In a shift that stands to impact both religion and politics, survey data suggests that the percentage of Americans who don’t affiliate with any specific religious tradition is now roughly the same as those who identify as evangelical or Catholic.
According to newly released General Social Survey data analyzed by Ryan P. Burge of Eastern Illinois University, Americans claiming “no religion” — sometimes referred to as “nones” because of how they answer the question “what is your religious tradition?” — now represent about 23.1 percent of the population, up from 21.6 percent in 2016. People claiming evangelicalism, by contrast, now represent 22.5 percent of Americans, a slight dip from 23.9 percent in 2016.
That makes the two groups statistically tied with Catholics (23 percent) as the largest religious — or nonreligious — groupings in the country.“Nones have been on the march for a long time now,” Burge said. “It’s been a constant, steady increase for 20 years now. If the trend line kept up, we knew this was going to happen.”
The shift could signify coming political changes. Evangelicals often lean conservative and are known to have outsized influence on American elections: According to exit polls, white evangelicals alone made up 26 percent of the electorate in 2016, even as their share of the American population has dipped far below that, according to Public Religion Research Institute.
“Evangelicals punch way above their weight,” Burge said. “They turn out a bunch at the ballot box. That’s largely a function of the fact that they’re white and they’re old.”
The chart below tells the story.