One Fifth of Americans Have No Religious Affiliation

By Michelle Garcia

Originally published on Advocate.com October 09 2012 5:35 PM ET

One in five Americans say they are unaffiliated with a traditional religious denomination, though many say they still pray, believe in a higher spiritual power, and have regular spiritual routines, The Washington Post reports.

According to new data from the Pew Research Center, 19.6% of Americans said they have no definitive religious affiliation or are atheist or agnostic, compared to 8% in 1990. A third of adults under 30 don't follow a particular religious belief. And a majority of this group, 88%, are not actively looking for a particular religion that would fit their beliefs.

Still, 79% of Americans identify with some religious group, whether it's Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, or another type of group.

A quarter of Democrats are in the group that the Pew Center calls "The Nones," making them the largest faith constituency in the Democratic Party versus 14% white mainline Protestants and 16% black Protestants. According to the report, this group tends to be strongly liberal and supports contentious causes such as marriage equality and abortion rights. In comparison, 34% of the Republican base is white evangelical Christians. Research has begun to show that people are beginning to choose their religious affiliation based on their political leanings, and not vice versa.

Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam says the rising number of nonreligious people, particularly in the Democratic Party, is a reaction to the rise of the religious right. "The best predictor of which people have moved into this category over the last 20 years is how they feel about religion and politics," he told the Post.