PRINCETON, NJ — Seven in 10 Americans say religion is losing its influence on American life — one of the highest such responses in Gallup’s 53-year history of asking this question, and significantly higher than in the first half of the past decade.
Americans’ views of the influence of religion in the U.S. have fluctuated substantially in the years since 1957, when Gallup first asked this question. At that point, perhaps reflecting the general focus on family values that characterized the Eisenhower era, 69% of Americans said religion was increasing its influence, the most in Gallup’s history.
Views of the influence of religion shifted dramatically in the mid-1960s. By 1970, in the midst of the protests over the Vietnam War and general social upheaval, a record 75% of Americans said religion was losing influence in American society. These views moderated in the years thereafter. At several points during the Reagan administration, a plurality of Americans returned to the view that religion was increasing its influence. By the early 1990s, Americans became more convinced again that religion was losing its influence. These views persisted until a sharp reversal after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when a number of social and political indicators, including presidential and congressional approval and overall satisfaction with the way things were going, showed substantial increases.
Views that religion was increasing in influence began to fade in the second half of the last decade. The 7 in 10 Americans who now say religion is losing its influence is tied with 2009 for the most who have held such a view since 1970.
Personal Importance of Religion Broadly Stable in Recent Years
Americans’ views about the influence of religion in their own lives have been considerably more stable over the past six or seven decades than their views about the influence of religion on American society.
Fifty-four percent of Americans in 2010 say religion is “very important” in their lives. This is down slightly from the past two decades, but roughly equal with levels measured in the 1980s. Americans were much more positive about the effect of religion on their own lives in the 1950s and 1960s, including the historic high of 75% who said religion was very important in 1952.