New Gallup poll on faith in America

Gallup released the results of a poll on faith in America done earlier this month, and has a useful analysis of the importance of faith in the United States over the last few decades:

The percentage of Americans who identify with a Christian religion is down some over the decades. This is not so much because Americans have shifted to other religions, but because a significantly higher percentage of Americans today say they don’t have a religious identity. In the late 1940s, when Gallup began summarizing these data, a very small percentage explicitly told interviewers they did not identify with any religion. But of those who did have a religion, Gallup classified — in 1948, for example — 69% as Protestant and 22% as Roman Catholic, or about 91% Christian.

. . .

Sixty-two percent of Americans in Gallup’s latest poll, conducted in December, say they are members of a “church or synagogue,” a question Gallup has been asking since 1937.

It’s down in the recent years of this decade and down a little more compared to the time period prior to the late 1970s. In the 1937 Gallup Poll, for example, 73% of Americans said they were church members. That number stayed in the 70% range in polls conducted in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. By the 1970s, however, the number began to slip below 70% in some polls, although as recently as 1999, 70% said they were church members. Since 2002, self-reported church membership has been between 63% and 65%.

. . .

One measure Gallup has tracked over time asks respondents to indicate how important religion is in their own lives — very, fairly, or not very important.

This year, 56% of Americans have said religion is very important. Only 17% say religion is not very important.

. . . A couple of measures of this question from the 1950s and 1960s indicated that at that time, over 70% of Americans said religion was very important in their daily lives. That percentage dropped into the 50% range by the 1970s, and since then it has fluctuated somewhat, but has generally been in the 55% to 65% range.

. . .

[S]ince 1957 Gallup has periodically asked this question: “At the present time, do you think religion as a whole is increasing its influence on American life or losing its influence?”

In December of this year, 32% said religion was increasing its influence, and 61% losing its influence, with the rest volunteering that it was staying the same or not giving an answer.

There’s been a lot of variance in these responses over the decades. Back in 1957 — during the halcyon days of the Eisenhower administration — 69% of Americans said religion was increasing its influence. And in December 2001 — just months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States — 71% said religion was increasing its influence in American life, which is the highest reading on that measure in Gallup Poll history. But by 2003, the percentage saying religion was increasing its influence had dropped back into the 30% range and though it has been as high as 50% since then, it is just 32% today.

On the other hand, in a couple of polls conducted in 1969 and 1970, only 14% said religion was increasing its influence — the lowest readings on record. That of course was during an era replete with hippies, protests, Woodstock, drug use, and other indications of a less than devout, religious population. Another time period with a low “increasing its influence” percentage was in the early 1990s.

Read it all here.

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