Americans share a lot of common beliefs, but when it comes to religion — or specifically, whether the U.S. is a “Christian nation” — there can be a range of debate.
The Pew Research Center recently reported that the share of Christians in the United States is declining and that more adults don’t identify with any organized religion. And even though the drop is more pronounced among young people, it’s occurring for Americans of all ages.
The United States still has more Christians than any other country in the world. Seven in 10 Americans identify with some branch of Christianity. But there is disagreement over whether we are a “Christian nation,” according to our exclusive Rare Under 40 poll that takes a comprehensive look at the opinions of young people.
Many young people think that it is — 42 percent. But even more respondents over 40 (51 percent) say that the U.S. is a “Christian nation.”
“On the core issues, a generational divide exists,” said Doug Kaplan, managing partner of Gravis Marketing, the nonpartisan market research firm that conducted the Rare Under 40 poll. “Based on how young voters feel about religion, they want a more secular country.”
According to a university study from San Diego State University, Case Western Reserve University and the University of Georgia, the number of high school seniors and college students who have never attended a religious service has doubled since the 1970s. In that time frame, 75 percent more 12 graders say religion is “not important at all.”
“Millennial adolescents are less religious than Boomers and GenX’ers were at the same age,” SDSU psychology professor Jean M. Twenge, a lead researcher told the Times of San Diego. “More of today’s adolescents are abandoning religion before they reach adulthood, with an increasing number not raised with religion at all.”
Democrats and black Americans were more divided in the Rare survey. Half of Democrats under 40 think we’re a “Christian nation,” but 38 percent of blacks say they’re unsure.
Then religion intersects with politics. Despite their own religious beliefs or opinion on the “Christian nation” question, only 34 percent would go further and support a law making Christianity the official religion. The majority of young people said they would oppose such legislation, but a bigger share of blacks said they would support such proposals (45 percent).
Religious Freedom Restoration Acts exist in nearly 15 states and are being considered in a handful of others. A similar law also exists on the federal level. Supporters say the legislation guarantees the free exercise of any religion and prevents government from infringing on religious beliefs, but opponents worry the laws could be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
Most Americans don’t agree, saying they don’t believe these initiatives are about denying services to gays. Splits begin to surface along demographic lines, however, with close to a third saying they’re unsure about whether the laws are really meant to fight gay acceptance.
Over the next several days, we’ll explore 24 questions in-depth, taking a close look at the difference between age groups while also weighing key demographic differences such as political party, race and education. It’s also an opportunity to revisit the previous Rare Under 40 poll, which found young people hold surprising views on Obama, marijuana, God and more.
This Rare survey was conducted by Gravis Insights between April 27 and May 5. A total of 2,261 registered voters of all ages were interviewed about several issues using landlines, cellphones and Internet panels. Overall, the poll has a margin of error of ±2 percentage points and was weighted by select demographic characteristics.