One-Fifth of Americans Now Religiously Unaffiliated

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 9 2012 10:53 AM

One-Fifth of Americans Now Religiously Unaffiliated

141811084
People tour an atheist welcome tent during the Reason Rally on the National Mall March 24, 2012 in Washington, DC

Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.

Political strategists, take note: Nearly 1 in 5 Americans now identify themselves as "unaffiliated" when it comes to their religious denomination.

That's according to a new Pew survey out Tuesday tracking the so-called religious "nones," a group that's increased by 5 percentage points in the past five years—and roughly 10 points in the past two decades—to 19.6 percent of all Americans, or about 46 million people. Indicating that the increase owes something to generational shifts in the general population, the number of younger "nones" is even bigger: A third (32 percent) of American adults under 30 are now unaffiliated.

Advertisement

Pew breaks down the category into three sub-groups: atheist, agnostic or "nothing in particular." Atheists and agnostics make up about 6 percent of the total population, or about 13 million people. The rest aren't exactly non-believers, however, with two-thirds of the entire "unaffiliated" category expressing some sort of belief in God. Overall, 42 percent of the group described themselves as neither religious nor spiritual, with the rest, a slight majority, identifying themselves in one of those two categories.

But here's where things get interesting: The religiously unaffiliated now make up the plurality religion of Democratic-leaning voters at 24 percent. For comparison, Black Protestants and White mainline Protestants comprise 16 and 14 percent of that voting group, respectively. That heavy Democratic support, however, seems to be limited: While the unaffiliated have a strong liberal stance on social issues (nearly three-quarters think abortion and same-sex marriage should be legal), the group's preferences on government size and role actually largely mirror the breakdown of the general population: 50 percent of the unaffiliated would prefer a smaller government, compared to 52 percent of the general population.

This kind of makes sense, given that the group expressed strong support for the role of religious institutions in fighting poverty and building community (77 percent and 78 percent), but were considerably less keen on the role of religion in "defending morality" than the general American public (52 percent vs. 76 percent). The latter role, of course, is more readily associated with the conservative Religious Right attitude towards religion's role in American governance.

The whole survey is worth a read over at Pew.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
Over There
Sept. 23 2014 12:16 PM Another Intervention?    Anti-ISIS airstrikes aren’t about keeping Americans safe.  
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 23 2014 10:03 AM Watch Steve Jobs Tell Michael Dell, "We're Coming After You"
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 23 2014 11:33 AM High-Concept Stuff Designed to Remind People That They Don’t Need Stuff  
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 11:13 AM Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 11:48 AM Punky Brewster, the Feminist Punk Icon That Wasn’t
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 10:51 AM Is Apple Picking a Fight With the U.S. Government? Not exactly.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 11:00 AM Google Exec: Climate Change Deniers Are “Just Literally Lying”
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.