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. hh

    Douc<hebag Alert

    October 11, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  2. est


    October 11, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  3. derp

    "The second issue with some Christians is they do not know the difference between fiction, (let's pretend), and any proven fact."

    That's because their entire belief system requires that they accept as absolute truth, a work of fiction.

    October 11, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • HiggsbosonIsReligion

      The problem with derps....they don't whether they're voicing fact or opinion.

      October 11, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
  4. correctlycenter

    "For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline. So you must never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord." 2nd Timothy 1:7-8. God bless...

    October 11, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • derp

      Oh mighty Isis.

      Zeke 12.5

      October 11, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  5. SokrMom

    Church leaders ought to have seen this coming when they decided to get involved in politics. History shows that when churches seek political power, it tends to corrupt both the churches and the political systems.

    October 10, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  6. Praise Elohim!

    The reason why Protestants are no longer the majority is because Christ Ahnsahnghong came from the east (South Korea) and illuminated the earth through the Light of the Passover:


    God bless you

    October 10, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • End Religion

      Thanks for clearing that up for the world, though you might have mentioned that to Martin Luther in 1517 to save a lot of people the trouble of branching off. The Bible reprinting costs alone that could have been saved is staggering.

      October 10, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  7. JohnQuest

    techie, we all (including you) know that the Pres. is not a socialist, we also know that we are doing better now than 4 years ago. Are you seriously arguing that Rebubs are better? Would you really give them the keys Again? No program that Conservatives say they care about was acted on under a repub not a one. Immigration Pres O kick more people out than Pres. B, Abortion, Pres. O is doing the exact same thing as Pres, B, Healthcare Pres. O passed "Obamacare" Pres. B passed prescription drugs, regulations, Pres, O has sign less into law that Pres. B.

    Also, the repubs want to tell you who to marry, who to sleep with so who is more of a socialist?

    October 10, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  8. Atheist Hunter

    Want to know why Obama doesn't react to Christian persecution? See below link! Report this CNN!

    October 10, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • brad4nyc

      Hey Atheist Hunter- my buddy Satan asked me to ask you a question. What happens when the hunter becomes the hunted? Bra ha ha ha ha!

      Praise the mythical being Satan over the mythical being God!

      October 10, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      World Net Daily?

      October 10, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • brad4nyc

      How about Right Wing Watch!

      Bra ha ha ha ha ha !!!!!!!

      October 10, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Or let's all go to Conservapedia for our information!!

      October 10, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  9. Lord Vader

    Why do atheists even talk about religion if it dont exist? I don't talk about the big bang theory because I dont believe in it myself. The majority of atheist posts involving religion contains enough hate to kill an elephant. So when an atheist homeowner wants to discriminate against me because I am Christian, should I have the right to sue? Or do I suck it up and cry and trash other peoples made up theories on an internet blog?

    October 10, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • snowboarder

      vader – you just did talk about the big bang.

      unfortunately i just doesn't come down to beliefs. in this country we find ourselves constantly under attack by the religious attempting to codify their religious beliefs into civil law and indoctrinating our children in public schools.

      that is why religion can not be allowed unopposed reign.

      October 10, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Why do atheists even talk about religion if it dont exist?

      >When have you EVER heard us say it doesn't exist? Religion quite obviously exists. It is your imaginary friend and all that goes with it-heaven, hell, jesus, adam, eve, satan, ect that we say probably never existed due to lack of evidence outside of the bible.

      I don't talk about the big bang theory because I dont believe in it myself.

      >>Failed science class??? Not believing it doesn't make it less true. There is enough data within numerous books and done by world renowned scientists to say it is the best possible answer we have.

      The majority of atheist posts involving religion contains enough hate to kill an elephant.

      >>Nice assumption fool!! Look in a mirror if you wish to know what hate is!

      So when an atheist homeowner wants to discriminate against me because I am Christian, should I have the right to sue? Or do I suck it up and cry and trash other peoples made up theories on an internet blog?

      >>HUH??? When have you ever heard of this happening?? Oh right, NEVER!!!

      What you're not getting is that most of us were Christians, we just grew up and realized that it doesn't meld with the evidence science has presented us.

      Now could you please enlighten us on a few things:
      1) Who or what created god?
      2) Do you accept the bible when it says children should be beaten?
      3) Do you accept the bible when it speaks of man lying with man?
      4) Explain the virgin birth to us and why it hasn't happened since? What made a young girl so special?
      5) How old is the earth?
      6) If Adam and Eve were the first people on earth, how was the remainder of the earth populated?
      7) Explain in detail how it is possible for so many creatures and 1 family to survive on a ship 450 feet long, what about cell's? Bacteria?
      8) Do you go to a Doctor when you're sick? Why if you are such a firm believer would you do this?
      9) Why do you use a computer and the internet if you don't believe in science? Do you know what Bill Gates belief is?
      10)Do you believe the bible word for word and why????

      October 10, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • SoM

      @Lord Vader. Why would you waste a second on concerns over what and what not atheists believe in? I don’t. It is my hope that we Christians just ignore their views and them all together. It is not worth our time (Romans 3:3). Let us all go to who would hear. Ignore deaf ears.

      October 10, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • Stephen A

      Atheists talk about christianity because it is the dominant religion and because so many people believe in it, it has an effect on those of us who dont believe in it. A case in point for some people include gay marriage, abortion. A few other areas that are affected are the push to teach intelligent design in schools as well as the denial of global warming (partially disbelieved by some Christians because it compared the weather for a time longer than the traditional 6,000 year old creationist belief). With Christianity beling involved in the debate on these issues its going to draw a little fire...

      October 10, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • End Religion

      vader, the ignorance wafts off you like heat waves off desert asphalt.

      October 10, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  10. Atheist Hunter

    Get our of mormonism before it is too late! It is a cult!

    October 10, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • JJ

      Definition of cult: The other guy's religion.

      October 10, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • snowboarder

      all religions are cults. stop with the baseless fearmongering.

      October 10, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Or at least go post it on the open Mormonism topic where you can debate the status of the LDS Church with the swarm of Mormons who got the memo to 'get online' yesterday.

      October 10, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  11. brad4nyc

    Rejoice the Good News! America is finally waking up to the fact that God is Imaginary. Find proof at http://www.godisimaginary.com

    October 10, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • evan

      atheism is a religion, get over yourself. There are a set of beliefs, group of followers, there are meeting groups, they try to inflict their view on everyone else... Keep your beleifs to yourself.

      athiesm is the same thing as christianity they just have different beliefs

      October 10, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Seriously?

      "There are a set of beliefs, group of followers, there are meeting groups, they try to inflict their view on everyone else... Keep your beleifs to yourself."

      You have no idea what you are talking about I've done none of those things. Wait...isn't lying a sin? Oops, you broke on of the major ten.

      October 10, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • brad4nyc

      Hey Evan- ever heard of free speech?

      Theocratic evangelical christians are scary and anti-American and would take away our rights to free speech and freedom of religion (or lack there of). Believe what ever you want, but do not force your beliefs upon me. As Patrick Henry said "I may not believe in what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it". I stand by this great American TRUTH. That said, I hope you give me the same basic American rights...

      The bible is a book of myths and lies. God is imaginary and so is hell. If God were real he would be an evil monster. Who gives a rat's behind what the bible say's because it's pure fiction. How can you worship a god that has killed innocent children? If you worship the god of the bible you worship an evil murderer. Thank god that god is imaginary. Only a monster would make people knowing that they would eventually wind up in hell- especially when he had the choice to not make them at all, thus saving them from eternal torture.

      Satan good. God bad. But only from a mythological point of view, because they are both imaginary.

      Praise Lucifer, the bringer of truth, light and reason! Hail Satan, the imaginary adversary to an imaginary god, who has the balls to fight against god's evil ways! Glory be to the mythical beings of Lucifer and Satan who shall slay the evil mythical God of Abraham!!!! Remember what I said about free speech? Are you American enough to accept this concept?

      October 10, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  12. Gregory Adamson

    Even christians dont believe it all. look how most act. The hate. The judgement of others. Church has become nothing but a social club. I'm all for living your life according to the good things found in the bible but most of it has fallen way to the side. Fundamentalists are trying to hang on to the literal interpritation which makes it wosre.

    October 10, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Topher

      I agree with all of that except the fundamentalists making it worse part.

      October 10, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Hey Topher,how's your proof for your god coming?

      October 10, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Topher

      Very well, actually!

      October 10, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      So why haven't you posted it for all the world to see? You wouldn't be afraid of having your delusions exposed yet again, would you?

      October 10, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Topher

      I have posted them. You just deny them. That's your choice.

      October 10, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      As usual, you lie. You, nor any believer, has ever made the case fo any god. Your religion is no better than astrology.

      October 10, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • End Religion

      at least astrology can be fun at parties...

      October 10, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  13. Mike D

    Bet the Protestant stance on separation of church and state is going to shift whent the Catholic majority starts trying to put up pope statues in public places. Maybe they'll remember that the whole separation thing is actually in place to protect religion, not suppress it.

    October 10, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  14. Tom


    Catholics are Christians, it depends on who you ask. Some would have you believe preposterous things without any knowledge at all of Catholicism. Catholics were the first Christians.

    October 10, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • SoM

      I dont know where you get your facts, but the catholics were NOT the first christians. They hijacked christianity from the followers of the way. I bet you didn't know that? The early believers called themselves "Followers of the way", and their symbol in secret was a fish, not a cross. On top of that, they never prayed to Maria or believed in a place called hell as taught in the catholic church.

      October 10, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • Ed

      The groups referred to are Catholics and Protestants, both of Christian faith, but the Protestants, as the name suggests, reject the authority of the Vatican.

      October 10, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  15. SoM

    I use to be a protestant and go to church. That all ended once I started reading the apostle Paul's letters. Being a protestant and going to church gave me little hope. In Paul's letters, I found hope. (1Tim 4:10).

    October 10, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • End Religion

      you found hope in the deluded ramblings of an insane charlatan? Yikes! Good luck with that.

      October 10, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  16. alientech

    Not that I care but this survey is misleading – they don't count nondenominational congregations as Protestant.

    October 10, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • JohnQuest

      Most People don't count Catholics as Christians.

      October 10, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • Rynomite

      I'm pretty sure Catholic cult members don't count the protestant cult members as Christian either. Unless of course they want their numbers to compare against muslims or any other group of religious. Thats just the way cults work.

      October 10, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      specifically what "non-denominational" congregations are you talking about?

      Of course there is also the possibility that whatever group you imply is missing are statistically insignificant anyway.

      From the 2007 full report here are the non-Catholic/non-Protestant Christian numbers:
      Mormon ........................ 1.7%
      Jehovah's Witnesses ... 0.7%
      Orthodox ...................... 0.6%
      Other Christian ............. 0.3%

      ±0.6% margin of error, based on 35,556 cases

      I don't think any serious religious scholar would count Mormonism or Jehovah's Witnesses as part of the Protestant tradition.


      October 10, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  17. the_new_minority

    I want my freebies now. free college, free phone, free housing. get to work the rest of you......time for you to support me.

    October 10, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • bxgrrl

      You must not have read the article – wrong thread. But then, having read your comment, I'm not surprised you can't read.

      October 10, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • Primewonk

      Awwww – another ignorant talibangelical tea bagger nutter who is too freaking stûpid to did his way to the political boards.

      October 10, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • End Religion

      i hear new_minority calling...


      October 10, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  18. hater

    Religion is going the way of the horse and buggy.

    October 10, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • the_new_minority

      along with liberalism and its messiah barry

      October 10, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • k

      Two things. (i) I disagree and (ii) the horse and buggy are under-rated.

      October 10, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • End Religion

      religion is also similar to horse and buggy in that its participants follow somewhat stinky leaders.

      October 10, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  19. techie

    the protestant work ethic dies and the country sinks into a socialist marsh. Notice how the atheists stood with Obama during the conventions. They don't believe in the Myth's of the bible but they buy the myth of socialism. At least the American protestants moved us forward from the revolution to the most powerful nation on earth...now we get the "replacements" socialism to move us backwards.

    October 10, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • JohnQuest

      techie maybe you can explain it, Why do you think the Pres. is a socialist? What has he done, signed into law, or said that would make you think that?

      October 10, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • techie

      Where to begin. Obama is the definition of big government and the intrusion of government into ever facet of American life and freedoms. He as created over 3,573 new rules since taking office. The bigger question is how do you not see it?

      October 10, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • Arbogast

      It's called the Protestant work ethic, but you do realize that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the country was flooded with Catholics and Jews who did all the hard work the Protestant upper classes wouldn't dirty their hands to do, who excelled in the trades, and who built successful businesses. Your comments are representative of the ignorance of the conservative right.

      October 10, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • techie

      Arbogast: At some point you need to get off your " I'm so superior for being multicultural" high horse and start accepting responsiblity for yourself and your actions. The protestant work ethic delivered the product. Now as a "replacement" you you need to deliver the product as well...and based on the performance of Obama this last four years you are not off to a very good start. Your Ad Hominem attacks to attempts to distract from the issue by running around screaming ignorance, racism and whatever else only adds to the realization you don't really have any idea of how to produce a growing economy.

      October 10, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • just a guy

      He techie. You are blissful in your ignorance. First, buy a dictionary and look up the meaning of socialist. Calling Obama a socialist is pretty much like calling a house cat a saber toothed tiger. Just because he sees the good that government can do, doesn't make him Joseph Stalin. And as far as delivering the goods, just about every economic indicator is up significantly over the last 3.5 years. The only one lagging is employment. Record profits, more workers, stock market throught the roof, no inflation, these are things that the Obama administration can and should take credit for. Yes there are problems, but they can be traced back to the truly failing policies of the Bush administration. I know that you don't want to hear that, but is is true nevertheless. And I am not "blaming" Bush but if you want to solve a problem you have to know the problem and the things that Bush and his cronies did are at the heart of our current economic problems. So stop making your pointless posts and go educate yourself.

      October 10, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • Rynomite

      "Notice how the atheists stood with Obama during the conventions. They don't believe in the Myth's of the bible but they buy the myth of socialism."

      I'd wager that atheists cross the political spectrum. I am an atheist who is libertarian. Means I normally agree with Repubs on Money issues and Dems on Social issues. I normally vote the money since I am largely not impacted by social issues in my little corner of the country. In this case I'll vote Gary Johnson because Mitt seems like a tool box so neither of the two party candidates are appealing.

      October 10, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • techie

      Just a Guy: Obama is not Stalin but they both can be socialist. You need to educate yourself on political dichotomies and economic ones.

      October 10, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Primewonk

      When asked to specifically explain why President Obama is a socialist, tech ie wrote, " He as created over 3,573 new rules since taking office."

      I fail to see how that fits the definition of socialist. And to top it off, according to Bloomberg, it's a lie. In the first 33 months in office, Obama approved 613 rules, which is 4.7% less than the 643 rules Bush approved in the same time frame.

      Why do tea bagger nutters lie?

      October 10, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • techie

      The stock market is up because the other countries are doing worse then we are. And because there is a concern for growing inflation. You live in a dream though if you think economy is doing well. With the Fed "twisting" they are distorting the market and at some point it has to give back. Federal debt is skyrocketed and ObamaCare hasn't even gone into full force yet. The unemployment number down to 7.8 percent are suspect and you don't even have to listen to the conservatives on that one. You could read the new york times and they will tell you the numbers are suspect. 8.2 percent to 7.8 percent...such a large drop doesn't even get a slight ? out of you?.

      October 10, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • techie

      Primewonk: My information comes from the 2010 volume of the Federal Register....So I think mine data is more accurate. Your probably has a particular slant to it...while the federal register will cover it all.

      October 10, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • End Religion

      techie said: " He as created over 3,573 new rules since taking office"

      I want no Republican from this time forward to ever again utter that Obama hasn't done anything since gaining office.

      October 10, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • derp

      "The stock market is up because the other countries are doing worse then we are. And because there is a concern for growing inflation."

      What kind of gibberish is this?

      I made a ton of money in the last two years in BRIC stocks. And inflation has been nearly non existent for a decade. The stock market is up because corporate profits are at an all time high, and personal tax rates are at historic lows.

      My company made record profits in 2010, 2011 and we are pace to do it again in 2012. The reason we are not hiring is because we don't have to. Why should I take on new employees when I am making money at a record pace. The economy has grown every qtr for almost three straight years. Smart investors are making a killing right now. I've even made money in real estate this year.

      If you don't actually understand how the economy/finance/ markets work, don't comment on them. It just makes you look dumb.

      October 11, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  20. TJ

    It's all Harry Potter's fault! I'm sure that's what some friends of mine, who just happen to be right-wing Christians, would say. They wouldn't allow their children to read Harry Potter books because they believe it's part of the occult.

    October 10, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • miki thinks

      The problem with the Potter books for a lot of parents is that their children can't read. The second issue with some Christians is they do not know the difference between fiction, (let's pretend), and any proven fact.

      October 10, 2012 at 9:42 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.