gay,” 62 percent described it as “judgmental,” and 58 percent said it was “hypocritical.” Millennials have issues with Mormons and Muslims as well. For instance, while 6 percent described Mormons with positive terms, twice as many used negative terms. They are divided over whether the values of Islam are at odds with the American way of life — 49 percent disagree while 47 percent agree.

To gain a sense of how millennials identify themselves religiously in social media, the survey examined the degree to which various groups tended to list their religious identity on their Facebook profile pages.

The survey found that fewer than half — 45 percent — listed their religious identity on their Facebook profile, but the rate varied by religion itself. For instance, about three-fourths of White Evangelicals included their religious identity, while only 30 percent of religiously-unaffiliated millennials listed any kind of religious identity on their Facebook profile page.