Survey: Americans overstate size of religious minorities

The typical American underestimates how many Protestants there are in the U.S., and vastly overestimates the number of religious minorities … Continued

The typical American underestimates how many Protestants there are in the U.S., and vastly overestimates the number of religious minorities such as Mormons, Muslims, and atheist/agnostics, according to a new study.

Grey Matter Research and Consulting asked 747 U.S. adults to guess what proportion of the American population belongs to each of eight major religious groups: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, atheist/agnostic, believe in God or a higher power but have no particular religious preference, and any other religious group.

The average response was that 24 percent of Americans are Catholic, 20 percent are Protestant, 19 percent are unaffiliated, 8 percent are Jewish, 9 percent are atheist or agnostic, 7 percent are Muslim, 7 percent are Mormon and 5 percent identify with all other religious groups.

Respondents were correct on Catholics — 24 percent of the country is Catholic. But according to the 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 51 percent are Protestant, 12 percent are unaffiliated, 2 percent are Jewish, 4 percent are Atheist/Agnostic, less than 1 percent are Muslim, 2 percent are Mormon and 4 percent identify with all other religious groups.

While Protestants make up more than half of the American population, Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, said there are several reasons why there is such a gross underestimation of their numbers.

“Protestant is an umbrella word that people don’t think of,” he said, noting that people are much more likely to identify with individual Protestant groups, such as Baptist, Methodist or Lutheran, rather than with the Protestant tradition as a whole.

Sellers also mentioned that with Mitt Romney running for president as a Mormon and the current emphasis on Islamic-American relations, “smaller faith groups also may be getting disproportionate media coverage.”

Respondents under the age of 35 were even more likely than older participants to underestimate the Protestant population. Dan Cox, research director for the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute, said that may be because young people tend to have more friends who are religiously unaffiliated.

“The religiously unaffiliated and non-Christian groups are increasing, but we aren’t close to 30 percent of Americans identifying as unaffiliated or agnostic,” he said. “We are becoming more religiously diverse — that is entirely true — but we’re a long way from any of these numbers.”

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  • PhillyJimi1

    I would still be counted in the Catholic group but I am an Atheist. I am in the closet with my Atheism just because it would break my mother’s heart and create all kinds of problems with the family. I like my family and would not want to create a rift over something as trivial as the myth of a deity that created the Universe and also knocked up a virgin by himself with himself in order to become a soul saving zombie to atone for the fruit eating crimes of the first rib woman who got tricked by a talking snake. If they want to believe that story it is all good, I still love them.

    I do give them subtle reminders to keep them grounded in reality, when they get a little too silly with the “will of god” and/or his “freewill”. It is shocking that otherwise smart and logical people can’t see that you can’t logically be part of god’s “master plan” for all of us and also live in a world under god’s empowerment of “total freewill” for all humans.

  • ThomasBaum

    PhillyJimi1

    You wrote, ” It is shocking that otherwise smart and logical people can’t see that you can’t logically be part of god’s “master plan” for all of us and also live in a world under god’s empowerment of “total freewill” for all humans.”

    I suppose it will be even more of a shock when you find out that God’s Plan is most definitely for everyone and without total freewill there could not be a Plan, only a bunch of puppets on a string or for a more modern look at it, a bunch of preprogrammed biological machines running thru their individual programs.

    I think that a lot of people that believe in God are in for a much greater shock than you though.

  • DRJJJ

    Time Magazine with Einstein in his 50s (see wiki):

    To what extent are you influenced by Christianity? “As a child I received

    instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled

    by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.”

    Do you accept the historical existence of Jesus? “Unquestionably! No one can

    read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality

    pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life!”

    Thank’s for acknowledging God has a plan! Yes, Christians are disfunctional, broken sinners-there’s room for one more!