Poll: Americans’ Belief in God Is Dropping

By Yonat Shimron
pray prayer belief in God
In the latest Gallup Poll, belief in God dipped to 81%, down 6 percentage points from 2017. (Photo by Chris Liverani/Unsplash/Creative Commons)

Belief in God has been one of the strongest, most reliable markers of the persistence of American religiosity over the years. But a new Gallup Poll suggests that may be changing.

In the latest Gallup Poll, belief in God dipped to 81%, down 6 percentage points from 2017, and the lowest since Gallup first asked the question in 1944.

Even at 81%, Americans’ belief in God remains robust, at least in comparison with Europe, where only 26% said they believed in the God of the Bible, and an additional 36% believe in a higher power, according to a 2018 Pew poll.

Throughout the post-World War II era, an overwhelming 98% of U.S. adults said they believed in God. That began to fall in 2011, when 92% of Americans said they believed in God and, in 2013, went down again to 87%.

The latest decline may be part of the larger growth in the number of Americans who are unaffiliated or say they have no religion in particular. About 29% of Americans are religious “nones” — people who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular” when asked about their religious identity.

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“Belief is typically the last thing to go,” said Ryan Burge, assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University. “They stop attending, they stop affiliating and then they stop believing.”

Less surprising, the Gallup survey showed belief in God has fallen most among younger Americans. Only 68% of adults ages 18-29 said they believed in God (compared with 87% of Americans age 65 or older.)

The poll also found that belief in God is higher among married people (compared with those who are not married), women (as opposed to men) and those who did not go to college (versus college graduates).

But perhaps the most striking differences were in political ideology. Belief in God is correlated more closely with conservatism in the U.S., and as that gap widens it may be a contributor to growing polarization. The poll found that 72% of self-identified Democrats said they believed in God, compared with 92% of Republicans (with independents in between at 81%).

In recent years there has been a rise in the number of Americans who acknowledge being Christian nationalists — those who believe Christian and American identities should be fused.

“It could be that the increase in the number of atheists is a direct result of Christian nationalism,” said Ryan Cragun, a sociologist at the University of Tampa who studies the nonreligious. “They seem to be dominating the rhetoric. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is legitimately backlash against it and people saying, ‘You know what? I’m an atheist.’”

Yonat ShimronYonat Shimron is a national reporter and senior editor for Religion News Service.

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11 thoughts on “Poll: Americans’ Belief in God Is Dropping”

  1. Cynthia Norbeck

    As the Inuit used to say (and perhaps still do):

    “If you have to see to believe, you will miss many things that are real.”

    To those who no longer believe in God or never did…

    You are missing out on knowing the Creator of the universe on a first-name basis. How truly sad!

  2. Marin Heiskell

    This truly saddens me. It also isn’t suprising given how the church has become indistinguishable from the world nowadays.

  3. My hope is that the Creator will begin to reveal himself to those in the evangelical church – if we could start there – that would be a very positive step….

    Thank God to the 7,000 who have not bowed their knee to the white evangelical Ba-al…and may He raised up Elijahs to purify the religious system….

  4. This is hardly surprising considering how American Evangelicals have pretty much put Trump on the same level as God.

    1. The first article comes from a Christian source, the second one doesn’t. They both are informative, however. Something for all Baptists of whatever brand to think about ❗

      “What is Christian nationalism?”

      ‘….

      ‘Broadly speaking, biblical Christianity neither implies nor includes “Christian nationalism.” …’

      https://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-nationalism.html

      https://chicago.suntimes.com/columnists/2022/6/22/23178505/republicans-weaponize-christianity-atheism-s-e-cupp

  5. Some may take these results to mean that people in the technological information age of the 21st century are simply smarter than in previous centuries, and no longer need “God” to explain things previously not understood. They might argue that the proof lies in the numbers who’ve abandonded the faith.

    But, in regard to such a shift in worldview:
    1. When it comes to TRUTH, power in numbers can be a logical fallacy, and thus meaningless in a context like this one.
    2. Then if they say, “there’s no such thing as TRUTH”, well, … is THAT true?

    Hubris, scientific or otherwise, has no place in a thinking man’s toolbox.

  6. Even at 81%, Americans’ belief in God remains robust, at least in comparison with Europe, where only 26% said they believed in the God of the Bible, and an additional 36% believe in a higher power, according to a 2018 Pew poll.

    You might want to clarify that another Pew article from around the same time in 2018 says that by comparison, out of the 80% they found who believed in God in the USA, 56% believe in the God of the Bible, and 23% believe in some other form of deity.

    https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2018/04/25/when-americans-say-they-believe-in-god-what-do-they-mean/

    As the differences in age groups show, this is very much a generational change. Gallup’s polling over the last 80 years shows the percentage of believers in each generation is incredibly stable. Essentially, once people reach adulthood, their religious (or non-religious) beliefs are pretty much set in stone for the rest of their lives. Individuals convert or deconvert all the time, of course, but it’s too small a number to move the needle significantly for an entire generation.

    The upshot is that a further decline in belief over the coming decades is already baked into the numbers. As the more religious boomers continue to die off, the younger, less religious generations will continue to bring the overall number down, and barring some unforeseen turnaround, a rising number of the next generation will be raised in less religious, more secular households, thus reinforcing the trend.

  7. I think that the internet is accelerating our collective shedding of belief.

    I’ve felt for a long time that the internet fosters religious and cultural syncretism and changes the way we form our identities. Whereas I used to have a small collection of people with whom I interacted about faith and theological issues, now I have scores if not hundreds. I belong to online communities where an idea might be interacted with hundreds of times. I’m

    Also, my community is bigger. Anything I say will be seen by and interacted with by friends of all faiths and religious persuasions (and friends of no faith). This will have an effect of moderating what I say. I will engage in a self-censorship that I probably won’t in smaller real life interactions. Maybe it makes me form ideas in more inclusive, less inclusive ways.

    I do feel that the internet is changing my faith.

    This isn’t fleshed out very well and I know people have written academic papers about it.

    Also, as others have mentioned our political polarization is a factor somehow.

    It seems most of us who read this blog come from conservative evangelical backgrounds. I do as well.

    I see politics and religion becoming blurred and conflated to an exceedingly high and troubling degree.

    This will transform the faith of those engaged in those rightward politics, and of those who observe.

    I suppose politics is the new religion for those of all political persuasions, and this has been the case for a long time.

    all the best to all

    Jason

    1. The internet can cut both ways. My walk has been greatly strengthened by Christian thinkers I would not have access to without the internet. As an example, a commenter on this site once recommended a podcast by the Christian chemist, James Tour. Tour would not fit well in the typical Big-Eva ecosystem, but I have been blessed tremendously through his podcasts.

    2. That was supposed to be “more inclusive less *exclusive ways”. James Tour — will check him out, thanks for the recommendation.

  8. From the European point of view, to ask “do you believe in God” may be to be asking the wrong question. Perhaps the question should be “what god do you believe in, if any”, with the crucial rider question of what human being do you take that believing to mediate. How do you view the god that various others believe in; how do you view the humans that spectrum of god-believing mediates. Such a frame of reference to ask the question, need not see Bible or Church of Christianity or God abandoned or weakened. Rather the frame of reference simply sets out to respect the context in which the question has to be asked.

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