New polls suggest Americans are becoming less religious

Though it might seem like Americans are as pious as ever, most feel that religion is losing its influence in the U.S. — and a record number are now claiming to have no religion at all.

According to a new Gallup survey, 77% of Americans say religion is losing its influence in the United States. That’s the highest it’s been since the Vietnam War.

Americans over the years have generally been more likely to say religion is losing rather than increasing its influence in American life. In addition to the previous peak in views that religion was losing its influence measured in 1969 and 1970, at least 60% of Americans thought religion was losing its influence in 1991-1994, in 1997 and 1999, in 2003, and from 2007 to the present.

Americans were more likely to say religion was increasing rather than decreasing its influence when the question was first asked in 1957, in 1962, at a few points in the 1980s during the Reagan administration, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in late 2001 and early 2002, and in 2005. The high point for Americans' belief that religion is increasing its influence, 71%, came in December 2001.

At the same time, however, nearly the same number of people say the United States would be better off if Americans were more religious. So while many believe that religion is on the decline, 75% still feel that religion is a positive thing.

In a separate poll conducted by researchers at Berkeley, it was found that 20% of American adults now have no religious preference. This continues a trend that’s been going on since the 1950s, but one that’s accelerated greatly since the 1990s. The percentage answering “no religion” was 18% two years ago, 14% in 2000, and 8% in 1990.

The Berkeley researchers caution that the absence of a religious preference is not an indication of atheism. Self-proclaimed atheists are still quite rare, representing just 3% of all Americans.

So, 20% of Americans have no religious preference, 25% believe that religion is not a positive thing, and three in four feel it's on the way out — but only 3% admit to being atheist. Hmmm, sounds like a lot of closets...

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