Poll: Americans see religion's role declining

January 4, 2011

(RNS) Seven in 10 Americans say religion's influence on the country
is waning, and 61 percent say they belong to a church or synagogue,
equaling the lowest number since Gallup began asking the question in the
1930s.


Opinions about religion's influence have fluctuated in the last 50
years, according to Gallup, loosely following partisan politics: When a
Republican occupies the Oval Office, Americans generally believe
religion's influence is increasing; during a Democratic presidency, the
opposite is true.


However, Gallup cautioned against drawing firm conclusions from
politics in the latest survey.


"Although views that religion was increasing its influence were
highest during the Republican administrations of Eisenhower, Reagan and
George W. Bush, this political connection does not appear the be the
primary explanatory factor," writes Gallup's Frank Newport, in a study
released Dec. 29.


A wide variety of social, political, and economic trends are likely
factors in Americans' view of religion's clout, according to Newport. In
2009, 70 percent also said religion is losing its influence in American
life, the highest number since 1970.


Self-reported church and synagogue membership, meanwhile, continued
its downward drift. Slightly more than six in 10 Americans say they
belong to a church or synagogue, tied with 2007 and 2008 for the lowest
percentage since the 1930s, according to Gallup.