I love religion polls and surveys. I think they tell us a lot about what has been a rather transformative period in American religion the past 20 years. While I’m still eagerly awaiting the next ARIS survey, PRRI came out with a new religious study to wet our appetite.
There actually were a lot of surprises in this poll.
One thing I found quite interesting was the high rate they got for Mormon identification. Unlike Pew or older ARIS studies, they found us at 1.9% of the population. While they suggested this wasn’t much of a change, referring to the older Pew study, their figure is actually substantially higher than either Pew or ARIS. ARIS is increasingly out of date but had us at 1.4%. The last Pew study in 2014 had us at 1.6%. Unfortunately since PRRI is a new study we can’t compare like to like. That makes it hard to know how much that figure is an artifact of how they conducted the survey or if it indicates significant growth. It’s so out of line with both Pew and ARIS but using a fairly large sample that it’s hard to imagine it doesn’t indicate actual growth.
While I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, the age breakdown study did manage to undermine my expectations. I’ve always seen Mormons as primarily a young religion. Relative to most established American religions we are. Compared to other religions though we’re not as young as I thought.
In particular non-Christian religions swamp our youth. Unsurprisingly the Nones also are far more young. I wasn’t surprised by that though since each rising generation since the early 90’s has been less religiously affiliated than the one before. To the point that more than a third of the current generation are unaffiliated.
One nice thing about the PRRI study is how it broke out Protestants and Catholics by race (although oddly not black Catholics – of which there are quite a few in places like Louisiana). Hispanics unsurprisingly are much younger than white religions. Primarily due to immigrants having more children I suspect along with immigrants being more religious.
While Mormons either remained constant or more likely increased, the same isn’t true for our Evangelical friends. While there were hints of Evangelicals finally succumbing to the same attrition that hit mainline Protestants decades earlier, PRRI suggests this is in full effect now. Their graph is a bit misleading in that it combines PRRI studies with Pew figures. However it definitely shows a decline over time in Evangelical self-identification.
Given that Evangelicals were, for a fair time, keeping mostly up with Mormons this is a pretty interesting change. It also makes our stability and/or growth even more fascinating since it goes so much against trend.
Many of the other findings were more in line with expectations. It confirmed that Christians, particularly white Christians, are a minority among Democrats. While the last year there’s been a lot of attention to more left wing Christianity, Democrats continue to be less religious each year. Likewise despite the drop in Evangelicals, they continue to makeup a fairly stable percent of Republicans over the last decade. (Around 35%)
There were a few other interesting trends. Driven presumably by hispanic immigration, the South has become much more Catholic. I lived in Louisiana for a while so I was used to a strong southern Catholicism. I suspect in other southern states this is a bigger change though. Today 29% of Catholics live in the south compared to 13% in 1972.
Unsurprisingly the Nones continue to grow as a fraction of Americas. The rate of growth since the great recession of 2008 though has been surprisingly sustained matching only the trend in the 90’s. Seeing the graph though it becomes clear just how significant this trend is.
 They wrote, “currently, 1.9% of the public identifies as Mormon, a number identical to findings from a 2011 study of Mormons in the U.S.” However the study they refer to was the 2012 Pew one. However that study I believe merely recontacted Mormons from an earlier 2007 study. I suspect they were going by the line “Mormons make up slightly less than 2% of the US public.” But that’s misleading both because of the date (it’s 2007 not 2011) but more significantly because the figure was 1.6%.
 We discussed the Nones last year around this time. The continuing growth strongly suggests that the rise of the Nones is ceasing to be merely a nominal change in self-identification of those with low religiosity to an actual substantial change. There’s no indication of an abatement in this change.