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Most Americans Still Believe in God

Most Americans Still Believe in God

Story Highlights

  • 89% of Americans say they believe in God
  • In a separate poll, 79% say "believe in God" and 10% "not sure"
  • All measures of belief in God show declines from previous decades

PRINCETON, N.J. -- About nine in 10 Americans say they believe in God, and one in 10 say they do not. However, when presented with more than a "yes or no" option, about eight in 10 say they believe and one in 10 say they aren't sure. Belief in God, regardless of how the question is phrased to Americans, is down from levels in past decades.

Americans' Belief in God Using Different Question Wording
Yes No No opinion
% % %
Do you believe in God? 89 10 1
Do you believe in God or a universal spirit? 89 9 2
Gallup, June 14-23, 2016

For each of the following items I am going to read you, please tell me whether it is something you believe in, something you're not sure about or something you don't believe in: God.
%
Believe in 79
Not sure about 10
Don't believe in 11
Gallup, May 4-8, 2016

These results are based on several different questions that Gallup has used over the years to ask Americans about their belief in God. The latest results come from surveys conducted May 4-8 and June 14-23.

When Gallup first asked Americans, "Do you, personally, believe in a God?" in 1944, 96% said they did. Between 94% and 98% of Americans said they believed in God in other surveys conducted through 1967. In 1976, Gallup modified the wording and asked Americans about their belief in "God or a universal spirit," with 94% to 96% responding in the affirmative through 1994.

Since 2011, Gallup has asked both questions of random half-samples of Americans. The results on both questions have been similar, indicating that adding "universal spirit" into the mix doesn't significantly affect how Americans respond to the question. Since 2013, the percentage believing in God or a universal spirit has been consistently in the upper 80% range. In the most recent June survey, both versions of the question netted 89% affirmative responses.

160629_God_3a-edited

In 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2016, Gallup asked a separate question that gives Americans three options to characterize their beliefs: "believe in," "not sure about" and "don't believe in."

In 2001 and 2004, 90% of U.S. adults said they believed in God, with 7% and 5%, respectively, saying they were unsure. By 2007, the percentage choosing "believe in God" had dropped slightly to 86%, with another 8% expressing uncertainty. This year, "believe in God" dropped further to 79%, with 10% unsure. Still, the 89% who say they believe in God or are unsure (as opposed to saying they don't believe in God) is the same as the 89% who respond affirmatively when asked the simpler "yes or no" question, "Do you believe in God?"

160629_God_4

Gallup asked the question that includes the "not sure about" option in random rotation with questions about belief in four other religious concepts: angels, heaven, hell and the devil. Americans' belief in all of these is lower than their belief in God, ranging from 72% who say they believe in angels to 61% who say they believe in the devil, with 12% unsure on both. Belief in these four concepts is down at least marginally from when last measured in 2007, following the same pattern as the trend in belief in God using this question format.

For each of the following items I am going to read you, please tell me whether it is something you believe in, something you're not sure about or something you don't believe in.
Believe in Not sure about Don't believe in
% % %
God 79 10 11
Angels 72 12 16
Heaven 71 14 15
Hell 64 13 22
The devil 61 12 27
Gallup, May 4-8, 2016

Implications

About nine in 10 Americans believe in God -- or when given the option, say they either believe in God or are unsure about it. Either way, that leaves roughly 10% who say they do not believe in God.

All of Gallup's questions about belief in God show declines from previous decades. The question that gives people the chance to say they're "not sure" shows a decline from as recently as nine years ago. This follows the general trend in drops in other religious indicators over the decades. Most notable among these is that close to 20% of Americans now say they do not identify with a specific religious group or denomination, compared with smaller percentages who had no religious identity in decades past.

The exact meaning of these shifts is unclear. Although the results can be taken at face value in showing that fewer Americans believe in God than did so in the past, it is also possible that basic beliefs have not changed -- but rather Americans' willingness to express nonreligious sentiments to an interviewer has. Whatever the explanation for these changes over time, the most recent findings show that the substantial majority of Americans continue to give a positive response when asked about their belief in God.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 14-23, 2016, with a random sample of 1,025 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. For results based on the total sample of 1,025 adults interviewed May 4-8, 2016, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.


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