Polls and Studies
To jump directly to specific polls/surveys click the following links:
- Growth of the Nonreligious (Pew Survey)
- Atheism Research: Six Kinds of Atheists
- Nearly Half of Americans Think Rise of Non-Religious is Bad for Society
- "Forms, Frequency, and Correlates of Perceived Anti-Atheist Discrimination"
- 'Nones' on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation" (2012 Pew Study)
- American Nones Report
- 2007 Gallup Poll
- 2006 Pew Survey
- 2008 ARIS
- 2006 Mosaic Study
- "Addressing the Needs of Atheist Students"
- 2010 Pew U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey
"The new, nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life asked Americans whether having “more people who are not religious” is a good thing, a bad thing, or doesn’t matter for American society. Many more say it is bad than good (48% versus 11%). But about four-in-ten (39%) say it does not make much difference. Even among adults who do not identify with any religion, only about a quarter (24%) say the trend is good, while nearly as many say it is bad (19%); a majority (55%) of the unaffiliated say it does not make much difference for society."
- Younger generations are less likely to report this trend as a bad thing, as compared to older gnerations.
- There is little to no difference in the responses between men and women.
- Evangelical Protestants are more likely to report it as a bad thing, as compared to mainline Protestants.
- Of the religiously unaffiliated, only 24% say this trend is a good thing. Only 19% say it is bad while 55% report that is does not make a difference.
Researchers at the University of Tennessee found that non-believers could be divided up into six categories:
- Intellectual Atheists/Agnostics: The largest group in the survey--atheists who are proactive in their search for knowledge about belief.
- Activist Atheists/Agnostics: The most community-involved type of atheists. They may have come to activism as a result of involvement in other types of activism, such as LGBT rights or wealth inequality.
- Seeker Agnostics: People who feel that they cannot know about the existence or non-existence of a god or gods.
- Anti-Theists: Often the most visible, this is a small percentage of non-believers. They believe religion is a destructive force in society.
- Non-Theists: A growing group, non-theists are people who have never had religion as a part of their life. They aren't involved in either religous or anti-religious activism.
- Ritual Atheists/Agnostics: Atheists or agnostics who participate in rituals such as holidays, meditation, or ceremonies. They are non-religious, but may participate as part of their culture or because they feel it makes them happier.
Read more here.
Research has shown a continual decline in the religious affiliation of Americans over the last thirty years. However, a 2013 study by the Pew Forum showed that 48% of adults think this is a bad thing for society, with only 11% describing it as a positive change. This number goes up among the religiously unaffiliated, with nearly a quarter (24%) describing the trend as good.
Find more information on this study here.
The nationally representative 2008 American Religious Identification Survey found that 41% of self-identified atheists reported experiencing discrimination in the last 5 years due to their lack of religious identification. This mixed-method study explored the forms and frequency of discrimination reported by 796 self-identified atheists living in the United States. Participants reported experiencing different types of discrimination to varying degrees, including slander; coercion; social ostracism; denial of opportunities, goods, and services; and hate crime. Similar to other minority groups with concealable stigmatized identities, atheists who more strongly identified with their atheism, who were “out” about their atheism to more people, and who grew up with stricter familial religious expectations reported experiencing more frequent discrimination. Implications for future research tied to the ongoing religion/spirituality-health debate are discussed.
The five forms [of discrimination] most frequently reported were: witnessing anti-atheist comments in newspapers or on television (94.7%), being expected to participate in religious prayers against one’s will (79.1%), being told one’s atheism is sinful, wrong, or immoral (75.2%), being asked to attend religious services or participate in religious activities against one’s will (74.4%), and being treated differently because of one’s atheism (67.5%).
Find more information on this study here.
The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.
In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%)
- Two-thirds of "unaffiliated" American adults say they believe in a god (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day.
- With few exceptions the unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.
- Increasingly, Americans describe their religious affiliation in terms that more closely match their level of involvement in churches and other religious organizations. In 2007, 60% of those who said they seldom or never attend religious services nevertheless described themselves as belonging to a particular religious tradition. In 2012, just 50% of those who say they seldom or never attend religious services still retain a religious affiliation – a 10-point drop in five years. These trends suggest that the ranks of the unaffiliated are swelling in surveys partly because Americans who rarely go to services are more willing than in the past to drop their religious attachments altogether.
The Nones Study is based off the 2008 American Religious Identifications Survey. It looks specifically at the numbers in that survey having to do with the non-religious, or "nones", segment of the American population.
To view the full report please click here.
- The 1990s was the decade when the "secular boom" occurred - each year 1.3 million more adult Americans joined the ranks of the Nones. Since 2001 the annual increase has halved to 660,000 a year.
- Most Nones are 1st generation - only 32% of "current" Nones report they were Nones at age 12.
- Whereas Nones are presently 15% of the total adult U.S. population, 22% of Americans aged 18-29 years self-identify as Nones
- Geography remains a factor - more than 1 in 5 people in certain regions (the West, New England) are Nones.
- Class is not a distinguishing characteristic: Nones are not different from the general population by education or income.
- Regarding belief in the divine, most Nones are neither atheists nor theists but rather agnostics and deists (59%) and perhaps best described as skeptics.
- Race is a declining factor in differentiating Nones. Latinos have tripled their proportion among Nones from 1990-2008 from 4% to 12%.
- Politically, 21% of the nation's independents are Nones, as are 16% of Democrats and 8% of Republicans. In 1990, 12% of independents were Nones, as were 6% of Democrats and 6% of Republicans.
This poll asked about the public's willingness to vote for presidential candidates from a variety of different genders, religions, and other backgrounds. While Americans overwhelmingly say they would vote for a black, woman, Catholic, or Hispanic president, they are less likely to support a Mormon candidate, one who is 72 years old, or one who has been married three times.
Read the full Gallup poll here.
- An atheist is the least likely to be elected, with only 45% of respondents saying they would vote for such a candidate
- Homosexuals do only slightly better with 55% responding that they would vote for such a candidate
- Interestingly, 95% of Americans would now vote for a Catholic, this shows how biases can disappear over time; being Catholic was a major issue in President Kennedy's 1960 election.
- All of these types of non-traditional candidates have grown in acceptance over the past 40 years except for a candidate who is Mormon; in that case the the numbers have remained largely unchanged.
A new generation has come of age under the shadow of September 11th 2001 and the events that have followed it. They are very different from previous generations, having grown up with the internet, cell phones, and home computers. This generation is called Generation Next in this Pew Survey.
To view the whole survey please click here.
- They are the most tolerant of any generation on social issues such as immigration, race and homosexuality.
- In Pew surveys in 2006, nearly half of young people (48%) identified more with the Democratic Party, while just 35% affiliated more with the GOP. This makes Generation Next the least Republican generation.
- One-in-five members of Generation Next say they have no religious affiliation or are atheist or agnostic, nearly double the proportion of young people who said that in the late 1980s.
- 20% of today's 18-25 year-olds say they have no religious affiliation or are atheist or agnostic. Only 11% of those over age 25 fall into this category.
- Nearly 2/3 of Nexters (63%) believe humans and other living things evolved over time, while only 33% say all living creatures have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.
This was a survey of broad, general questions to determine one's religious affiliation or self-identity. It shows that the shifts in America's religious composition, while still significant, were not as large and widespread in 2000-2008 as they were in the 90's. Immigration has played a large part in the shifting of America's religious landscape.
To view the full Survey please click here.
- 86% of American adults identified as Christians in 1990 as compared to 76% in 2008.
- The challenge to Christianity in the U.S. does not come from other religions but rather from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.
- 27% of Americans do not expect a religious funeral at their death.
- 70% of Americans believe in a personal God, roughly 12% of Americans are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unknowable or unsure), and another 12% are deistic (a higher power but no personal God).
- The historic Mainline Christian churches have consistently lost market share since the 1950s, but since 2001 there has been a significant fall in numbers. Much of this has to do with the rise in the use of "non-denominational" Christianity
Despite the declining amount of divisions among religious groups, the separation
between believers and nonbelievers in America remains strong. This article examines the limits of Americans' acceptance of atheists.
Please click here to view the full study.
- Atheists are less likely to be accepted, publicly and privately, than any others from a long list of ethnic, religious, and other minority groups.
- This is rooted in moral and symbolic, rather than ethnic or material, grounds.
- While about 14 percent of Americans name no religious preference, most of these religious "nones" also say that they believe in God and pray regularly
- In 2000; atheists and agnostics together made up a mere 7% of the American population
- Americans are less willing to accept intermarriage with atheists than with any other group, and less likely to imagine that atheists share their vision of American society.
- This study shows that women, African Americans, and older people are more likely to reject atheists, while those with more education, and whose fathers had more education, are more accepting of them.
"Invisible, Marginalized, and Stigmatized: Understanding and Addressing the Needs of Atheist Students"
by Kathleen M Goodman and John A. Mueller
This writing sets out to encourage educators and others who work in the field of Student Affairs to consider non-believing students. Often, atheistic students feel marginalized because while educators do focus on multiculturalism, it is usually a focus on other religious groups and does not include those who do not believe in the supernatural.
For more information, this article can be found in New Directions for Student Services, which can often be accessed with university credentials. You can also email a campus organizer for for information on this article.
- The term atheism is often characterized as a dark force that rejects the values of goodness, ethics, morality, and purpose.
- Many nonbelieving students view their atheism as more than a
rejection of religion; it is their life philosophy that provides moral direction to do what is right and just.
- Atheists are the least trusted segment of the population, ranking below Muslims, recent immigrants, and gays and lesbians.
- In 2003, 17% of college students picked "none" as their religious preference.
- The authors give several suggestions that will help educators to stay away from marginalizing atheist students.
2010 Pew Forum U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey
Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a this survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.
- On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions.
- Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers.
- Jews and Mormons are close, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively.
- Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers while Catholics average about 14.7.
- Atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.
- Atheists, agnostics, and Jews do the best on questions about world religions and American Constitutional rights
- Mormons and Evangelical Protestants do the best on questions focused on the Bible