America has been a highly religious nation, but those trends are shifting in recent years. Pew Research found that 71% of Americans said they are “absolutely certain” God exists, but this dropped to 63% in 2014. Meanwhile, those who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a steady rate.
However, those who explicitly state they do not believe in any God (i.e. being an atheist) remains low. In a recent Gallup poll, 11% of Americans said they do not believe in God. Another recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute only found that 3% of Americans explicitly identify as atheist.
Atheism still has a large stigma surrounding it as it’s continually one of the least trusted religious groups. So perhaps more people don’t believe in God, but don’t want to admit it.
Instead of asking about belief in God directly, they provided a list of seemingly innocuous statements and then asked: “How many of these statements are true of you?” Respondents in a control group were given a list of nine statements, such as “I own a dog” and “I am a vegetarian.” The test group received all the same statements plus one that read, “I do not believe in God.” The totals from the test group were then compared to those from the control group, allowing researchers to estimate the number of people who identify as atheists without requiring any of the respondents to directly state that they don’t believe in God.The study concludes that roughly one-quarter (26 percent) of Americans likely do not believe in God.
Importantly, I don’t think we should conclude that 26% of America is definitely atheist. This is a single study that found an indirect measure made it more likely for participants to identify as atheist than a control group. There definitely needs to be more research to determine more certainty in this area. However, I do think this provides some evidence that we may be underestimating how many atheists there really are.