Belief That Religion Is Losing Its Influence on American Life Hit 50-Year Peak After Inauguration of Obama, Says Gallup Data

December 29, 2010 - 7:56 PM

9/11 NYC

One of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York begins to crumble in this photo taken Sept. 11, 2001 by the NYPD and obtained by ABC News. (AP Photo/NYPD via ABC News, Det. Greg Semendinger)

(CNSNews.com) - Since 1957—more than half a century ago--Gallup has been asking Americans whether they think religion is increasing or losing its influence on American life.

In all that time, the largest percentage of Americans who said they thought religion was increasing its influence on American life came in the first polling Gallup conducted on the question following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and the largest percentage who said they thought religion was losing its influence came--less than eight years later--in the first polling Gallup conducted on the question after the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama.

In polling done Dec. 14-16, 2001 (the first Gallup survey on the question after the 9/11 attacks), 71 percent of Americans said they thought religion was increasing its influence on American life, and 24 percent said they thought religion was losing its influence on American life. (Two percent said they thought the influence of religion was staying the "same" and 3 percent said they had no opinion.)

That was the only time in 53 years of polling on the question that more than 70 percent of Americans had told Gallup they thought religion was increasing its influence on American life.

In polling done, May 7-10, 2009 (the first Gallup survey on the question after the inauguration of President Barack Obama), 76 percent said they thought religion was losing its influence on American life and 18 percent said they thought religion was increasing its influence on American life. (Two percent said they thought the influence of religion was staying the "same" and 3 percent said they had no opinion.)

Before Obama’s January 20, 2009 inauguration, only two Gallup surveys had ever shown as many as 70 percent of Americans saying they thought religion was losing its influence on American life. Both of these polls came in the Vietnam-War era in the early days of the Nixon Administration.

In a May 1969 poll, 71 percent of Americans told Gallup they thought religion was losing its influence on American life and only 14 percent said they thought it was increasing its influence. The next time Gallup asked the question—in January 1970—75 percent said they thought religion was losing its influence on American life and 14 percent said they thought it was increasing its influence.

The perceived influence of religion on the nation’s life rebounded sharply following the 9/11 attacks. In a poll Gallup conducted in February 2001, only 39 percent said they thought religion was increasing its influence on American life. That had jumped by 32 percentage points by the time Gallup did its next survey on the question in December of that year.

Since the early days of the Obama administration, peoples’ perception of the influence of religion on American life has rebounded slightly. In a survey conducted Dec. 10-12 of this year, 69 percent said they thought religion was losing influence and 27 percent said they thought it was increasing its influence.

The Dec. 101-12 poll surveyed 1,019 adults and its margin of error was +/-4 points.

The specific question Gallup asked is: “At the present time, do you think religion as a whole is increasing its influence on American life or losing its influence?”

When Gallup first asked the question in March 1957, 69 percent said they thought religion was increasing its influence and only 14 percent said they thought it was losing its influence. (Ten percent said then they thought religion’s influence was staying the “same” and 6 percent said they had no opinion.)