White Christians now make up significantly less than one-half – only 43% – of the U.S. population. Four decades ago, they represented 81% of the country’s residents. These statistics pointing to the weakening of Christianity in American life are among the many contained in a new report released September 6 by PRRI – the Public Religion Research Institute, a polling organization in Washington, D.C. that describes itself as non-profit, independent, and non-partisan.
The 48-page report, America’s Changing Religious Identity, is based on “findings from PRRI’s 2016 American Values Atlas, the single largest survey of American religious and denominational identity ever conducted.” The first sentence of the report’s executive summary highlights the findings: “The American religious landscape is undergoing a dramatic transformation.”
Among the report’s main conclusions:
Today, only 43% of Americans identify as white and Christian, and only 30% as white and Protestant. In 1976, roughly eight in ten (81%) Americans identified as white and identified with a Christian denomination, and a majority (55%) were white Protestants.
White evangelical Protestants are in decline – along with white mainline Protestants and white Catholics. . . Fewer than one in five (17%) Americans are white evangelical Protestant, but they accounted for nearly one-quarter (23%) in 2006. Over the same period, white Catholics dropped five percentage points from 16% to 11%, as have white mainline Protestants, from 18% to 13%.
Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists are all far younger than white Christian groups. At least one-third of Muslims (42%), Hindus (36%), and Buddhists (35%) are under the age of 30. Roughly one-third (34%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans are also under 30. In contrast, white Christian groups are aging. Slightly more than one in ten white Catholics (11%), white evangelical Protestants (11%), and white mainline Protestants (14%) are under 30. Approximately six in ten white evangelical Protestants (62%), white Catholics (62%), and white mainline Protestants (59%) are at least 50 years old.
Nearly half (46%) of Americans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) are religiously unaffiliated.
White Christians have become a minority in the Democratic Party. Fewer than one in three (29%) Democrats today are white Christian, compared to half (50%) one decade earlier. Only 14% of young Democrats (age 18 to 29) identify as white Christian.
The entire report is a fascinating read, replete with charts, graphs, and maps that illustrate the avalanche of data. It made quite a splash in the mainstream media, most of which appeared to celebrate PRRI’s findings that confirm the diminished role of the Christian religion – particularly the prevalence of white Christians – in American life. A Washington Post article about the study on September 6, for example, was headlined “In D.C., white evangelicals are literally the 1 percent.”
Nationally, according to the PRRI poll of more than 101,000 Americans, white evangelicals make up 17 percent of the population, compared with 7 percent in the D.C. region and just 1 percent in the nation’s capital. . . Unaffiliated Americans – people who say they have no particular religious affiliation – make up 24 percent of Americans overall, compared with 28 percent in the D.C. area and 32 percent in the District.
The Post article quoted Terry Lynch, “the longtime head of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, which tries to pull together the city’s faith groups for social activism.”
We’re [residents of the Washington, D.C. area] the way the rest of the country will be looking in the future, to some extent. We’re on the cutting edge in terms of diversity.”
The age of survey respondents influenced their self-identification in terms of religion. As an example, for Americans identifying themselves as Jewish (1.5% according to the study), “the survey included a question to identify those who had a cultural rather than a religious connection to their Jewish identity. An additional 0.8% of Americans identify as culturally but not religiously Jewish.”
The issue of Jewish cultural identity has become increasingly important as younger Jews are more likely to have a cultural affinity. Among Jews under the age of 30, fewer than half (47%) identify as religiously Jewish, while a majority (53%) identify as culturally Jewish. In sharp contrast, more than three-quarters (78%) of Jewish seniors (age 65 or older) are religiously Jewish, while 22% identify as culturally Jewish.
The report addresses political issues that are associated with religion, and explores what it terms the “widening religious gap between Republicans and Democrats, 2006 vs. 2016.”
Today, roughly three-quarters (73%) of the Republican Party is white Christian, but fewer than one-third (29%) of the Democratic Party identifies this way.
The Democratic coalition is also shedding white Christian members, who are fast becoming a minor constituency within the party. . . white Christians make up only 14% of young Democrats.
In terms of the non-religious, “A whopping 40% of young Democrats are religiously unaffiliated.”
Peter Chowka is a widely published author and journalist. He writes most frequently these days for American Thinker and The Hagmann Report. His Web site is AltMedNews.net. Follow Peter on Twitter. Peter’s latest wide-ranging one hour conversation with Doug and Joe on The Hagmann Report on August 28 can be watched here.