Despite Recession, No Uptick in Americans’ Religiosity

by Frank Newport

Self-reported importance of religion and church attendance have remained steady

PRINCETON, NJ -- Despite suggestions that the economic recession might cause religiosity among Americans to increase, there has been no evident change over the past 15 months in either Americans' self-reported church attendance or the importance of religion in their daily lives. Forty-two percent on average have reported attending church every week or nearly every week during that time, and 65% have reported that religion is important in their daily lives. These results are based on an analysis of more than 425,000 interviews Gallup has conducted since January 2008.

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It is not an unreasonable conjecture that the current recession would cause Americans to increasingly turn to religion as a surcease from their economic or personal sorrow. But that does not appear to be the case. Even as the percentage of Americans who are negative about the economy has increased, particularly from September through December of last year, there have been no significant changes in the percentages of Americans who say religion is important in their daily lives, or who report attending church weekly or almost every week.

No Change Among Partisan Groups

Although there have been week-to-week fluctuations on these measures among Democrats, independents, and Republicans, there has also been no systematic change in religious adherence evident among any of these partisan groups over the last 15 months.

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In general, as is seen in the accompanying charts, Republicans are the most religious of the three partisan groups, and have remained so over the past year. Independents are slightly more religious than Democrats, but the same relative patterns of religiosity among these groups have continued since January of last year.

Implications

The two questions reviewed in this analysis represent fairly general measures of religiosity. Still, it would be expected that if there were an overall turn toward religion in these deeply troubled times, it would be reflected as an uptick in the average percentage of Americans saying religion is important and/or in self-reported church attendance. Neither has happened. These appear to be very steady indicators that have not been affected by the abrupt changes in the economic climate.

This is not to rule out the possibility that the recession has caused changes in the religiosity of Americans in ways that would not be captured in these measures. For example, Americans could be praying more often. Or those who are already religious (as measured by these questions) could be more intense in their religious commitment now. But at least as far as self-reports of church attendance and religious importance go, Gallup finds no evidence of a recession-driven turn to religion.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 428,516 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted January 2008 through March 15, 2009, as part of Gallup Poll Daily tracking. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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