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Survey: Protestants are no longer majority in U.S.
October 9th, 2012
01:00 PM ET

Survey: Protestants are no longer majority in U.S.

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – Following a string of recent developments that suggest waning Protestant power like the first Supreme Court with no Protestant justices, and a Protestant-free Republican presidential ticket a new Pew survey finds that Protestants are no longer the majority in the United States.

The Protestant population has declined from 53% of the U.S. population in 2007 to 48% this year, according to the survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, released Tuesday.

The results mark the first time since Pew has been tracking the country's religious demographics that the share of Protestant Christians in the United States has dipped significantly below 50%.

The largest decline among Protestant subgroups tracked by Pew was among white mainline Protestants, whose proportion of the population dropped 3 percentage points, from 18% to 15%.

At the release of the Pew survey, John Green, a senior adviser at Pew, quoted historian Robert Wuthnow in characterizing the changes as part of a wider “restructuring of American religion.”

Survey: One in five Americans has no religion

“The core of this phenomenon is many of the older distinctions that characterize American religion …  are being replaced with a new kind of religion,” Green said.

The study also found that the fastest growing "religious group" in the country is people who are not affiliated with any religion.

The decline of Protestant hegemony has been on display in recent developments in politics and government.

John Paul Stevens, who retired from the Supreme Court in 2010, was the last Protestant to serve on the Supreme Court. President Barack Obama replaced him with Elena Kagan, who is Jewish. The court is now made up entirely of Jews and Catholics.

Among the presidential and vice-presidential candidates, only Barack Obama is a Protestant.

Mitt Romney is a Mormon, while running mate Paul Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden are both Catholic.

The Republican ticket is the first Protestant-free presidential ticket in decades.

William Galston, senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, told CNN that the GOP ticket "really symbolizes the passing of an era.”

"All the groups that make up the new American population, as opposed to the population of 50 years ago, are now participating on equal" terms, in politics and American society in general, Galston said.

The Pew findings echo those of other surveys that track religious trends. The General Social Survey, conducted by the University of Chicago, has also shown a downward trend in American Protestantism.

According to Pew, Protestants are still the largest religious group in the United States, followed by Catholics, who make up 22% of the country, and the unaffiliated, who account for almost 20%.

“There are vast implications for this change for American society,” Green said. “The trends that we have been observing are likely to continue for at least several decades, if not longer than that.”

The Pew report is based on a telephone survey from June 28-July 9, 2012, that included a national sample of 2,973 adults. The margin of error ranges between two and four percentage points.

– CNN's Josh Levs contributed to this report.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: 2012 Election • Catholic Church • Christianity • Politics • Protestant

soundoff (386 Responses)
  1. DWN

    Even most of the old protestant churches are no longer protestant. They are either back on the road to Romish Babylon or are on a slow descent into the New Age friendly Emerging Church. Actual number of Protestants is possibly lower than 10%.

    October 18, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  2. DWN

    Most of the formerly Protestant denominations are pretty well dead. Most Protestant churches are either headed back to Rome or are becoming quasi-new age touchy feely, spiritual formation, alpha course, straight on their way to spiritualism centers of self love. Look at the leaders these days. Rick Warren is turning churches into civic social clubs, many others are christian self help gurus selling prosperity at the expense of truth. The interest in the undiluted gospel is weak. The Jesuits and Rome have helped lead churches away from the gospel and into such things as social justice and spiritual formation. Protestantism seems to be on life support. But, as Elijah mourned that he was the only one left, God has his people in his church and we are to call the them out of the Rome centered Babylon that now exists among todays infiltrated churches. Christ denounced the religious hierarchy of his day for exalting the doctrines of men over the Law of God. The truth is still in the bible and it will vindicate itself.

    October 18, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  3. JustNosy

    And before someone jumps on me for being overly sensitive – I googled the article and looked at over 5 articles. None of them had a political candidate's picture, including Newsmax, Politico, and the LA Times.

    October 12, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  4. JustNosy

    Why is there a huge photo of Romney and Ryan displayed in conjunction with this story? Wouldn't a montage of all four candidates be more representative of the article? Just saying.

    October 12, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • ML

      Uhm, no...since Obama is Protestant!

      October 18, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.