What’s driving this shift? In part, it’s about people who still identify with a religious tradition opting not to be a member of a particular congregation. Only 60 percent of Americans who consider themselves religious are part of a congregation, compared to 70 percent a decade ago, according to Gallup. But the bigger factor, Gallup said, is the surge of religiously unaffiliated Americans — people who are agnostics, atheists or simply say they are not affiliated with a religious tradition. The rise of this group — sometimes referred to as “nones” because they answer “none” when asked about their faith (and, you know, it’s a play on words) — isn’t new. But the Gallup survey is part of a growing body of new research on this bloc (that includes a recent book by one of us, Ryan’s “The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going”).
related: Why QAnon Has Attracted So Many White Evangelicals Read more. »
Let’s look at some of the new insights about the nones:
The nones are growing, but it’s hard to know exactly how many there are.
Why the confusion about the exact number? First, there’s no universal method by which researchers ask people about their religious beliefs. For example, the GSS only offers one response option for the nones (“no religion”), while the CCES offers three (atheist, agnostic, “nothing in particular”). Secondly, Americans are still sorting out exactly how disengaged they are from religion, so even small changes in the way these questions are asked can affect the results.
The nones aren’t just young, highly educated, liberal white people.
The decline over the last decade in the share of Black (-11 percentage points) and Hispanic adults (-10 points) who are Christians is very similar to the decline among white adults (-12 points), according to Pew. The number of college graduates leaving the faith (-13 points) is similar to those without degrees (-11 points). The decline in organized religion is indeed much bigger among Democrats (-17 points) than Republicans (-7 points) and among Millennials (-16 points) compared to Baby Boomers (-6 points), but the trend is very broad.
The nones can generally be broken down into three groups: agnostics, atheists and a third bloc that is much larger than the first two and doesn’t ascribe to a label — the “nothing in particular” bloc. According to CCES data from 2020, about 6 percent of American adults are atheists and 5 percent are agnostics, while 21 percent of Americans describe their religious beliefs as “nothing in particular.” Agnostics and atheists in particular tend to be disproportionately male, white, college-educated and Democratic-leaning. Atheists in particular have fairly negative views about churches and religious organizations.
In contrast, the “nothing in particular” bloc is more diverse — more people of color, more women, more Republicans, fewer people with college degrees. They tend not to have strongly negative views about churches and religious organizations. Also, people in this “nothing in particular” group, unlike the overwhelming majority of atheists and agnostics, sometimes join (or rejoin) religious denominations. About a quarter of those who were nothing in particular joined religious denominations from 2010 to 2014, while only about 13 percent became atheist or agnostic, according to an analysis of CCES data. (Most of them remained nothing in particular.)
People are leaving mainline Protestant churches and Catholicism in particular.
There are about as many evangelicals (22 percent of American adults), Jewish Americans (2 percent), Black Protestants (6 percent) and members of smaller religions in the U.S. like Islam and Hinduism (6 percent) as there were a decade ago, according to GSS data. It’s really two groups in particular that are declining: mainline Protestants (think Episcopalians or Methodists) and Catholics.
related: The Issues That Divide People Within Each Party Read more. »
Part of that decline is about young people — elderly members of these denominations who die are not being replaced by a younger cohort. But older people are now increasingly shifting from Christian to unaffiliated too — particularly older people who lean left politically. As a result, mainline Christianity is not only declining but becoming more conservative. Between 2008 and 2018, three of the largest mainline traditions (the United Methodists, the Episcopalians and the United Church of Christ) all became more Republican.
Nones aren’t just leaving religion because of the Christian right.
People who leave Christianity often cite the politics of the Christian right turning them off. But some of the evidence here suggests that probably isn’t the only explanation. There is a general disengagement of Americans from organized religion — people who are religious no longer identifying as members of congregations. Republicans are becoming less religious, but they seem just fine voting for candidates who court the Christian right. And the people leaving Christianity aren’t usually members of conservative evangelical congregations in the first place.
64 percent of American adults said they approve of how President Biden is handling the government response to the coronavirus pandemic, compared to 29 percent who disapproved, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted April 8-12 and released this week. (Per FiveThirtyEight’s average of all polls asking about Biden’s handling of COVID-19: 63 percent approve and 31 percent disapprove.) Biden had lower marks on other issues, such as the economy (50 percent approve, 42 percent disapprove), gun policy (39-49), climate change (48-35) and the situation at the border (29-55).
About 47 percent of adults said that stress or worry about the coronavirus has negatively affected their mental health, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted March 15-22. That number was highest in July 2020 (about 53 percent) and has ticked down since then. In the most recent Kaiser survey, the demographic groups that were most likely to say the virus outbreak had negatively affected their mental health were people ages 18-29 (61 percent), mothers (58 percent) and women in general (55 percent).
About 30 percent of adults said they are better off financially than at the start of the pandemic, according to an AP-NORC survey conducted from Feb. 12 to March 3 and released this week; 15 percent said they are worse off and 55 percent said their financial situation hadn’t changed that much.
The same Daily Kos/Civiqs poll found that raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy to fund an infrastructure bill — as Biden is proposing — is fairly popular (54 percent approve, 40 percent disapprove).
Opinions were more mixed on getting rid of the filibuster, as some Democrats are proposing. The Daily Kos/Civiqs survey found 39 percent support getting rid of the filibuster, 14 percent want it reformed but not eliminated, 38 percent want to keep the filibuster and 10 percent are unsure.
According to a new poll from Vox and Data for Progress, conducted April 2-5, most adults support ideas involving police reforms. Eighty-four percent support requiring that officers wear cameras, 71 percent favor banning chokeholds and 59 percent support banning no-knock warrants. At the same time, 63 percent of Americans said “most police officers can be trusted,” compared to 31 percent who chose the other response, “you can’t be too careful in dealing with police officers.” And 77 percent said regular police patrols of their neighborhood would make them feel more safe, compared to 14 percent who said less safe.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker2, 52.8 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 40.8 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of +12 points). At this time last week, 53.2 percent of Americans approved of Biden, while 39.9 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of 13.3 points). One month ago, 53.8 percent of Americans approved of Biden, compared to 40.2 percent who disapproved.