Hindu religion gain favor with Americans: Pew survey

Simran Mattikalli, 7, and her mother Kavitha Mattikalli, of Potomac, MD, offer lights to deities as Hindus celebrate Diwali at The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) on Sunday, November 3, 2013, in Potomac, MD. 
(Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

NEW YORK:  Americans are more positive towards Hindu religion, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center, which found that feelings for Muslims and atheists while still neutral, have improved from being “chilly” when the last survey was taken in 2014.

The survey finds that when it comes to religion, Americans generally express more positive feelings toward various religious groups today than they did just a few years ago. Asked to rate a variety of groups on a “feeling thermometer” ranging from 0 to 100, U.S. adults give nearly all groups warmer ratings than they did three years ago.

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.

However, the mean ratings given to particular religious groups still vary widely depending on who is being asked.  For example, young adults – those ages 18 to 29 – express warmer feelings toward Muslims than older Americans do.

Moreover, young adults rate all of the groups in the study within a relatively tight range, from 54 degrees for Mormons to 66 for Buddhists. By contrast, older Americans (ages 65 and older) rate some religious groups, such as mainline Protestants (75) and Jews (74), very warmly, and others, such as Muslims and atheists (44 degrees each), much more coolly.

A total of 4,248 adults were questioned for the survey on Pew Research Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel. The survey also finds wide variation in the ratings that U.S. religious groups give one another. While for the most part Jews and Christians tend to rate each other warmly, atheists and evangelicals continue to view each other in a negative light.

Americans express warm feelings toward Jews, with half of U.S. adults rating them at 67 degrees or higher on the 0-to-100 scale. Four-in-ten Americans rate Jews in the middle of the thermometer, between 34 and 66, and only about one-in-ten express feelings that fall at 33 degrees or cooler. These warm ratings are not significantly affected by the ratings of Jews themselves, because Jews make up just 2% of the U.S. adult population.

Similarly, about half of U.S. adults (49%) rate Catholics at 67 degrees or higher. But this does include a substantial share of respondents who are themselves Catholic, as Catholics make up roughly one-fifth of the adult population in the U.S. Looking only at non-Catholic respondents, 43% rate Catholics at 67 or higher on the thermometer and 44% place them in the middle range.

Just over four-in-ten Americans (44%) feel very warmly toward evangelical Christians, while 38% rate them in the middle of the thermometer and about one-in-five (18%) express cooler feelings toward this group. These ratings also include many people who consider themselves to be evangelical Christians (28% in the sample analyzed); once self-described evangelicals are excluded, a smaller share of non-evangelical U.S. adults (32%) rate evangelicals in the warmest third of the thermometer. (For more on how respondents rate religious groups other than their own, see the detailed tables that accompany this report.)

Pluralities of Americans give Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, atheists and Muslims temperature ratings somewhere in the middle of the thermometer. Roughly equal shares rate atheists coldly (28%) as rate them warmly (30%). And slightly more Americans view Muslims in a negative light (30%) than a positive one (25%). Relatively few U.S. adults (9%) rate mainline Protestants (e.g., Episcopalians or United Methodists) coldly. The rest view this group either warmly (46%) or somewhat neutrally (44%).

Most groups rate Buddhists and Hindus fairly warmly, although white evangelical Protestants are one exception (they rate both of these groups at a more neutral 47 degrees). There are only two groups analyzed who give another group a mean rating of 33 or lower, and the chilly feelings are mutual: Atheists rate evangelical Christians at a cold 29 degrees, while white evangelical Protestants place atheists at 33. The two groups’ views of each other were also relatively cool in 2014, though white evangelical Protestants have warmed up slightly to atheists (from 25 to 33 degrees).

Both Democrats and Republicans now express warmer views toward a variety of groups than they did in June 2014, but large gaps remain between partisans in their views of a few of these groups. Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party express somewhat warm feelings toward Muslims, giving them an average rating of 56 on the feeling thermometer, up from 47 in 2014. Republicans and those who lean Republican, meanwhile, rate Muslims at a much cooler 39 degrees, though this is up 6 degrees from 2014.

As was the case in 2014, average ratings of religious groups currently vary more widely among Republicans – ranging from 39 for Muslims to 71 for evangelical Christians – than ratings among Democrats, which range from 52 for Mormons to 66 for Jews.