Poll: Most Americans Say They're Christian

Varies Greatly From the World at Large

Analysis
By Gary Langer

July 18

Ask Americans their religion and you'll get an earful ??? 50 individual answers in an ABCNEWS/Beliefnet poll, ranging from agnostics to Zen Buddhists. The vast majority, though, have something in common: Jesus Christ.

Eighty-three percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians. Most of the rest, 13 percent, have no religion. That leaves just 4 percent as adherents of all non-Christian religions combined ??? Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and a smattering of individual mentions.

That's quite different from the world at large: Fifty-two percent of the world's population is non-Christian, compared to 4 percent in the United States; and one-third is Christian, compared to 83 percent in the United States. (These are rough comparisons, because the world figures, reported by the Encyclopedia Britannica, are for the full population, while the U.S. figures are among adults only.)

This poll used an open-ended question to gauge religious affiliation: "What if anything is your religion?" Most of the 50 affiliations cited are Christian denominations, ranging from the Assembly of God to the United Church of Christ. Added up they show that 53 percent of Americans are Protestants, 22 percent Catholics and 8 percent other Christians, such as Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses.

Protestant Groups

The largest group within the ranks of American Protestants is unaffiliated: Nineteen percent of Americans say they're Protestants, but don't cite a specific denomination. They account for more than a third of all Protestants.

Another 15 percent of Americans identify themselves as Baptists or Southern Baptists, meaning this group accounts for nearly three in 10 Protestants. No other Protestant denomination comes close in size.

Baptists are especially prevalent among black Americans: Nearly half of blacks, 48 percent, say they're Baptists, making it far and away their No. 1 denomination (next are nondenominational, at 15 percent of blacks, and Methodist, at 8 percent of blacks). Among whites, 22 percent are Catholics, another 22 percent are nonaffiliated Protestants and 13 percent are Baptists.

Blacks, who are overwhelmingly Christian, are also more likely than whites to have any religion: Just 3 percent of blacks say they have no religion, compared to 13 percent of whites. ("No religion" includes people who describe their religion as atheist or agnostic.)

Other Denominations

Six percent of Americans say they're Methodists (including African Methodists and United Methodists); 5 percent, Lutherans. No other Protestant denomination was named by more than 2 percent of respondents.

Evangelicals

Thirty-seven percent of all Christians describe themselves as born-again or evangelical; that includes nearly half of all Protestants (47 percent), as well as a small share (14 percent) of Catholics.

Baptists again dominate: Sixty-two percent of Baptists say they're evangelical Christians, compared to 46 percent of all other Protestant denominations combined, and 37 percent of nondenominational Protestants.

Evangelism soars particularly among blacks, and southerners: Two-thirds of blacks describe themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians, double the share of whites who do so. And 55 percent of Christians in the South say they're born-again, compared to 21 percent in the Northeast, 26 percent in the Midwest and 31 percent in the West.

Lower-income Christians also are more apt to be evangelicals. Among those with household incomes under $35,000, 45 percent are evangelicals; among those with higher incomes this declines to 31 percent.

Income, Education

More broadly, Protestants tend to have lower incomes than Catholics: Forty-nine percent of evangelical Protestants have incomes under $50,000, as do 43 percent of non-evangelical Protestants, compared to 36 percent of Catholics.

Income correlates with education. Thirty-six percent of Catholics are college graduates; that declines to 23 percent of Protestants, and 17 percent of Baptists.

Politics

There's an enormous political difference between evangelical and non-evangelical Protestants on some issues. One is abortion: Sixty-two percent of evangelical Protestants say it should be illegal in all or most cases; by contrast, 65 percent of non-evangelical Protestants say abortion should be legal (as do 55 percent of Catholics). (See 7/2 analysis on abortion and 6/26 analysis on stem-cell research.)

The difference narrows in terms of ideology more broadly. Forty-four percent of white evangelical Protestants say they're conservative on most political matters; that compares to 33 percent of white non-evangelical Protestants and white Catholics alike. Blacks are different in this regard; just 24 percent of blacks say they're conservative politically. And among people who have no religion, only 19 percent are conservatives.

There's even less difference between evangelical and non-evangelical white Protestants in political party identification: Forty percent of white evangelical Protestants identify themselves as Republicans, as do 34 percent of white non-evangelical Protestants. By contrast only 5 percent of blacks, and 11 percent of non-Christians, are Republicans.

Methodology

This ABCNEWS/Beliefnet poll was conducted by telephone June 20-24, among a random national sample of 1,022 adults. Beliefnet is a Web site dedicated to providing information on religion and spirituality. It is not affiliated with any religious group or movement. The results have a three-point error margin. Field work was conducted by TNS Intersearch of Horsham, Pa.

Previous ABCNEWS polls can be found in our Poll Vault..