A recent poll of more than 350,000 Americans on the importance of religion revealed that the nation is separated into enclaves of widely divergent viewpoints on faith, with some states and regions clearly religious and others significantly secular.
Gallup conducted a telephone poll of 355,334 U.S. adults, asking the question, “Is religion an important part of your daily life?”
As one might suspect, states from the “Bible Belt” scored the highest, with 85 percent of Mississippians and 79 percent of Tennesseeans, for example, answering yes.
The poll also revealed, however, that in addition to the Bible Belt, the U.S. also has a pair of “secular strips.”
The New England states of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine scored the lowest in the nation, with only 42 percent of Vermont residents – or less than half the percentage of those in Mississippi – answering yes.
The other “secular strip” can be found in the West, where Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Nevada all scored in the bottom 10 states for affirming religion’s importance in daily life.
Across the country’s entirety, 65 percent of the respondents affirmed that religion is an important part of their lives.
Gallup’s map of the nation, based on a state-by-state breakdown of responses to the poll question, can be seen below:
R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, theorizes in a Christian Post column on the reason for the startling disparity between the beliefs of religious Southerners and the more secular Northeasterners.
“New England certainly did not start as a secular experiment, but it entered the twentieth century already showing signs of deep secularization,” Mohler writes. “The influence of liberal theology in the region, the aftermath of the Second Great Awakening, and the leading edge of urbanization and industrialization certainly contributed to the pattern.”
Regarding the South, Mohler postulates, the region’s history and culture also play a role.
“The responses from the Bible Belt surely include those generated by cultural Christianity,” Mohler writes. “In the South, being ‘raised right’ includes knowing how you are supposed to respond to a question like that posed by Gallup.”
Gallup’s ranked list of all 50 states can be seen below:
The Gallup poll comes just one month after the organization also asked a smaller sample of Americans, “At the present time, do you think religion as a whole is increasing its influence on American life or losing its influence?”
Just over two-thirds of respondents thought it was losing its influence, the third highest percentage in Gallup’s 50-year history of asking the question.
As recently as 2002, 71 percent of Americans thought the opposite – that religion was increasing in influence – meaning opinion on the issue has undergone a complete reversal in the last seven years.