Gallup has released another one of its trademark surveys, this time exploring which states are the “most” and “least” religious.
Is it any surprise that, according to Gallup, the majority of those who identify themselves as “very religious” come from the Southern states (the “Bible Belt”)?
Photo Source: Gallup
“Mississippi is the most religious U.S. state, and is one of eight states where Gallup classifies at least half of the residents as ‘very religious,’” writes Gallup’s Frank Newport.
Of course, there is an exception to the “Southern rule.” As we’re sure you have already noticed, and despite the fact that it’s surrounded by states that are either “average” or “below average” in religiosity, Utah is the second most religious state in the country.
“Coupled with the Southern states in the high-religiosity category is Utah, the majority of whose residents are Mormon — the most religious group in America today,” Newport writes.
These are Gallup’s Top 5 “Most Religious” States:
5. Arkansas — 54 percent of the residents can be classified as “very religious”
4. Louisiana — 54 percent “very religious”
3. Alabama — 56 percent “very religious”
2. Utah — 57 percent “very religious”
1. Mississippi — 59 percent “very religious”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the “least religious” states in the U.S. are primarily located in New England. Does that surprise anyone either?
“Vermont and New Hampshire are the least religious states, and are two of the five states — along with Maine, Massachusetts, and Alaska — where less than 30% of all residents are very religious,” Newport writes.
These are Gallup’s Top 5 “Least Religious” States:
5. Alaska — Only 28 percent of the residents can be classified as “very religious”
2. New Hampshire — 23 percent
1. Vermont – 23 percent
So how did Gallup go about putting together this report? That is, what does Gallup mean by “very religious” and how does one qualify as such?
“Gallup classifies 40% of Americans nationwide as very religious — based on their statement that religion is an important part of their daily life and that they attend religious services every week or almost every week,” Newport writes.
“Another 32% of Americans are nonreligious, based on their statement that religion is not an important part of their daily life and that they seldom or never attend religious services. The remaining 28% of Americans are moderately religious, because they say religion is important but that they do not attend services regularly or because they say religion is not important but still attend services,” he adds.
Gallup research has shown that these state differences appear to be part of a “state culture” phenomenon, and are not the result of differences in the underlying demographics or religious identities in the states.
It appears there is something about the culture and normative structure of a state, no doubt based partly on that state’s history, that affects its residents’ propensity to attend religious services and to declare that religion is important in their daily lives.
So what’s the takeaway? What have we learned from Gallup?
“America remains a generally religious nation, with more than two-thirds of the nation’s residents classified as very or moderately religious. These overall national averages, however, conceal dramatic regional differences in religiosity across the 50 states and the District of Columbia,” Gallup reports.
And, of course, there are political implications [emphasis added]:
Religion is related to politics in today’s America, and it is clear from a glance at Gallup’s State of the States map that the most religious states in the union generally are the most Republican, while the least religious states skew more toward the Democratic Party. This means that the most divided states — and thus, those where most of the heavy-duty campaigning in this year’s presidential election will be taking place — are the ones where residents tend to be neither at the very religious nor at the nonreligious end of the spectrum.
Translation: President Obama shouldn’t worry about winning over Vermont as much as he should worry about Ohio. Likewise, whoever the GOP nominee is, he probably shouldn’t waste too much time campaigning in Maine and should focus more on, say, Arizona.