Portraits of American Life Study
Hosted by The ARDA
The PALS seeks to understand the impact of religion in everyday life, and ultimately the connections between religious change and other forms of change among diverse individuals and families over the course of their lives.

Below are five reports on various topics using PALS data, most comparing 2006 to 2012. Feel free to peruse these, and also to use them for your own purposes (properly cited of course).

1. Exceptional Political Participation among African Americans: Countering the Overall Decline

Jared L. Peifer and Michael O. Emerson

Americans, in general, have become less political active from 2006 to 2012. However, blacks have countered this trend with increased political participation. This black exceptionalism remains when narrowing the sample to respondents that voted for Obama in 2008. This suggests Obama’s status as the first black President is responsible for this increased political participation among blacks.

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2. 'Making Babies': Religion and Moral Diversity in Views on Abortion and Human Genetic Engineering

Terri Laws, W. Duncan Wadsworth, Michael O. Emerson

This white paper using PALS data discusses how race, gender, and frequency of attendance at worship services can impact attitudes about the morality of abortion, the use of genetic engineering to guide child characteristics as well as the basis for moral views. The majority of whites and Hispanics say they base their moral views on their personal conscience. The majority of African Americans, however, say that they base their moral views on God’s law. Attitudes about the morality of abortion are influenced by frequency of religious worship. Respondents who said they attend worship services two or more times per month are most likely to believe that abortion ought to be restricted. Women were more likely than men to say that using human engineering to make a smarter baby is “always wrong.” This paper suggests that moral diversity and diverse moral messaging remain important aspects of American life. Furthermore, for some communities, religious messaging has a clear impact on their attitudes about the use of medical technologies. These influences are important to take into account in public policy debates such as accessibility to and funding for medical research.

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3. Religious Change and Continuity in the United States: 2006-2012

Michael O. Emerson and Laura J. Essenburg

Examining the same adult Americans from 2006 to 2012, this report explores how Americans have changed and stayed the same in their religious beliefs and practices. We find that 15% of adult Americans switched religious traditions during this period, with nearly 40% of those switchers exiting religious traditions altogether. The next most common move was to Evangelical Protestantism from other faith traditions, including some who in 2006 were not in a religious tradition. We also find substantial volatility in worship attendance and congregational switching. Only 45% of adult Americans attend worship with the same frequency in 2012 as they did in 2006, and over one-third switched congregations. Other changes identified in this report are a declining confidence in clergy, an increased confidence in faith and God’s care, and a substantial jump in the proportion of Americans who view all religions with equal respect.

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4. What is Marriage? Americans Dividing

Michael O. Emerson and Laura J. Essenburg

Debates have swirled around the legal definition of marriage, as U.S. states and indeed national governments consider the issue. This report draws on the longitudinal Portraits of American Life Study (PALS) to examine how the adult American public defines legal marriage, and whether that definition is changing over time. Interviewing the same 1294 Americans in 2006 and 2012, we track responses to the statement, “the only legal marriage should be between one man and one woman.” The findings include that in both years, the slight majority of adult Americans agree with the statement, and there was no significant overall change between 2006 and 2012. Yet, many Americans changed their minds over the period (some changing from agreeing to disagreeing, others from disagreeing to agreeing). The patterned manner in who changed their minds resulted in more division in 2012 than in 2006 in how Americans define marriage. Specifically, divisions have grown along educational, religious, and age lines. The patterns suggest a growing cultural divide across the nation.

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5. What should be done with Illegal Immigrants? The Views of Americans

Renita Miller and Michael O. Emerson
Kinder Institute for Urban Research
Rice University

Change in immigration flows and the large numbers of immigrants in the U.S illegally has led to heated debates. A key question centers on what to do with immigrants already in the U.S., but here illegally. Should they be sent back to their home nations? Should they be allowed to remain in the U.S. illegally? Should they be allowed to remain in the U.S. and offered a path to citizenship? We posed this very question to a scientifically gathered random sample of over 1300 adult Americans. We report our findings here, in the hopes that it will be useful for the ongoing immigrant debates and inform policy makers.

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