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Protestant Americans see sharp decline in numbers, survey reports


Steve Snodgrass (CC BY 2.0)

John Burger - published on 05/15/18 - updated on 05/15/18

At the same time, polling shows steady rise of young people with no religious affiliation

Over the past 15 years, the percentage of Americans who identify as Protestant Christians has plummeted, from 50 in 2003 to just 36 percent last year. At the same time, there has been a rise in the number of Americans who say they profess no religion.

The share of Christians overall has shown a similar, though not so drastic, decline, dropping from 83 percent of the adult population in 2003 to 72 percent on average last year.

But the number of adults expressing no religious affiliation has risen from 12 percent in 2003 to 21 percent of all adults in 2017. That includes 3 percent who say they’re atheists, 3 percent agnostic and 15 percent who say they have no religion. Having no religious affiliation is most prevalent among 18- to 29-year-olds, at 35 percent.

The decline in Americans who are members of Protestant churches includes an 8-point drop in the number of evangelical white Protestants, an important political group, says ABC News:

Evangelical white Protestants are of particular interest in political terms, since they’re a core group within the Republican coalition; 80 percent supported Donald Trump in 2016. Evangelical white Protestants’ share of the total adult population has gone from 21 percent in 2003 to 13 percent last year. Part of the decline in evangelical white Protestants reflects the fact that the change in Protestant self-identification overall has occurred disproportionately among whites. Thirty-nine percent of whites now identify themselves as members of a Protestant denomination, down 13 points since 2003. That compares with an 8-point decline among Hispanics (from 22 to 14 percent) and just 3 points among blacks (from 64 to 61 percent). An additional factor is the shrinking white non-Hispanic population, from 69 percent of all Americans in 2000 to an estimated 61 percent in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The proportion of Catholics in America has remained fairly steady, at about 22 percent. “Stability in the share of the population that’s Catholic, for its part, owes something to the increase in the country’s Hispanic population, because half of Hispanics identify themselves as Catholic,” ABC explained. “That said, even among non-Hispanic whites, the share of Catholics has held nearly steady – 22 percent in 2003 and 20 percent now.”

Oddly, the news story lumps Orthodox Christians, who, like Catholics, have maintained the Apostolic faith, together with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, which have certain doctrines that most experts do not consider them Christians, under the category of “another form of Christianity, saying that this group has “risen modestly, from 11 to 14 percent.”

The portrait of America’s religious landscape is based on 174,485 random-sample telephone interviews in ABC News and ABC News/Washington Post polls conducted from 2003 to 2017.

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