More than 9 in 10 Americans believe in God

Poll shows U.S. still extremely religious -- unlike our Canadian, U.K. or European allies

Published June 6, 2011 3:07PM (EDT)

God according to Michelangelo
God according to Michelangelo

Results of a Gallup poll released over the weekend reveal that more than nine in 10 Americans believe in God. Ninety-two percent of Gallup's 1,018 respondents (hailing from all 50 states) answered "yes" when asked whether they believed in God.

The pollsters noted:

Despite the many changes that have rippled through American society over the last 6 ½ decades, belief in God as measured in this direct way has remained high and relatively stable. Gallup initially used this question wording in November 1944, when 96% said "yes." That percentage dropped to 94% in 1947, but increased to 98% in several Gallup surveys conducted in the 1950s and 1960s.

In recent decades, the pollsters have expanded the survey to also ask the question, "Do you believe in God or a universal spirit?" Given the option of a universal spirit over God -- presumably understood as a Judeo-Christian, creator carer, possibly bearded and robed type figure -- a number of Americans opted for the former (80 percent said they believed in God, 12 percent said they believed in a universal spirit). The survey did not probe into specific religious allegiances.

The breakdown of the poll results will come as little surprise:

Belief in God drops below 90% among younger Americans, liberals, those living in the East, those with postgraduate educations, and political independents. However, belief in God is nearly universal among Republicans and conservatives and, to a slightly lesser degree, in the South.

Gallup has not conducted the exact same survey for different countries, but we dug up some figures about religious belief in Canada and Europe to put America's widespread belief in God in some context:

  • A 2003 Gallup poll, which looked into the role of religion in the U.K., the U.S. and Canada, found that when asked about the importance of religion in their own lives, 83 percent of Americans said it is either "very important" (60 percent) or "fairly important" (23 percent). Those numbers take a dive north of the border: 62 percent of Canadians said religion is very important (28 percent) or fairly important (34 percent) to them. In Great Britain, however, less than a majority -- 47 percent -- said that religion is important in their lives. Only 17 percent of Britons consider it very important, and 30 percent feel it is fairly important.
  • The most recent Eurostat Eurobarometer study by the European Commission was conducted in 2005. It found that 52 percent of European Union citizens responded that "they believe there is a God;" 27 percent said "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force" and 18 percent said that "they do not believe there is a spirit, God, nor life force."
  • The same European survey showed Turkey and Malta to be the only European countries on par with America's figure of over 90 percent of citizens believing in God.
  • 38 percent of British respondents to the Eurobarometer survey said they believed in God, as did 34 percent of French respondents.
  • Although this most recent Gallup poll shows little change in how many Americans believe in God, another poll from 2010 showed a slight decrease in the number of Americans identifying with a formal religion. In the 1950s nearly 0 percent said they did not identify with a formal religion, compared to the 16 percent in 2010 who responded that they had no religious identity.
  • Of the Americans who do identify with a religion, an ABC News/Beliefnet poll suggests the overwhelming majority are Christians (83 percent according to their survey, which does not line up perfectly with the Gallup poll). The ABC News poll noted that only 33 percent of the world identify as Christian.


By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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