Most U.S. adults feel religion’s influence is in decline, according to a Gallup report published June 21.
Only 16% of respondents said they believe religion’s influence is increasing, a 22-point drop from April 2020 and only two points above the all-time low of 14% in 1969 and 1970.
The pandemic had a notable impact on responses to this question.
In 2019, 19% said religion was increasing in influence. By April 2020, that number jumped to 38%.
From 2009 to 2019, those affirming an increase in influence ebbed and flowed between 18% and 31%, with an average of 21.7%, so 2020 was an outlier over the past decade.
Catholics (19%) were most likely to say religion is increasing its influence in 2021, followed by Protestants (15%) and “nones” (13%).
Weekly churchgoers (21%) were more likely than monthly churchgoers (13%) and those who seldom / never attend church (15%) to affirm increasing influence.
All subgroups saw a notable increase in respondents who said religion was increasing its influence between 2019 and 2020, with nearly all groups then seeing a decline from 2020 to 2021 at least equal to the prior year’s increase.
For example, the number of all Republicans who said religion was increasing rose by 26 points from 2019 to 2020 to 44% and then declined by 37 points from 2020 to 2021, and Protestants affirming an increased influence rose 25 points to 43% and then fell 28 points.
Only 65-plus (19-point increase; 18-point decrease) and independent (16-point increase; 14-point decrease) respondents were the exception to this pattern.
“Every major subgroup of Americans showed an increased belief that religion was becoming more influential in U.S. life last year, followed by a sharp decline in those attitudes this year,” the report said. “As a result, nearly every group has views that are similar today to what they were in 2019. Two notable exceptions are Republicans and Americans with no religious preference, as both are now less likely to perceive religion as influential.”
The last comparable cycle with such a significant increase and decrease was from 2001 to 2002.
In February 2001, 39% said religion’s influence was increasing; that figure jumped to 71% in December. By March 2002, the number dropped to 53% and to 43% by December 2002.
The margin of error is plus-or-minus 4%.