PRINCETON, NJ -- Provo-Orem, Utah, is the most religious of 189 U.S. metropolitan areas Gallup surveyed in 2012, with 77% of its residents classified as very religious. Burlington, Vt., and Boulder, Colo., are the least religious, with 17% meeting that threshold. Most of the top religious cities are in the South -- the exceptions are Provo; Ogden-Clearfield, Utah; and Holland-Grand Haven, Mich. The least religious cities are clustered in the Northeast and on the Pacific Coast, with the exception of Boulder and Madison, Wis.
The cities referred to in this article are based on the Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. In many cases, more than one city is included in the same MSA, and some MSAs cross state borders. All reported MSAs encompass at least 300 completed surveys, and Gallup has weighted each of these MSA samples to ensure it is demographically representative of that MSA.
Throughout the country in 2012, 40% of Americans were classified as very religious -- based on saying religion is an important part of their daily life and that they attend religious services every week or almost every week. Thirty-one percent of Americans were nonreligious, saying religion is not an important part of their daily life and that they seldom or never attend religious services. The remaining 29% of Americans were moderately religious, saying religion is important in their lives but that they do not attend services regularly, or that religion is not important but that they still attend services.
Relatively few metro areas match the national religiousness average, instead reflecting substantial diversity, with a 60-percentage-point range between the most and least religious cities. This generally mirrors the variation in the average religiousness among the states of the union. Mississippi is the most religious state (58% very religious), while Utah is tied with Alabama in second place. Vermont (19% very religious) is the least religious state. Complete data on religiosity for all 189 metro areas can be found on page 2.
The most and least religious cities generally reflect the religiousness of the state in which they are located, although there are some interesting exceptions. Utah, for example, is one of the nation's most religious states, and two Utah cities -- Provo and Ogden -- are indeed among the most religious cities in the nation. But Utah's largest metro area, Salt Lake City, is significantly lower on the religiousness list (47% very religious) than the other two Utah cities. This most likely reflects Salt Lake City residents' more urban, less Mormon nature compared with other Utah metro areas. And, although Michigan as a state has below-average religiousness, that state's Holland-Grand Haven metro area is tied as the nation's fifth most religious.
Specific data on religious service attendance -- one of the two components of the religiousness index -- highlight stark behavioral differences between the two cities at the extreme ends of the religiousness distribution. Seventy-seven percent of Provo residents say they attend church weekly or nearly weekly, while 18% say they seldom or never attend. Residents of the Burlington area represent nearly a mirror image, with 18% saying they attend church weekly or nearly every week, and 76% saying they seldom or never attend.
The 77% level of frequent church attendance among residents of Provo is clearly exceptional; 63% of residents in Montgomery, Ala., second on the church attendance list, say they attend church on a weekly or nearly weekly basis.
America is a remarkably religiously diverse nation, and much of this diversity is geographically based. Residents in some areas and cities -- namely, those in the South and in Utah -- are two or three times as likely to be very religious as those living in cities in the Northeast, the Northwest, and other Western locations.
Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey Jan. 2-Dec. 29, 2012, with a random sample of 244,917 adults, aged 18 and older, living in 189 metro areas within the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
The metro areas referred to in this article are based on the Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. In many cases, more than one city is included in the same MSA. The San Jose, Calif., metropolitan statistical area, for example, also includes the smaller nearby cities of Sunnyvale and Santa Clara in addition to San Jose itself. Each respondent is attributed to his or her MSA based on the self-report of his or her ZIP code, and all metro areas had at least 300 completed surveys in 2012.
Maximum expected error ranges for the MSAs vary according to size, ranging from less than ±1 percentage point for the largest metro areas represented to ±6.5 percentage points for the smallest metro areas.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cellphone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.