A new study, by Gallup, has shown that 77% of Americans believe that religion it losing its influence in American life, although 75% also agree that American society would be better off if people were more religious.
The study shows that the perception of religious influence in the U.S. has fluctuated since the poll began in 1957, however, this year represents the highest number of negative evaluations since 1970. Perceived influence has been on the decline since around 2003.
A majority of Americans believed that religious influence was increasing when the polls began in 1957, then again in 1962, at a few points in the 1980s, during the Reagan administration, and in late 2001 and early 2002, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Gallup reports. There was also a perceived increase in 2005 and in December of 2001, thee poll hit it's highest number for perceived increase at 71% of the population.
The poll reports that these results are not related to American's personal religious identification, since highly religious Americans are no more or less likely to perceive a decrease in religious influence than those who are not religious. However, there is a connection between political ideology and perception with liberals and Democrats being more likely than conservatives and Republicans to say that religious influence is actually increasing in our society.
Meanwhile, about 75% of Americans said that they think it would be positive for American society as a whole if more Americans were religious. This belief was most common among individuals with strong religious affiliation themselves, but also held true to varying degrees with those who attended church less often and viewed religion as not very important. This suggests that many people who believe that religion is losing its influence, also view this decrease in a negative light.
The study suggests that the present American view, that religion is losing its influence on American life, "does not appear to reflect personal religiousness, but rather appears to reflect widely shared judgments on factors relating to the course of events in the U.S. In 1969 and 1970, with the Vietnam War raging in controversial fashion and with the cultural and sexual revolutions underway, and to a lesser degree at times in the 1990s, Americans held negative views similar to those they hold today." The fluctuation of results over the years, increasing during the Reagan administration and after the 9/11 attacks, suggests the possibility of changed responses in years to come.