A new Gallup poll displayed results that shouldn’t be very surprising: Americans are overwhelmingly religious, far more so than Canadians, Britons or Europeans who have been questioned in previous polls. The poll found that more than 9 in 10 (92% percent, to be precise) of Americans responded “yes” when asked whether they believed in God. The survey did not ask about specific religious allegiances, but rather sought to explore religiosity as a whole.
Also unsurprisingly, belief in God dropped below 90% (which, when you think about it, is still extraordinarily high) among young Americans, those who identified as liberal or had a postgraduate education, and those who lived in the East. Belief in God seemed to be universal among Republicans and conservatives, and was strong among people who lived in the South.
The results changed a little when the pollsters rephrased the question. When respondents were given more definitive queries – they were asked, for example, whether they had doubts about a belief in God, and a “modest percentage” expressed uncertainty about God’s existence without denying it entirely. Others said they didn’t believe in “God,” per se, but rather a “universal spirit.”
According to this survey, Americans’ belief in God (when asked to choose only between existence and non-existence) has remained relatively constant. This is why I found it so interesting that, as I wrote yesterday, Mitt Romney’s Mormonism does not seem to bother most voters. This leaves open another question: do Americans care about their leaders’ form of religion, as long as they profess religious conviction?
Obviously, we’re not going to have a Muslim president anytime soon, but the fact that Mormonism, a Christian minority that has been demonized throughout American history, may not faze voters is an encouraging step forward in the way that Americans think about religion. This survey also explains, though, why it is so important for American politicians to emphasize their religious beliefs – and why an atheist president may be as much of a fantasy as a Muslim head of state.
Photo from C. Jill Scott's Flickr photostream.