There is a growing partisan gap in religious belief with Republicans, as a group, somewhat more religious now than they were 20 years ago, while Democrats are less so; an index of agreement with three statements about religious belief — the importance of prayer in daily life, expectations about Judgment Day and confidence in the existence of God — shows that Republicans express greater religious commitment now than at any time in the past 20 years with 79% now agreeing with all three statements, compared with 71% in 1987. By contrast, Democrats now show less agreement (62%) than in previous years. Independents have tended to fall below both Republicans and Democrats on this measure of religious commitment, but that is no longer the case; comparable numbers of Democrats and independents (62% vs. 65%, respectively) agree with all three statements. Democrats and independents also are less likely than Republicans to identify with a particular religious tradition, and the gap has widened over the past two decades. Currently, 5% of Republicans say they are atheist, agnostic, or decline to state a religious preference, which is the same percentage that did so in 1987. But the number of Democrats in this category is now 11%, up from 7% in 1987; currently 17% of independents are classified as secular, an increase from 9% in 1987. While there are some signs of declining religiosity, other forms of religious activity do not appear to have changed very much in recent years. The number of people who report attending Bible study or prayer group meetings is about the same today as in 1999 (37% now, 34% in 1999). Southerners are especially likely to report this type of religious activity (48%, vs. no more than 34% in any other region of the country). Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.