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. slupdawg

    Well, America is a melting pot. What else would you eventually expect? Deal with it.

    October 10, 2012 at 4:22 am |
  2. Zoby

    Where is atheist representation in politics?

    October 10, 2012 at 4:00 am |
    • MOCaseA

      Drowned out by the angry voices of the religious.

      October 10, 2012 at 4:09 am |
    • Ultimately

      Aren't you running for office. Stop looking for someone else to address your needs.

      October 10, 2012 at 4:26 am |
  3. ZJ

    Why organized religion seems to be in decline... reflex would be to blame secularists or athiests. However, I find that it is impossible to pull someone away from religion. On the other hand, it is quite easy to push someone away from the inside. That is to say, a religious person behaving badly causes other religious people to quit and become deists or agnostics. Many people are now afraid that being religious will make them unable to comprehend basic logic, or unable to be compassionate. They see religoius people decrying even basic science (even though there is no real conflict there), or saying we should ignore the plight of the poor (even though that contradicts religious teachings). While belief that religion will make you a worse person is not inherently true, the bad behavior of some prominent self-styled religious voices would lead people to believe it is true. Yet religious people seem unwilling to speak out against said voices, thereby dooming their organizations to a slow decline.

    October 10, 2012 at 3:11 am |
    • DebAH

      excellent comment

      October 10, 2012 at 4:36 am |
  4. JimmyAlex777

    Blah, blah, blah, religion is just naive speculation and anyone who follows it into madness is a fool.

    October 10, 2012 at 3:05 am |
    • Lord Vader

      The same principle applies to anyone who criticizes someone for believing in a religion as well.

      October 10, 2012 at 3:37 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      @Lord Vader
      Really? So does the same adage apply for example to challenging or criticizing someone who claims that they were abducted by ET? Because the evidenciary support for miracles, the healing power of prayer, the divinity of Jesus and the existence of God is just as suspect. In fact it's more so since I can easily go and personally interview people who claim abduction or view pictures and videos of UFO's. It's still complete balderdash.

      October 10, 2012 at 4:12 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Lord: Belief without evidence is not a good thing, especially when that belief attempts to impede on the equal rights of everyone. Please without using your buybull provide the solid evidence to back what you believe in....we'll be waiting (a very very very long time). The huge difference between an Atheist and a theist is that we use many books to provide us with answers, you use one...the real world doesn't work like that and given your previous comments it is very obvious that you have no comp[rehensions of how the real world works!! This is the 21st century where we have updated info, not the 1st century when your book was written (and has not been updated since). If you have such a problem with Atheists and believe so highly in your god, stop using medicine; turn off your computer; stop driving your car; turn off the TV (FOX news is not a good source of info); don't eat organic food; and probably most importanly DO NOT BREED!!!!

      October 10, 2012 at 4:15 am |
    • Ultimately

      @JimmyAlex777.....obviously you are afraid you aren't God.

      October 10, 2012 at 4:28 am |
  5. Michael

    Only Catholics and Jews on the Supreme Court.....we're in deep do-do.

    – a recovering Catholic

    October 10, 2012 at 2:37 am |
  6. spangler

    Why does the creator and master of one billion galaxies always need my seed money?

    October 10, 2012 at 2:07 am |
    • Kristoffer Wood

      Pastor Tom needs some new carpets.

      October 10, 2012 at 2:08 am |
  7. rich

    Will an atheist person reading this tell me the location of the closest atheist food bank, homeless shelter, clinic, orphanage, or unwed mothers home? I'm in my 50s and have traveled all across the nation and have never seen one. Are they hidden, or do they not exist? Perhaps Christians are not all that bad after all.

    October 10, 2012 at 1:58 am |
    • Kristoffer Wood

      Seeing as being atheist anything makes you stigmatized by the religious majority, it's not a shock that atheist run charities to not flaunt the fact they are atheist-founded. Religious people would label such charity evil, antichrist, and probably firebomb it if it did well. I've given to many non-religious charities (in that no mention of religion is made anywhere on the materials provided or website of the charity) as an atheist. I do it to help others in need, not to feel better about myself. Religious based charities seem to thrive on making the givers feel good about themselves rather than ever actually helping people..."Look, our religion gave these people a loaf of bread! We're the worlds most bestest creation! Believe in us!" ...where as the atheist charity is like "Here's some bread, take care."

      October 10, 2012 at 2:07 am |
    • cali818

      As one of the"unaffiliated", I make regular donations on a monthly basis to local charities from the food bank run by the Catholic Church to the Salvation Army. Just because I am a non believer doesn't mean I don't support charities.

      October 10, 2012 at 2:09 am |
    • Jason

      You wont find one sponsored by athiest.... Because we dont give for recognition. If we give, we give... and thats it. It's not necessary to be recognized or validated as a good person. Just being one is good enough for us.

      October 10, 2012 at 2:35 am |
    • ajstor

      That's a very strange comparison. Of course you haven't seen an atheist food bank; the vast, vast majority of unaffiliated folk are UNAFFILIATED. They don't belong to organizations with hierarchies and funds. Atheists, agnostics and other unaffiliated people do give to charity, run charities, and take part in charities. Btw, there are non-religious charities out there–Doctors Without Borders, The Red Cross, Oxfam International, Amnesty International, Planned Parenthood, etc.

      October 10, 2012 at 2:35 am |
    • Lord Vader

      You wont find one because atheists spend more time on CNN blogs making stuff up like the Big Bang theory and we evolved from monkeys. They make up crap to support their made up theories to their made up ideologies that they believe makes a better world. But its a two way street. They feel the same way about us Christians as well. Its sad we cant coexist without one trampling on the other.

      October 10, 2012 at 2:58 am |
    • someGuy

      I think the problem here is word usage.

      The term isn't 'atheist' it's 'secular'.

      October 10, 2012 at 3:08 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      "You wont find one because atheists spend more time on CNN blogs making stuff up like the Big Bang theory and we evolved from monkeys. They make up crap to support their made up theories to their made up ideologies that they believe makes a better world. But its a two way street. They feel the same way about us Christians as well. Its sad we cant coexist without one trampling on the other."

      Big Bang and evolution are facts, not just made up stuff like your bible. Obviously you have no comprehension of how a scientific theory is formed and thus should not come across as sounding like a moron.
      The steps of the scientific method are to:
      Ask a Question
      Do Background Research
      Construct a Hypothesis
      Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
      Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
      Communicate Your Results

      Your bible doesn't do the same. Yes, we accept the Big Bang but unlike christians we do not claim to know what happened before that-better known as being honest. Yes, we accept Evolution...there are facts and evidence to back it (every human shares 96% of their DNA with chimps).
      Yes there are numerous Secular Charities and if you weren't so blind, you'd comprehend this-UNICEF, OxFam, Doctors Without Borders, Planned Parenthood, RedCross...to name a few.

      October 10, 2012 at 3:40 am |
    • Mark

      Wait till the tax exemption for "church property" ends, as it eventually will...see how those "religious" charities work then, when they are not subsidized by every taxpayer, whether they believe or not.

      The argument that good works are done only by religious people is nonsense...religious people are the ones who brag about it most, that's the real difference.


      October 10, 2012 at 4:30 am |
    • Seyedibar

      Most metropolitan American cities have more atheist or secular charities than religious ones.

      October 10, 2012 at 4:34 am |
  8. Bootyfunk

    and non-believers up to 20% now... very interesting. religion is going the way of the dinosaur.

    October 10, 2012 at 1:52 am |
    • Jason

      Thats a good thing in my opinion.

      October 10, 2012 at 2:36 am |
  9. josh rogen

    what a lousy story, just bits and pieces to support a preconceived conclusion

    October 10, 2012 at 1:42 am |
    • ericgoestoholland

      Yes, bits and pieces like statistics. You know, it's okay if Protestantism is declining in the U.S. and you yourself are a Protestant. That fact shouldn't have any influence over what you choose to believe; just because less people may believe in it, it shouldn't make it any more or less powerful to you.

      October 10, 2012 at 1:56 am |
  10. GBAZ

    This is an incomplete poll. The poll does not take into account all of us who do not belong to denominational Christian churches. A very vast number of us who are Christian, attend churches that are considered non-denominational and/or independent. Non-denominational churches may be affiliated with what is called a 'fellowship of churches.' Independent churches, while not affiliated with a fellowship or other type organization, do however fellowship with each other in some way as a sort of accountability type relationship.

    The same scenarios referenced above may very well be happening in other faith groups as well. Either way, Let me suggest that the PEW Group should actually take their poll to the pews to get a more honest breakdown of the faithful.

    October 10, 2012 at 1:38 am |
    • ericgoestoholland

      You're right, perhaps non-denominational christians should have been mentioned. On the other hand, does non-denominational mean protestant or can protestantism be considered a denomination?

      October 10, 2012 at 1:59 am |
  11. Lord Vader

    The decline in religion explains why there are more and more frequent hate mongering atheists that spew their hatred on the streets and on the internet. Let it be known, it is atheism that has produced more innocent people being killed. Google it and you will find the facts where atheists have been responsible for more deaths than religion. As a result, take a look at the under 30 crowd how disrespectful they can be. Chivalry is dead! A man can not even hold a door open for a YOUNG woman without getting an evil stare. This makes me sick! The decline in morals and religion will ultimately lead to the US downfall. The feminists with their falsified "war on women" tirade and the senseless acts of stupidity caused by an alarming number of young people who think there are no consequences for their actions will be in for a rude awakening one day.

    I am sure the intolerant atheists will blow my rant to pieces but I ask one simple step before you do so......

    Prove me wrong!

    October 10, 2012 at 1:35 am |
    • Melissa

      No, it explains why people are growing up and no longer relying on religion to explain the obvious.

      October 10, 2012 at 1:36 am |
    • Melissa

      And you know what? You can believe anything you want, so long as you leave everyone else out of it. But you can't do that so this is what you get in return.

      And btw... the sheer fact that you called yourself Lord Vader says alot about you. It tells us that you are a totalitarian torturer that uses religion to destroy others. Think about Vader and what he stood for. And then tell me why you should be given ANY credence at all in regards to anything about religion.

      October 10, 2012 at 1:38 am |
    • Eddie Munster Joins The Village People

      Your "atheists kill" schtick has been obliterated twice daily here for a few years, so no need to flog that idiotic dead horse again.

      If you are getting evil stares from YOUNG women (love that capitalization jive) as you hold the door open, then maybe you might stop dry-humping the knob while groaning "Daddy wants sugar!"

      October 10, 2012 at 1:46 am |
    • Lord Vader

      Once again, none of you could present facts that prove me wrong. Just fictional delusions. BTW, Lord Vader was the one who saved the alliance and turned away from evil. Something I need to do from atheists. Atheists have done nothing more than whine and cry about intolerance when they are more intolerant themselves. Again, no facts to prove me wrong. Enjoy your lives while living in daddy's basement.

      October 10, 2012 at 2:38 am |
    • Lord Vader

      BTW Melissa, it was your opinion that dictated how my username was used. When you say "us" you are trying to instigate a plural noun in which many people are not included in your whiny rant. I bet you would might feel stupid if I told you I have not been to church services since 2005! But then again, meritocracy runs well through you as you feel empowered to place yourself above myself simply because I used a character from a famous movie. LOL! I never push my "religion" on others, just simply formulated an opinion based on observance. Nice try!

      October 10, 2012 at 2:47 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Lord: Your rant is just that...a rant!! Don't attack us when your prisons are full of christians much more so than Atheists; don't attack us and expect not to be attacked. Why does teaching information based on facts and evidence bother you so much? Just because you are inacapable of accepting it does not make it less true. If you want to know why kids are acting out, look at home first, don't blame Atheists. In fact christian teenage girls have the highest rate of teenage pregnancy (because they remain uneducated byt dolts like you who refuse to accept reality). As for the feminist-not so false when you look back over history and see the oppression of women and what they can and can't do with their own bodies due to the church thinking they have some form of say. Atheists are not the ones out there denying equal rights to anyone-christians do this to gays/lesbians based on some fairy tale scripture that science clearly debunks.
      Next time, try not sounding like a hateful hypocrital christian and don't call us out when you're much worse than we would ever be!

      October 10, 2012 at 3:48 am |
    • Lord Vader

      Truth, I am not the one using name calling and oppression to get a point across. Jst because I say something you decide to go off the charts on another. And you atheists cant technically prove the univers began with some explosion that was unexplained.

      Why dont you just believe in your books and let us believe in ours. If you cant accept that we should coexist then gfy!

      October 10, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  12. spangler

    Having 10 billion years to plan the reveal from the Big Bang to the earliest humans, the diety has determined that each tribe and culture can come up with their own religion and change it whenever they feel like it.

    October 10, 2012 at 1:29 am |
  13. Fools

    I was sure that this will attract Atheists, they're crawling all over the internet and every blogs to spit their venom against religions.

    October 10, 2012 at 1:08 am |
    • Fools

      And of course it had to be Dan Merica the king of all atheists. Nice job Dan, we now see your agenda.

      October 10, 2012 at 1:10 am |
    • Melissa

      Religions deserve it. Nothing has caused more suffering in this world than religion because the followers think everyone else should follow their religion whether those people want to or not. Nothing is worse than religion. When we can finally get rid of the hatred and ignorance religion promotes, maybe this world can become more than a bunch of ignorant whiny children.

      October 10, 2012 at 1:10 am |
    • End Religion

      i don't have quite as rosy a hope. The children need an outlet for their hate. When we get rid religion they'll need to express it elsewhere. We can hope they grow up. Keep your fingers crossed.

      October 10, 2012 at 1:14 am |
    • Fools

      Atheism and Communism are one and the same. Atheism have killed millions of people, so don't fret.

      October 10, 2012 at 1:17 am |
    • Melissa

      Religion is just only an easy fiction, nothing more. Maybe its time for parents to actually parent their children instead of relying on religion or television to do it for them.

      October 10, 2012 at 1:18 am |
    • Melissa

      Fools, grow up. The Christian religion NEVER taught "screw everyone else, I'm the only one that matters". Your Jesus ALWAYS taught that you should care about others and support each other. He taught mercy, and kindness and caring. Its you religious nuts that have twisted the words you claim he says. Your Jesus was a liberal. Deal with it. Liberal is NOT synonymous with communist. You can be liberal without being a totalitarian. Its only you Republicans that don't understand that. Its time to grow up. Its time to become more than a selfish selfcentered arrogant person bent on padding your own pocket with more money than you can ever dream of. There is more to life than your selfishness. And remember, according to your own bible... the kind of behavior you just displayed is called pride. Pride is not only one of the seven deadly sins, it is one of the Ten Commandments. And it will get you thrown into hell to burn for all eternity. So don't go claiming that we liberals and atheists are the bad ones. Nowhere in your Ten Commandments does it say that we MUST accept your god, nowhere does it say that ignorance is good, or that keeping as much money to yourself as you possibly can is good. In your one single sentence, you disobeyed more than just pride. You managed to ignore every single thing you claim your Jesus supports. Use your brain. And you know what? If your god exists, at least he will know that Atheists were honest and that we tried to show mercy and kindness to others. You, on the other hand, show nothing of the kind.

      October 10, 2012 at 1:26 am |
    • Eddie Munster Joins The Village People

      I wonder if Fools knew that the name box is for his name, not the names of others. when he chose the name "Fools."

      It would indeed be a fool thing to do . . .

      October 10, 2012 at 1:36 am |
    • ericgoestoholland

      Yeah, and Christians are crawling all over the internet to spit their venom on Atheists. Everyone's spitting on everyone. Maybe we should all take a break and get a shower.

      October 10, 2012 at 2:00 am |
    • ajstor

      Melissa, I am also agnostic. I disagree that religion has caused more pain and suffering than anything else in history. What has caused pain and suffering is the drive for power. Religion is merely a tool, used only if it's convenient. Think colonialism, a secular land grab, which used Christianity as a tool. Think Romans, whose expansion had nothing to do with spreading their religion. Think Vikings, Huns, Mongols.

      October 10, 2012 at 3:19 am |
  14. Melissa

    Wow. Just wow. Its about time. Now if only we can get rid of religion completely.

    October 10, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • Hong Tong

      If u want to try doing it, I would advice you to start of by just drawing a cartoon of Mohammed and post it with your real name and picture. Better yet post it on your Facebook. Let's see how that goes lol!!!

      October 10, 2012 at 1:22 am |
    • therealpeace2all

      @Hong Tong

      What the fvck are you even talking about ?!?!? How does what you are suggesting have anything to do with what -Melissa said ?!?!? 😯


      October 10, 2012 at 1:35 am |
    • Lord Vader

      Melissa, you are the biggest hypocrite on here! You rant about how we should be able to believe what we believe in, but then force your belief on getting rid of all religions? Please tell me you are permanently sterile!

      October 10, 2012 at 3:11 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Lord: Sterile could be applied to you also...think hard about that one! I hope if you do have children (as much as I pity them), that one of them either turns out gay or wakes up and realizes how false your god is. You spew away how hateful we are but yet you are not listening to yourself-hypocrite!

      October 10, 2012 at 4:01 am |
    • Lord Vader

      I dont give a damn about gays or atheists. Im not their judge nor do I support thei beliefs. Dont stand in my way of believing and I wont bother your disbeliefs.

      October 10, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  15. raynardo

    A man without religion is like a fish without a bicycle.....

    October 10, 2012 at 1:05 am |
  16. Truph

    GOD IS NOT REAL. wake up people, really...... made up bedtime stories to make us feel safe.....

    October 10, 2012 at 12:46 am |
  17. Madonfan

    I believe in Jesus. The bible has been right on so far in predicting what is happening in the world.

    October 10, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • blue79

      Do you believe in flying purple elephants too? I hear they're quite fun to watch.

      October 10, 2012 at 12:45 am |
    • cybercmdr

      Yeah, right. Lots of detailed prophecy there..... About as detailed as a horoscope. As with horoscopes, people will read into them what they want.

      October 10, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • kenny

      name ONE thing the bible predicts and give me a reference or web link cause all i know from your fellow xtians are that gays are bad and we should help the poor/meek/sick, but that seems like just a mild suggestion while the gays are the serious problem.

      October 10, 2012 at 12:55 am |
    • End Religion

      What about these "prophesies"?

      October 10, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • Seyedibar

      The bible has never been right about a single thing. Even the parts which are purported to be connected to real historical events and wars are incorrect in detail. I honestly cannot think of one single shred of truth in the old or New Testament beyond a handful of names of people that could have existed.

      October 10, 2012 at 4:36 am |
  18. kenny

    awww that's gotta sting... as an agnostic i find pretty much all religions a delusion for people who can't handle reality... opiate of the masses is the perfect analogy for someone who thinks they get to live forever in a wonderful place with all the ones they loved during their life as long as they follow the rules... can you think of any better way to control people??? the most brilliant minds in history and alive today are agnostic... yes its true... einstein and stephen hawking were/are agnostic... and you fools think you know more because there are sooooo many of you??? might does not equal right just like just like if EVERYONE believes it, doesn't make it TRUE... yet you fools still cling... it really amazes me... i see the appeal but if you have even a remote knowledge of the universe you HAVE to accept that it just doesn't pass the smell test...

    October 10, 2012 at 12:33 am |
  19. MikeB

    Something that is very insightful is from 11 Feb 1966 "Ezra Taft Benson – Stand Up For Freedom"
    Another that is a bit lighter to consider is "Make Mine Freedom"
    They're on the web.

    October 10, 2012 at 12:07 am |
  20. Hong Tong

    Beautiful news. We need real Christians to take over. These people with 100s of fake sects have distorted the message of Christ. One thing about the mexican immigrants is that although they jump over the border, they are Catholics. That's way better than these distorted sects. Out of them all, Mormons are the most immoral and unethical ones that support Child Marriage and Polygamy.

    October 9, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • MikeB

      You are baring false witness. How is that ethical or honest?

      October 10, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • Seamus

      Does this "take over" you speak of consist of the replacement of a secular democracy by a theocracy overseen by a foreign sovereign?

      October 10, 2012 at 12:29 am |
    • Hong Tong

      non-protestant American Christians are not foreigners. Please stop making ridiculous statements.

      October 10, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • Seamus

      Right, like how the Pope is American, just like Jesus?

      October 10, 2012 at 1:54 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      HT: Christians will never take over...the Secular community will never see it happen. Keep your petty delsuions to yourself and out of the public square and grow up. Live in the 21st century where the information debunks what your 1st century life style info tells you.

      October 10, 2012 at 3:54 am |
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About this blog

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.