One in Five U.S Citizens has no particular religion

Study: 1 in 5 Americans has no particular religion

Tue Oct 9, 2012 11:17AM GMT

The number of Americans who say they have no particular religion has grown rapidly in the last five years, a trend that researchers say has significant implications for coming elections and American culture more broadly.

A report released today by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 20 percent of Americans say they do not belong to any religion or are atheist or agnostic, the highest percentage ever recorded in Pew polls and about 5 percent more than those who said they had no religious affiliation five years ago.

Researchers attribute the growth in the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated – or “nones” as they are sometimes called – to changing patterns of religious participation and belief among younger generations and a “softening” of commitment to religion among some older Americans. People who rarely or never attend church are also more likely to say they are not affiliated with any religion than in the past.

A third of adults under 30 say they have no religion, a much higher percentage than is found among older generations or was measured among young people in past decades.

The trend is expected to continue as new generations replace older ones, researchers found.

“There is also some evidence to suggest that the growth of the ‘nones’ is one of several indicators that the U.S. public may gradually be growing less religious,” Pew senior researcher Gregory Smith told reporters at the Religion Newswriters Association annual conference in Bethesda, Md., on Saturday, before the official study was released.

He emphasized that the U.S. remains a “highly religious country,” especially compared to Western European nations.

The findings were compiled from a new national poll of nearly 3,000 adults, past survey data and a new survey of about 1,000 religiously unaffiliated people that Pew conducted in June and July with PBS’s Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly.


The study presents a stark map of how political and religious polarization have merged in recent decades. Congregations used to be a blend of political affiliations, but that’s generally not the case anymore. Sociologists have shown that Americans are more likely to pick their place of worship by their politics, not vice versa. Washington post

For the presidential campaigns, the data reflect a simple fact on the ground. Three-quarters of unaffiliated voters voted for Barack Obama in 2008. Today, the unaffiliated break like this: 65 percent for Obama, 27 percent for Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

The “none”s are strongly liberal on social issues, including abortion and same-sex marriage, but no different from the public overall and the religiously affiliated on their preference for a smaller government providing fewer services.

Some political observers think that one of the reasons Obama and Romney have spoken minimally and in general terms about their faiths is that they haven’t wanted to alienate unaffiliated voters.

The beliefs of the unaffiliated aren’t easy to characterize, as the Pew poll shows. The nones are far less likely to attend worship services or to say religion is important in their lives. But 68 percent say they believe in God or a universal spirit, one-fifth say they pray every day and 5 percent report attending weekly services of some kind. Washington Post

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