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General Mixing Politics, Religion Bad Idea

Jan 7, 2005
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Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/story.html?id=61a83d87-2b84-4344-9671-ae3272cb9878&k=62108
Mixing politics, religion bad idea in Canada, poll suggests
Janice TibbettsCanWest News Service
Monday, April 17, 2006

OTTAWA - Canadians are becoming increasingly uneasy about mixing religion and politics and they'd be more likely to vote for a party lead by an atheist or a Muslim than an evangelical Christian, suggests a new poll.

The survey was conducted for CanWest News Service late last week, less than three months after Canadians voted for a government led by Stephen Harper, an evangelical Christian and one of the country's most openly religious leaders in decades.

"There's an increasing discomfort with a mixture of religion and politics, which is occurring at the same time as religion and politics are becoming increasingly intertwined,'' said Andrew Grenville, a senior vice-president of the polling firm Ipsos Reid.

The firm conducted its telephone survey with 814 Canadians and 768 Americans on April 11-12. The poll has a margin of error within 3.5 percentage points, 19 times in 20.

Only 63 per cent of Canadians said they'd vote for a party leader and potential prime minister who is an evangelical Christian, even if they liked the party and its views. That dropped from 80 per cent a decade ago.


Canadians appear to be slightly more accepting of a potential prime minister who is a Muslim or atheist.

Sixty-eight per cent said they would vote for a candidate in either of those categories, a drop from 74 per cent and 72 per cent, respectively, in 1996.

The poll also indicates support has slipped for traditional Christian values playing a major role in politics.

Grenville speculated that nervousness about American politics -- more so than the "Harper factor'' -- is responsible for Canadians shying away from politics with religious overtones.

"One part of it is probably the Stephen Harper factor, but I don't think he has been really wearing his religion on his sleeve, nor really embraced strong moral stances that can be traced back to religious belief,'' Grenville said. "It's the U.S. example that has really turned people off.''

The so-called religious right in the United States is considered to be largely responsible for sending President George W. Bush back to the White House in 2004. Moreover, the invasion of Iraq, which Canada did not support, was widely regarded to be infused with religious overtones.

"I wonder if we're being reactionary when we hear George Bush spouting off Bible verses along with rhetoric around his war?'' said Richard Ascough, a religious scholar at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

"I think there's a way we react in Canada by saying `we're not that.' We tend to define ourselves by what we're not.''

Americans who were surveyed also appear to be less inclined than they were a decade ago to vote for a leader who is an evangelical Christian, even if they liked the party and its views. Only 64 per cent would do so, compared with 78 per cent 10 years ago. The results also suggest Americans would be more likely to vote for atheists or Muslims as leaders than they would have been in 1996.


In Canada, there was also a slip in the belief Christians should get into politics to protect their values, with only 39 per cent agreeing with the idea, compared with 46 per cent a decade ago. There was also a five per cent drop -- to 40 per cent from 45 per cent -- in the number who believe it's essential for Christian values to play a major role.

Grenville said he believes there's been a bit of a backlash against the divisive political debate in the last couple of years over same-sex marriage.

"To me it suggests a growing divide in Canadian culture where religion can become that wedge that pushes people apart,'' he said.


© CanWest News Service 2006
 
May 12, 2006
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