Poll Exposes a Divide between Liberal Pastors and Conservative Pews 

Michael Foust | ChristianHeadlines.com Contributor | Published: Sep 29, 2023
Poll Exposes a Divide between Liberal Pastors and Conservative Pews 

Poll Exposes a Divide between Liberal Pastors and Conservative Pews 

Pastors within America’s mainline churches are considerably more liberal and more likely to vote Democrat than the people in the pews, according to a new survey that revealed ministers have drifted even further to the left than the last time the poll was conducted.

The survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that 55 percent of mainline church clergy consider themselves liberal, while 22 percent call themselves moderate and 22 percent conservative. By contrast, only 20 percent of mainline churchgoers describe themselves as liberal, while 31 percent say they’re moderate and 45 percent conservative. 

Mainline churches are defined as the historic, traditional denominations in the United States and are to be differentiated from more evangelical denominations. The Southern Baptist Convention, for example, is not a mainline denomination. 

The survey polled clergy and churchgoers from seven mainline denominations: the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the American Baptist Churches USA, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Solid majorities of clergy in five denominations self‐identify as liberal: United Church of Christ (84 percent), PCUSA (70 percent), Episcopal (69 percent), ELCA (68 percent), and Disciples of Christ (62 percent). Clergy within the United Methodist Church (44 percent) and ABCUSA (26 percent) are less likely to identify as liberal. 

Meanwhile, the survey also found that mainline clergy are “much more likely to identify as Democrat than Republican.”

The poll found that 49 percent of mainline church clergy call themselves Democrat, while 28 percent say they’re Independent and 14 percent Republican. That’s compared to 30 percent of churchgoers who ID as Democrat, 26 percent as independent, and 34 percent as Republican. 

The United Church of Christ has the “highest share of clergy who identify as Democrat” (71 percent), followed by PCUSA (61 percent), Episcopalian (60 percent), Disciples of Christ (60 percent), ELCA clergy (59 percent). United Methodist Church (38 percent) and ABCUSA (31 percent).

The 55 percent of mainline clergy who call themselves liberal is higher than in 2008 (48 percent).

Photo Courtesy: ©Getty Images/Kobus Louw

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chroniclethe Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

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Poll Exposes a Divide between Liberal Pastors and Conservative Pews