Americans See Religion Losing Influence

January 6, 2011

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gallup-influence-of-religion1957-to-present-jan11.gifSeven in 10 Americans say religion is losing its influence on American life, according to results of a new Gallup poll. This figure has risen 27% from 55% who gave the same view in 2002, and is tied with 2009 for the highest percentage who say religion is losing influence since 1970.

Another 25% said religion is increasing its influence on American life, with 2% saying religion’s influence is staying the same. In 2002, about the same percentage said religion was maintaining a steady influence, but around 50% said its influence was increasing.

Views on Religion Fluctuate with Times

Americans’ views of the influence of religion in the US have fluctuated substantially in the years since this question was first asked 1957, according to Gallup. At that point, perhaps reflecting what Gallup calls a general focus on family values that characterized the Eisenhower era, 69% of Americans said religion was increasing its influence, the most in Gallup’s history.

Views of the influence of religion shifted dramatically in the mid-1960s. By 1970, in the midst of the protests over the Vietnam War and general social upheaval, a record 75% of Americans said religion was losing influence in American society.

Personal Importance of Religion More Stable

gallup-religion-personal-jan-2011.JPGAmericans’ views about the influence of religion in their own lives have been considerably more stable during the past six or seven decades than their views about the influence of religion on American society. Fifty-four percent of Americans in December 2010 said religion is “very important” in their lives.

This is down slightly from the past two decades, but roughly equal with levels measured in the 1980s. Americans were much more positive about the effect of religion on their own lives in the 1950s and 1960s, including the historic high of 75% who said religion was very important in 1952.

Church and Synagogue Membership Reflects Slow Decline

gallup-religion-member-jan-2011.JPGSelf-reported church or synagogue membership has drifted slowly downward in the US during the past 70 years. The current 61% of Americans who report church or synagogue membership is tied with 2007 and 2008 as the lowest in Gallup’s history and down significantly from a high of 76% in 1947. As recently as 2000, 70% of Americans reported church/synagogue membership, meaning membership in a house of worship has dropped 15% in the past decade.

Daily Negative Emotions Lower for Very Religious

Very religious Americans are also less likely to report experiencing the daily negative emotions of worry, stress, sadness, and anger than are their moderately religious and nonreligious counterparts, according to other recent Gallup data. For example, only 30.6% of very religious Americans report having experienced worry “a lot of the day yesterday.” This is almost 21% lower than the 38.6% of moderately religious Americans who report having experienced worry and 10% lower than the 34% of non-religious Americans who report having experienced worry.

This general trend is also true when respondents are asked if they experienced stress, sadness and anger a lot of the day yesterday. Moderately religious respondents have the highest response rates for each negative emotion (including 46% for stress, the highest single percentage response of any group to any emotion).

Gallup defines “very religious Americans” as having religion as an important part of daily life and attending church/synagogue/mosque at least every week or almost every week (44% of US adult population). Religion is not an important part of daily life for “non-religious” Americans and church/synagogue/mosque attendance occurs seldom or never (30% of US adult population). All others who do not fall into the very religious or nonreligious groups are “moderately religious” (27% of US adult population, total equals 101% due to rounding).

About the Data: Results for the 2010 Gallup poll aggregate are based on telephone interviews conducted May 3-6 and Dec. 10-12, 2010, with a random sample of 2,048 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

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