Religion in the Aftermath of September 11

A question and answer session with George Gallup, Jr. and Frank Newport

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ –

There has been a great deal of talk about an increase in religious attachment and church attendance among Americans after the terrible events of Sept. 11. What do the survey data show?

Frank Newport: We don't find any indication in our regular Gallup poll measures of a significant change in religious behavior since Sept. 11.

These poll questions ask people directly about their religiosity -- without any direct reference to Sept. 11 -- and are probably our best measures of any real or enduring impact that the events may have had.

Church attendance is one of the putative changes in religion that has received the most discussion. There was a great deal of anecdotal evidence that the pews in churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship were filled to capacity in the week or two immediately after the terrorist attacks. But the answers to our classic Gallup question, "Did you yourself happen to attend church or synagogue in the last seven days, or not?" show no lasting change.

Over the last decade, the responses to this question have averaged right at about 40%, with the usual fluctuation that occurs from survey to survey. The last time we asked the question before Sept. 11 was in May, when 41% of Americans replied that they had gone to church or synagogue within the last seven days. Right after the attacks, in our Sept. 21-22 survey, the percentage moved up slightly to 47%, but in two subsequent surveys, in early November and this past weekend, Dec. 14-16, the percentages have been 42% and 41%.

In other words, church attendance as measured by this question has settled right back down to where it was.

Do you have any other measures of religious behavior?

Frank Newport: A different question asks the public to estimate how often they attend church or synagogue, and the 45% who say "once a week or almost every week" is little changed from what we have found in recent years.

What about other measures of religiosity, such as the personal importance of religion to Americans. Has that changed?

Frank Newport: No, the self-reported importance of religion to Americans is no different now than before Sept. 11. Sixty percent in our December 14-16 poll said that religion was very important to them in their daily life. That's down slightly from the 64% who said religion was very important immediately after Sept. 11, but in recent years the percentage saying "yes" has hovered around the 60% level, with fluctuations up and down from survey to survey, so our interpretation is that this reflects essentially no change.

Based on this measure, in other words, there is no wholesale difference now in how people describe the importance of religion in their lives compared to before Sept. 11.

Additionally, we are finding a continuation of a slight decrease in the number of Americans who say that religion can answer all or most of life's problems -- at least compared to the last couple of years. Sixty-one percent now say that religion can answer life's problems. That's little different from earlier in the 1990s, although down a bit from the last couple of years when our polling has been showing a slight increase in the sentiment that religion can answer life's problems.

Do these findings surprise you?

George Gallup, Jr.: Frankly, yes. Certainly the period immediately following the terrorists' attacks could be described as "a dark night of the nation's soul." And, in view of the fact that studies have shown that many people tend to turn to God at a time of personal emotional, physical, or spiritual pain or turmoil, I had assumed that this would be the case following the attacks.

Since there has been so much discussion about the impact of Sept. 11 on religion, do Americans think that others in the country have become more religious, even if they themselves have not?

Frank Newport: Interestingly, there has been a wholesale change in Americans' perceptions of the impact of religion "out there" across America. For many years, Gallup has asked, "At the present time, do you think religion as a whole is increasing its influence on American life, or losing its influence?" The percentage of Americans saying "increasing" in response to that question has now skyrocketed to 71%, the highest in Gallup Poll history. To put that in perspective, only 39% said yes in February of this year. The highest percent saying yes in recent years has been 48% in January of 1998. Way back in 1957, a Gallup poll found 69% saying yes.

How do you explain the fact that Americans overwhelmingly feel that religion is having a greater influence on society, but haven't changed their own religious behavior or attitudes?

George Gallup, Jr.: It would, I believe, be very difficult for the average American not to believe that religion is increasing its impact on society, in view of the near total media coverage of the New York scene, including reports of record numbers of people flocking to houses of worship.

Clearly, behavior, at least in terms of religious practice, is not reflecting perception. In this respect, I think it is important to note that surveys can often serve as a kind of objective "reality check."

Traumatic events on the national or world scene appear to have a powerful but short-lived impact on the spirituality of the U.S. populace. As a case in point, at the time of the Gulf War 10 years ago, many more Americans than usual reported praying. However, in the weeks that ensued, the level of praying, as well as other measurements of religiosity, returned to normal levels.

As others have noted, lasting changes of heart most likely come about in response to close-at-home personal and family traumas, not because of these types of national tragedies.

Why do you think there has been so much discussion about religion increasing its influence since Sept. 11?

George Gallup, Jr.: Certainly there may be some wishful thinking involved. Religious leaders have long sought a "turning to God" among the populace in a society that they would describe as materialistic and self-absorbed. It is understandable why religious observers would speculate about a spiritual awakening or a revival after the terrorist attacks. Over the last decade, Gallup has documented an explosion of interest among the U.S. populace in spiritual matters -- an intensified searching for spiritual moorings, a hunger for God.

Is it possible that the measures reviewed here aren't picking up some type of changes that may have taken place?

George Gallup, Jr.: Possibly, but I think our measurements would register any kind of broad national spiritual awakening.

At the same time, however, it is possible that these terrible events are leading people to look more deeply into their own hearts, or are being manifested in more subtle ways that will take additional types of questions to pick up. The challenge to survey researchers is to continue to devise measurements that will explore the spiritual life of people on the deepest level possible.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,019 adults, 18 years and older, conducted Dec. 14-16, 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. 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.

How important would you say religion is in your own life -- very important, fairly important, or not very important?

 

 

Very
important

Fairly
important

Not very
important

No
opinion

         

2001 Dec 14-16

60

26

13

1

         

2001 Sep 21-22

64

24

12

*

2001 May 10-14

57

28

15

*

2001 Feb 19-21

55

30

15

*

2000 Aug 24-27

57

31

12

*

2000 Mar 17-19

61

27

12

*

1999 Dec 9-12

61

27

11

1

1999 Apr 30-May 2

58

30

11

1

1998 Jun 22-23

62

25

12

1

1998 Jan 16-18

59

29

12

*

1997 Nov 6-9

58

28

13

1

1997 Aug 12-13

62

27

11

*

1997 Mar 24-26

61

27

11

1

1996 Nov 21-24

58

27

14

1

1996 Sep 3-5

55

31

13

1

1996 Jun 27-30

57

26

17

*

1995 Dec 15-18

60

28

12

*

1995 Aug 28-30

58

30

11

1

1995 May 11-14

56

30

13

1

1994 Dec 16-18

60

28

11

1

1994 Jun 25-28

55

30

14

1

1994 Mar 28-30

59

29

11

1

1993 Mar 12-14

59

32

9

*

1992 Nov 20-22

59

28

12

1

1992 Apr

58

29

13

*

1991 Nov

55

29

15

1

1991 May

57

30

13

*

1991 Mar

55

29

16

*

1991 Feb 7-10

60

29

11

*

1991 Jan 30-Feb 2

63

28

9

1

1990 Jun

58

29

13

*

1989

55

30

14

1

1988

54

31

14

1

1987

53

32

14

1

1986

55

30

14

1

1985

55

31

13

1

1984

56

30

13

1

1983

56

30

13

1

1982

56

30

13

1

1981

56

29

14

1

1980

55

31

13

1

1978

52

32

14

2

1965

70

22

7

1

1952 ^

75

20

5

*

         

^ Ben Gaffin and Associates

At the present time, do you think religion as a whole is increasing its influence on American life or losing its influence?

 

 

Increasing influence

Losing
influence


SAME (vol.)

No
opinion

         
 

%

%

%

%

2001 Dec 14-16

71

24

2

3

         

2001 Feb 19-21

39

55

3

3

2000 Aug 24-27

35

58

4

3

2000 Mar 17-19

37

58

--

5

1999 Dec 9-12

40

54

3

3

1999 Apr 30-May 2

32

62

3

3

1998 Jun 22-23

37

56

4

3

1998 Jan 16-18

48

48

1

3

1997 Aug 12-13

36

60

1

3

1997 Mar 24-26

36

57

3

4

1995 Dec 15-18

38

57

2

3

1995 May 11-14

36

58

3

3

1994 Jun 25-28

28

67

2

3

1994 Mar 28-30

27

69

2

2

1992 Nov

27

63

4

5

1991 Nov

27

66

3

4

1991 May

34

57

--

9

1990 Jun

33

48

8

11

1989 Apr

33

49

9

9

1988 Mar

36

49

6

9

1986 Sep

48

38

6

7

1985 Nov

45

41

--

14

1985 Mar

48

39

10

3

1984 Jun

42

39

14

6

1983 Oct

44

42

9

5

1983 Jan

44

42

9

5

1982 Dec

41

45

9

5

1981 Dec

38

47

10

6

1980 Apr

35

46

11

8

1978 Dec

37

48

10

5

1977 Dec

37

45

10

9

1976 Dec

44

45

8

3

1975 Dec

39

51

7

3

1974 Dec

31

56

8

5

1970 Jan

14

75

7

4

1969 May

14

71

11

5

1968 Apr

19

67

8

7

1967 Mar

23

57

14

6

1965 Feb

33

45

13

8

1962 Feb

45

32

17

7

1957 Mar

69

14

10

6



Do you happen to be a member of a church or synagogue?

 

Yes

No

   

Yes

No

             
 

%

%

   

%

%

2001 Dec 14-16

66

34

 

1993 Mar

71

29

       

1992 Nov

70

30

2001 Feb 19-21

65

35

 

1992 Apr

71

29

2000 Aug 24-27

68

32

 

1991 Nov

69

31

2000 Mar 17-19

68

32

 

1991 May

69

31

1999 Dec 9-12

68

32

 

1991 Mar

66

34

1999 Apr 30-May 2

71

29

 

1991 Feb

67

33

1998 Jun 22-23

70

30

 

1990 Jun

69

31

1998 Jan 16-18

67

33

 

1989

68

32

1997 Aug 12-13

68

32

 

1988

65

35

1997 Mar 24-26

67

33

 

1987

69

31

1996 Nov 21-24

66

34

 

1985

71

29

1996 Sep 3-5

65

35

 

1983

69

31

1996 Jun 27-30

64

36

 

1982

67

33

1995 Dec 15-18

71

29

 

1979

68

32

1995 Sep 22-24

66

34

 

1976

71

29

1995 Aug 28-30

69

31

 

1965

73

27

1995 May 11-14

69

31

 

1952

73

27

1994 Dec 16-18

67

33

 

1947

76

24

1994 Jun 25-28

68

32

 

1944

75

25

1994 Mar 28-30

70

30

 

1940

72

28

1993 Jun

65

35

 

1937

73

27



Did you, yourself, happen to attend church or synagogue in the last seven days, or not?

 

Yes

No

   

Yes

No

             
 

%

%

   

%

%

2001 Dec 14-16

41

59

 

1992 Nov

40

60

       

1992 Apr

41

59

2001 Nov 8-11

42

58

 

1991 Nov

41

59

2001 Sep 21-22

47

53

 

1991 May

43

57

2001 May 10-14

41

59

 

1991 Mar

43

57

2001 Feb 19-21

41

59

 

1990 Jun

40

60

2000 Aug 24-27

43

57

 

1989

43

57

2000 Mar 17-19

44

56

 

1988

42

58

1999 Dec 9-12

45

55

 

1987

40

60

1999 Apr 30-May 2

40

60

 

1985

42

58

1998 Jun 22-23

40

60

 

1983

40

60

1998 Jan 16-18

39

61

 

1982

41

59

1997 Aug 12-13

35

65

 

1981

41

59

1997 Mar 24-26

43

57

 

1979

40

60

1996 Nov 21-24

39

61

 

1972

40

60

1996 Sep 3-5

37

63

 

1969

42

58

1996 Jun 27-30

38

62

 

1967

43

57

1995 Dec 15-18

44

56

 

1962

46

54

1995 Aug 28-30

42

57

 

1958

49

51

1995 May 11-14

41

59

 

1957

47

53

1994 Dec 16-18

38

62

 

1955

49

51

1994 Jun 25-28

40

60

 

1954

46

54

1994 Mar 28-30

48

52

 

1950

39

61

1993 Jun

38

62

 

1940

37

63

1993 Mar

41

59

 

1939

41

59



How often do you attend church or synagogue -- at least once a week, almost every week, about once a month, seldom, or never?

 

 


Once
a week

Almost every
week

About once a month



Seldom



Never


No
opinion

             
 

%

%

%

%

%

%

2001 Dec 14-16

34

11

15

28

12

*

             

2001 Jun 11-17

30

11

12

29

18

*

2001 Feb 19-21

30

12

15

29

13

1

2000 Aug 24-27

35

11

15

27

11

1

2000 Mar 17-19

36

11

13

30

10

*

1999 Jan 7-10

32

12

13

29

13

1

1999 Dec 9-12

36

12

16

28

8

*

1999 Sep 23-26

30

9

13

28

19

1

1999 Sep 10-14

31

13

14

27

14

1

1999 Apr 30-May 2

30

14

18

28

9

1

1998 Jun 22-23

32

13

19

26

9

1

1998 Jan 16-18

32

12

15

30

10

1

1997 Aug 12-13

29

12

17

29

12

1

1997 Mar 24-26

30

13

17

30

9

1

1996 Nov 21-24

28

11

17

33

10

1

1996 Sep 3-5

29

12

16

32

10

1

1996 Jun 27-30

27

13

13

34

13

*

1996 Jan 12-15

33

12

15

28

11

1

1995 Dec 15-18

34

11

16

28

10

1

1995 Sep 22-24

31

13

14

31

11

*

1995 Aug 28-30

30

13

17

31

8

1

1995 May 11-14

30

12

17

31

10

*

1994 Dec 16-18

30

12

16

31

11

*

1994 Jun 25-28

32

14

17

27

10

*

1994 Mar 28-30

35

15

16

25

9

*

1992 Sep 11-15

34

10

15

26

14

1

1992 Jan 3-6

31

9

15

29

16

1



Would you describe yourself as "born-again" or evangelical?

 

 

Yes

No

No opinion

       
 

%

%

%

2001 Dec 14-16

42

49

9

       

2001 Feb 19-21

45

49

6

2000 Aug 24-27

44

50

6

2000 Mar 17-19

46

47

7

1999 Dec 9-12

46

48

6

1999 Apr 30-May 2

45

47

8

1998 Jun 22-23

44

48

8

1998 Jan 16-18

49

43

8

1997 Aug 12-13

45

47

8

1997 Mar 24-26

43

51

6

1996 Nov 21-24

41

52

7

1996 Sep 3-5

42

52

6

1996 Jun 27-30

35

58

7

1995 Dec 15-18

43

52

5

1995 Aug 28-30

39

54

7

1995 May 11-14

39

53

8

1994 Jun 25-28

39

53

8

1994 Mar 28-30

45

48

7

1993 Mar

46

50

4

1992 Apr

42

52

6

1991 Nov

41

54

5

       

^ November 1991-March 1997 WORDING: Would you describe yourself as a "born-again" or evangelical Christian?



Do you believe that religion can answer all or most of today's problems, or that religion is largely old-fashioned and out of date?

 

 

Can answer

Old fashioned

No opinion

       
 

%

%

%

2001 Dec 14-16

61

21

18

       

2001 Feb 19-21

63

22

15

2000 Aug 24-27

63

17

20

2000 Mar 17-19

66

21

13

1999 Dec 9-12

68

19

13

1999 Apr 30-May 2

66

21

11

1998 Jun 22-23

63

20

17

1998 Jan 16-18

67

20

13

1997 Aug 12-13

66

20

14

1997 Mar 24-26

61

20

19

1995 Dec 15-18

61

21

18

1994 Jun 25-28

59

23

18

1994 Mar 28-30

64

20

16

1991 May

59

23

19

1991 Mar

60

22

17

1991 Feb

61

25

14

1990 Jun

63

18

19

1989 Apr

61

18

22

1988 May

57

29

23

1986 Sep

58

23

20

1985 Nov

58

24

18

1985 Mar

61

22

17

1984 Jun

56

21

23

1982 Dec

60

22

18

1981 Jan

65

15

20

1974 Dec

62

20

18

1957 Mar

82

7

11



(vol.) -- Volunteered response

* -- Less than 0.5%

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