New online atlas ‘heat-maps’ views on abortion, gay marriage, immigration


Support of same-sex marriage by state. Graphic courtesy of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI)

WASHINGTON (RNS) Anyone from politicians to scholars to the simply curious can now see just how deeply the nation is divided on abortion or same-sex marriage — and discover there’s significant consensus on immigration — with a new online mapping tool.

The latest edition of the American Values Atlas, released Wednesday (Feb. 25), allows users to “heat-map” views on those issues across all 50 states and 30 metropolitan areas to see where attitudes blow hot or cold.

The Public Religion Research Institute launched the atlas last year featuring political and religious affiliation and demographic data such as age, race and ethnicity. With the new data on abortion, gay marriage and immigration, users can see that “Americans are all over the map” on the hot social questions of the day, said Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI

Support of same-sex marriage by state. Graphic courtesy of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI)

Support of same-sex marriage by state. Graphic courtesy of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI)

To give a sense of the partisanship on issues, Jones looked at the degrees of difference.

Across the U.S., there’s a 43-point spread between the state where the most residents “favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to be able to marry legally” (New Hampshire, at 75 percent) and states where the fewest percentage of people agree (Alabama and Mississippi, each at 32 percent). In Massachusetts — the first state to legalize gay marriage — support is at 73 percent.

On whether abortion should be legal in all or most cases, the gap stretches 36 percentage points; it’s highest in New Hampshire  (73 percent) and lowest in Wyoming (37 percent).

The atlas also maps a second question on abortion: whether “at least some health care professionals in your community should provide legal abortions.”

According to the atlas, in all three cities that Pope Francis is scheduled to visit in September — Philadelphia, New York and Washington — more than 60 percent say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases and that at least some health care professionals in their cities should offer it. More than 60 percent also favor legalizing same-sex marriage.

However, Jones said, there is also “surprising consensus” on immigration. The issue is timely, given President Obama’s current push for reform amid an acrimonious legal and financing debate in Congress and Pope Francis’ frequent calls for people to welcome the stranger.

The atlas shows that more than 62 percent of people in the cities on the pontiff’s itinerary favor offering immigrants who are in this country illegally a path to citizenship (with requirements). More than 17 percent would offer permanent residency but not citizenship. Nineteen percent want to see immigrants identified and deported.

“All the states are in majority territory” on offering a path to citizenship, Jones said. The nationwide gap on immigration is also smaller — just a 14-point spread between Delaware (66 percent) and Wyoming (52 percent).

PRRI also asked a second question, measuring people’s view of immigrants. Again, attitudes were chiefly positive. And politicians headed for the Iowa caucuses and the 2016 presidential race might want to take heed: In Iowa, 57 percent agree that “immigrants strengthen our nation.”

Atlas users can find out everything Iowans think by using the atlas state profile feature, which offers demographic, religious and political and social viewpoints state by state, but the profile feature is not yet available by cities.

However, on the views toward immigrants, one city on the pope’s tour revealed some negative views. One in three Philadelphians surveyed (35 percent) said illegal immigrants are “a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care.”

Because the data were drawn from a large sample — 50,000 interviews, conducted in 2014 by landlines and cellphones — users can search demographic data both by large religious traditions (and those with no religious brand) and by subgroups.

That means it’s possible to see locations and demographic distinctions among Hispanic Catholics, white non-Hispanic Catholic and other Catholics, including other ethnic groups.

It also means religious minorities such as Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Hindus and Buddhists are represented. Even Unitarian Universalists — fewer than 1 percent of all Americans — can be searched if you want to know, for example, that New Hampshire is the only state where they reach 2 percent of the population.

Jones said it may be the 2016 edition of the atlas before users can map views by religious traditions.