Survey points to potential religious tensions between Beck and supporters
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following the rally where Fox News television host Glenn Beck called for a religious renewal in America, less than 1-in-5 (17%) Americans believe Glenn Beck is the right person to lead a religious movement, according to this month’s PRRI/RNS Religion News Poll, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service.
The PRRI/RNS Religion News Poll also found that roughly an equal number of Americans have favorable and unfavorable opinions of Beck (28% and 27% respectively), but nearly 4-in-10 say they haven’t heard enough to have an opinion.
“Beck’s favorability is highest among Republicans (55%), white evangelical Protestants (48%), and Americans 65 and over (37%); but even among those with a favorable opinion of him, less than half (45%) think he is the right person to lead a religious movement,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute.
The survey found that Beck’s own religious affiliation—the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormon Church)—may hamper his ability to lead a religious movement and limit his own appeal. A majority of Americans (57%) say they don’t know his religious affiliation, with less than 1-in-5 (17%) correctly identifying his religion as Mormon. But among those who can identify it, perceptions of the Mormon faith have a significant impact on attitudes toward Beck. Among those who know Beck is Mormon and believe Mormons have similar religious beliefs to their own, a majority (53%) say that he is the right person to lead a religious movement, and fully 79% have a favorable opinion of him. However, among those who know Beck is Mormon but believe Mormons have different religious beliefs from their own, less than one-third (28%) believe he is the right person to lead a religious movement and significantly fewer (54%) have a favorable opinion of him.
Given that relatively few people area aware of his religion, Beck’s popularity has not been significantly impacted by public perceptions of the Mormon faith. However, if Beck continues to make his faith a more central part of his public persona, that could change. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Americans perceive Mormon religious beliefs to be different from their own. Among white evangelical Protestants, the religious group with the highest favorability rating for Beck, more than two-thirds say that Mormons have religious beliefs somewhat (26%) or very (42%) different from their own. And similar proportions of Republicans, another group highly supportive of Beck, also say that Mormons have religious beliefs somewhat (29%) or very (40%) different from their own.
“The disparity between Glenn Beck’s favorability ratings and how people feel about him as a religious leader suggests that people are more drawn to him for political reasons than religious ones,” said Daniel Cox, Director of Research for Public Religion Research Institute. “Many of Beck’s strongest supporters, such as Republicans and white Evangelicals, perceive real differences between their own faith and Beck’s Mormon faith, and this may become a liability in his efforts to lead as a religious figure.”
*The PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey is conducted monthly by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service. Results from the survey were based on telephone interviews conducted during September 9-12, 2010, among a national probability sample of 1,007 adults.