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. jvance

    Religions can be their own worst enemy when they move from providing solace and moral guidance for the individual towards attempting to control the beliefs of entire populations. Humans are curious and open-minded but also ornery and individualistic. They like to hear different points of view but don't like to be told what to think or say.

    October 10, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • k

      I agree with you! I am an active Catholic and agree that any attempt "to control" other people is simply wrong. I do think that the Church has a responsibility to preach the message of God: that He loves us (to the point of dying for us) and that he expects us to love one another (yes, even to the point of dying for one another, as Christ died for us). But individuals must make that choice for themselves.

      October 10, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  2. Ancient Texan

    The theory that religion is "dying off" may be proven wrong in November. The 20 million Evangelical Christians that stayed home in 2008 rather than vote for the man that refused the endorsements of several large church leaders will be out in force November 6.

    October 10, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • End Religion

      the amount of people who vote has no bearing on the fact religion is dying.

      October 10, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Nor does it give any credibility to their delusional beliefs.

      October 10, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  3. Mark

    I'm a Pedestrian.

    October 10, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  4. SuZieCoyote

    The word is sadly lacking an understanding of God that can unite people. All we have is stone age stories that tell us, in one way or another, to hate and kill our brothers and sisters. Pharisees, one and all. The protestants are dying out – it will take a couple of generations for the virus to be overcome completelyl. Catholicism and Mormonism are more virulent and will take longer, but eventually, they will give way. We no longer worship Zeus, Mithra, or any of the other ancient characters.

    October 10, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  5. Reality

    Only for new members of this blog:

    Why Protestants are losing members:

    Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie"/"horn-blowing" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

    Current problems:

    Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

    October 10, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  6. Ron

    See, CNN, your dreams are coming true; the Hate the Christian Channel, itself. The great falling away has begun. 1 Timothy 4, Matthew 24... But no, wait – the Bible is fantasy? You all had better check again. God is not a man that He should lie. It is coming, just like He said it would.

    October 10, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Why would you believe any of that stuff, Ron?

      October 10, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • Reality

      A prayer for Ron and analogous "souls":

      The Apostles' Creed 2012 (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

      Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
      ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

      (References used are available upon request.)

      October 10, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Evenstar13

      I agree with you, however, I am afraid that they will not listen to you. They want, and like their unGodly lifestyle, the greed, the vanity, the materialism; they lust for treasures that avail them nothing in the next world. I read the bible and I learn the parables and it is tough to understand the lessons at times, but I am undeterred, yet understanding leads to wisdom. One needs not be an expert in the scripture, I certainly am not, to see that indeed, the end times has begun, and it is going to only get worse as more and more people "fall away'. We can only pray that before their time is up, that they see the error of their ways and repent.

      October 10, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • End Religion

      Jesus is the porn king; he's been coming for 2000+ years!

      October 10, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  7. OrganicManLives_N_anOraganicUNiverSE

    as a white man I say, THANK GOD!

    October 10, 2012 at 8:15 am |
  8. amenable

    I wouldn't say by any means that just because a Political Party picked candidates that happened to not be of a particular religion for one or two cycles that it necessarily means that they are against this Religion, or that Religion. It simply means that there are Other issues at stake-beside just Religion-that are important to Voters.

    This article seems like extreme Media Spin, and yet even more Media hype and sensationalism.

    October 10, 2012 at 8:03 am |
  9. wha?

    Two things that stand out:
    1. Pretty sure that 48% is still a majority. Poor writing with twisted statistical data. ...but it's 2012, we're used to it.
    Obama is a "protestant" Yeah. Uh-huh. Tell me another.

    October 10, 2012 at 7:52 am |
    • Bob

      48% is a Plurality meaning "most" but is not a "majority" which is defined as 1 more than half (50.000001%) Get your Parli Pro facts straight.

      October 10, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • ET

      No kidding, and Saladin was the first Pope

      October 10, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • Newbius Maximus

      Actually, Obama is a protestant. The problem with Christians who reject Obama as their own is that they are worshiping politics and policies and not their God. Were they worshiping God they would be appealing to Him on behalf of their brother, trusting the God would deal with him. But instead of doing this, Christians are rejecting their brother and running after a stone-cold cultist who actually declares that the Christian God is false, and that regular men can even become gods themselves. Way to show your Christian devotion Christians. Obviously you no more believe in your religion than I do – and I don't believe it at all.

      Obama is just a Christian who supports policies that other Christians think are wrong. That has always been the case in America, since the slaveowning Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Patrick Henry, and the entire Southern Baptist Church – which literally started back in the 1800's because they thought God supported slavery. They were wrong, but they were still Christians – just like Obama.

      Christians = Fail.

      October 10, 2012 at 8:30 am |
  10. me

    Oh no!!!!! What will we do now??


    October 10, 2012 at 7:49 am |
  11. Matt

    If Mormons aren't protestants, aren't they then just another fadish cult?

    October 10, 2012 at 7:20 am |
    • Rich in TX

      Oh c'mon now. Don't call them "fadish".

      October 10, 2012 at 7:26 am |
    • Brandon

      all religions are cults, some of you are just more faddish than others. Mormons are like fanfiction Protestants

      October 10, 2012 at 7:37 am |
  12. DRK

    Not sure I understand the math. If there are two parties/religions, and one has less than 50%, then it is no longer the majority. If there are multiple religions (which I believe is the case) then one with less than 50% (48% in the case of this PEW survey) can indeed still have the majority. A very misleading headline on this one! Having said this, in a country such as the US, which is based on individual freedom, there are lots of religions and no one is being shot in the head when they support the right of girls to attend school...

    October 10, 2012 at 6:55 am |
    • Rich in TX

      48% is NEVER a majority. It just isn't. It can be the largest minority, but never a majority. Non-hispanic whites in America will soon be in this statistical boat as well, so get used to the phrase, "Caucasians no longer represent the majority of Americans."

      October 10, 2012 at 7:29 am |
    • cannonball

      The headline is stating that Protestants are no longer a majority of the entire US population, however they are still a majority among the religious. Unfortunately, there is a growing number of non-believers in this country (as reported in another recent CNN story)... although I would bet if money was a religious choice for their survey, that number would have been considerably smaller.

      October 10, 2012 at 7:35 am |
    • zach

      You're thinking of "plurality", which is different from absolute majority.

      October 10, 2012 at 7:49 am |
    • TJ

      Merriam – Webster's Dictionary

      3 a : a number or percentage equaling more than half of a total.

      October 10, 2012 at 8:39 am |
  13. Papi Mike

    .... it is never religion itself that causes the evil in the world but rather, what MAN/WOMAN does with religion (or in its' name) that causes the most evil.

    October 10, 2012 at 6:53 am |
    • southexas

      True...religions are written by sinners which are Men. If we all followed God's Ten Commandments, this world would be much better off. That's why I follow my Faith in God and not a religion.

      October 10, 2012 at 7:06 am |
    • Evenstar13

      Those who do evil in the name of God are hypocrites. Plain and simple!

      October 10, 2012 at 8:03 am |
  14. Yggdrasil

    Evangelical Protestantism is the base of support for Israel in the US, so Jews may not want to celebrate it's waning influence.

    Yes, the semitic-derived monotheistic religion of Christianity is on the decline among whites, but paganism is on the rise, and not just the fluffy Wiccan variety. Germanic neopaganism , also called Odinism or Asatru, the Pre-Christian religion of European peoples, is growing fast. Both the US military and the prison systems have been forced to grant it official recognition in recent years. It is not the universalist religion of love and forgiveness that Christianity is, and it is a very ethno-centric religion, as well as a fairly conservative one. Many who see whites as being displaced and threatened as a people believe Christianity has failed to serve and protect them, and are turning to the Old Faith in preparation for a real struggle for survival, if not an all out war for it.

    Organizations for this faith in the USA include the Asatru Folk Assembly , Asatru Alliance, and the Odinic Rite.

    October 10, 2012 at 6:12 am |
    • a slozomby

      jedi is also a recognized religion in several countries. does it really matter?

      October 10, 2012 at 7:05 am |
  15. Otasawian

    America is becoming more diversified. This is a good thing. However, when a group that has traditionally held power starts to lose it, that's when they become irrational and angry. This is reflected today in the recent extremeness of the Republican party. Until the Republicans stop catering and focusing solely on their traditional white protestant "base" the party will continue to falter. The Republicans need to become more inclusive if they are going to become a political party for the future.

    October 10, 2012 at 5:56 am |
    • Student of History

      Why is it "a good thing"?

      We hear an awful lot of this circular-reasoning nonsense from the nuts on the Left: "Diversity is good! It's good because it's diverse!"

      October 10, 2012 at 8:15 am |
  16. miscreantsall

    "Protestants are no longer majority in U.S."

    Maybe it's all those "secret" abortions they are getting.


    October 10, 2012 at 5:11 am |
  17. Mark

    It will be great when all religions drop under 50% of population of the planet.

    October 10, 2012 at 5:00 am |
    • truth be told

      You will be dead and long forgotten and your wish will never happen.

      October 10, 2012 at 5:03 am |
    • Mr. Correct

      Repression strengthens convictions. It's as true for atheism as it is for religion. But I am no atheist; the downfall of Christian tyranny in this nation will be all the evidence I need that God exists and is wise and benevolent.

      October 10, 2012 at 5:18 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      I hardly think repression is responsible for the increasing decline in religious convictions. Adherents to various religious groups are leaving willingly. They come to realize that superstition and blind acceptance of mythology are foundational requirements to maintain belief. All without justifiable verification. Keeping up the charade of religion is increasingly difficult when information that runs counter to it is not silenced as it was done in the past. The internet and free access to information will herald the end of faith based beliefs for discerning individuals. The rest are already lost causes.

      October 10, 2012 at 6:43 am |
    • Brandon

      If repression strengthens conviction, we're a few millennium behind the curve. Knowledge strengthens conviction, and that's why the internet age is seeing a rise in non-religious individuals.

      October 10, 2012 at 7:42 am |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    October 10, 2012 at 4:50 am |
    • Seyedibar

      Christian prayers are hilarious. It's so funny that they think a big bearded man in the sky would create the entire universe full of millions of galaxies, billions of planets and stars, create million of forms of life on one planet and then focus all his attention on one tiny tribe of politically insignificant jews in the bronze age, just so your child can win his soccer match (or whatever silly personal fancies you think an all-powerful god would be interested in).
      Prayer changes nothing other than reinforcing irrationality and robbing you of common sense.

      October 10, 2012 at 5:06 am |
    • DC

      Do you realize that prayer is nothing more than asking for something outside of your god's plan? Why would he change his plan, which has worked well, for millions of years, just for you? And if the prayer is something he's already planning on doing for you, why even ask for it in the first place?

      Prayer is worthless.

      October 10, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!/

      October 11, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  19. jacob

    ...so THAT's why this country has been going down the flusher

    October 10, 2012 at 4:37 am |
    • Brandon

      nah, the folks in charge now are primarily religious. The reason the country will stop going down the flusher is because the younger generation of rational adults will come into power in 15-30 years

      October 10, 2012 at 7:45 am |
  20. Herman Munster

    Dying off as fast as the Conservative base..... coincidence?

    October 10, 2012 at 4:35 am |
    • Ronald Regonzo

      Would you like "tea" with that? Romney / Ryan 2012

      October 10, 2012 at 5:27 am |
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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.