Attitudes about providing parents with school vouchers to allow

them to send their children to religious or non-religious private schools... 

Protestant ministers strongly support school

voucher programs and school prayer

(Original release date:  October 4, 2000)  In the 2000 presidential election, the subject of school vouchers is in the spotlight, not only because Al Gore and George W. Bush disagree on it, but because Gore and running mate Joe Lieberman have differed on the subject.

 

Data from a Grey Matter Research nationwide study conducted among a representative sample of over 500 Protestant church pastors shows that ministers generally agree with Bush and Lieberman rather than with Gore.

 

In the study, ministers were asked whether they support or oppose “giving parents school vouchers to help pay for their children to attend private schools (religious or non-religious) if they choose.”  Forty-nine percent strongly support this concept, and another 24% somewhat support it.  Thirteen percent oppose school vouchers somewhat, and just 14% strongly oppose vouchers.

 

The strongest opposition to school vouchers comes from pastors who are old enough that they probably no longer have school-age children.  Among pastors age 60 or older, just 32% strongly support school vouchers, compared to 54% of the younger pastors.

 

Support for school vouchers also differs along geographic, theological, and political lines.  Geographically, support is strongest in the northeastern U.S. (57% strongly support vouchers).  Levels of support are closer to average in the South (53%) and West (50%), but support in the Midwest trails other regions (41%).

 

Theologically there are differences between pastors in evangelical denominations and those in mainline denominations.  Among pastors from denominations that are members of the conservative National Association of Evangelicals, 63% strongly support school vouchers.  Among pastors from denominations in the traditionally mainline National Council of Churches, 31% support the idea of school vouchers.

 

The greatest variation in support is along political lines.  Sixty-three percent of all Republican pastors strongly support school vouchers, compared to 35% of independents, and just 20% of Democrats.  One other difference along party lines was that Republican pastors tend to be of one mind on this subject, as 88% support school vouchers either strongly or somewhat.  But other pastors are more divided.  Among Democrats, 40% support vouchers strongly or somewhat, while 60% oppose the concept.  Among independents, 62% support vouchers, while 38% oppose them.

 

Ron Sellers is president of Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research), the company that conducted the study.  He noted that the question on school vouchers was intentionally left very general.  “People often debate the details of programs such as this, and never answer the question of whether the overall concept is a good idea or not,” Sellers said.  “We intentionally did not ask pastors whether they support vouchers just for the poor, or just for religious schools, because we wanted to understand their reactions to the overall concept of school vouchers, rather than to specific details.”

 

The study also asked ministers to respond to questions about school prayer.  As might be expected, ministers were solidly in favor of school prayer, whether it’s led by students or by educators.

 

Ninety-three percent of all pastors support “laws allowing student-led prayers at public events in public schools, such as graduation.”  This includes 67% who support this position strongly, 25% who support it somewhat, 4% who oppose it somewhat, and 3% who oppose it strongly.  Support for this is almost universal, not varying significant by the pastor’s age or geographic region.

 

Few ministers of any type oppose this concept.  However, some support it more strongly than others.  For instance, 82% of all Democrats support allowing student-led prayer at school events, but only 48% of all Democrats support this strongly, while 34% somewhat support the idea.  Compare this to 89% overall support among independents (57% strongly, 32% somewhat), and 98% overall support among Republicans (78% strongly, 20% somewhat).

 

Most pastors also support “laws allowing educators or students to lead corporate prayer in public schools.”  Eighty-three percent support this idea, including 44% who support it strongly, and 39% who support it somewhat.  Ten percent oppose this somewhat, and 7% oppose it strongly.

 

On this issue, too, Republican pastors are generally of one mind, while others’ opinions are split.  Among Republicans, 91% support allowing prayer in public schools.  Seventy-five percent of independents want to allow prayer in schools, along with 65% of the Democrats.

 

Among pastors from denominations in the National Council of Churches, 72% support allowing corporate prayer in schools.  Among pastors from denominations in the National Association of Evangelicals, support is at 89%.

 

School prayer is often seen as an issue that liberals strongly oppose and conservatives support just as strongly.  And while it is true that most of the ministers who call themselves political conservatives support prayer in schools, it was surprising how many self-described political liberals also support it.  Among pastors who are politically liberal, 67% favor allowing student-led prayer at public events such as graduation, and 39% favor allowing corporate prayer in schools, even when led by an educator.  Among moderates, support is even stronger:  93% for prayer at public events, and 81% for corporate prayer in schools.

 

Study Details:

Although Grey Matter Research has numerous clients, this study was funded and conducted independently by the company.  The sample of 518 Protestant ministers included only those who were actively pastoring churches.  The study’s total sample is accurate to within ±4.3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level with a 50% response distribution.  The study was conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of pastors.  Respondents’ geography, church size, and denomination were carefully tracked to ensure accuracy.  Data was gathered in late spring 2000.

Education costs money, but then so does ignorance.

Sir Claus Moser, Warden of Wadham College, Oxford

A PASSION FOR

RESEARCH THAT

MAKES A DIFFERENCE

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Attitudes about laws allowing educators or students to lead corporate prayer in public schools... 

Attitudes about laws allowing student-led prayers at public events (such as graduation) in public schools... 

 

Type of Pastor/Church

Strongly Support

Somewhat Support

Somewhat Oppose

Strongly Oppose

All Protestant ministers

67%

25%

4%

3%

Under age 45

68

26

2

3

Age 45 – 59

66

24

6

4

Age 60 or older

70

24

2

4

Northeast U.S. location

68

25

5

2

Midwest U.S. location

66

27

3

5

Southern U.S. location

71

24

2

3

Western U.S. location

66

26

6

3

Democrats

48

34

12

6

Independents

57

32

8

3

Republicans

78

20

0

3

Self-described political liberals

25

41

20

14

Self-described political moderates

58

36

4

2

Self-described political conservatives

81

16

0

2

From an NAE-member denomination

81

18

1

1

From an NCC-member denomination

54

32

8

5

 

Type of Pastor/Church

Strongly Support

Somewhat Support

Somewhat Oppose

Strongly Oppose

All Protestant ministers

49%

24%

13%

14%

Under age 45

51

25

13

11

Age 45 – 59

55

20

14

12

Age 60 or older

32

34

12

22

Northeast U.S. location

57

21

8

13

Midwest U.S. location

41

27

18

15

Southern U.S. location

53

20

12

16

Western U.S. location

50

29

12

10

Democrats

20

19

19

42

Independents

35

27

26

12

Republicans

63

25

7

4

Self-described political liberals

9

21

19

51

Self-described political moderates

34

30

21

15

Self-described political conservatives

65

22

7

6

From an NAE-member denomination

63

30

4

2

From an NCC-member denomination

31

20

22

28

 

Type of Pastor/Church

Strongly Support

Somewhat Support

Somewhat Oppose

Strongly Oppose

All Protestant ministers

44%

39%

10%

7%

Under age 45

43

41

11

5

Age 45 – 59

40

40

12

8

Age 60 or older

52

33

7

8

Northeast U.S. location

41

39

14

6

Midwest U.S. location

42

38

12

9

Southern U.S. location

46

43

6

4

Western U.S. location

46

35

11

7

Democrats

32

33

16

20

Independents

32

43

21

4

Republicans

50

40

6

3

Self-described political liberals

18

21

29

32

Self-described political moderates

33

48

13

6

Self-described political conservatives

54

38

6

2

From an NAE-member denomination

57

32

9

2

From an NCC-member denomination

31

41

15

12