WASHINGTON – The U.S. has become significantly less Christian in the last eight years as the share of American adults who espouse no systematic religious belief increased sharply, a major new study found.
For what is likely the first time in U.S. history – certainly the first since the early days of the country – the actual number of American Christians has declined. Christianity, however, remains by far the nation’s dominant religious tradition, according to the new report by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
The rapid increase in the number of adults without ties to traditional religious institutions has strong implications for other social institutions and for politics.
Whether a person attends religious services regularly is among the strongest predictors of how he or she will vote, with traditional religion strongly tied to the Republican Party, at least among white Americans.
The decline in traditional religious belief adds to the demographic challenges facing the GOP, which already faces difficulties because of its reliance on white voters in a country that has grown more racially diverse.
The interaction between religion and politics may work both ways. Some scholars believe that close ties between traditional religion and conservatism, particularly on issues such as same-sex marriage, have led many younger Americans to cut their ties with organized religion.
Almost 1 in 5 American adults were raised in a religious tradition but are now unaffiliated, the study found. By contrast, only 4% have moved in the other direction.