WASHINGTON — The U.S. has become significantly less Christian in the last eight years as the share of American adults who espouse no systematic religious belief increased sharply, a major new study found. For what is likely the first time in U.S. history the actual number of American Christians has declined. Christianity, however, remains by far the nation’s dominant religious tradition, according to the new report by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

Because the U.S. Census does not ask questions about religion, the massive religion surveys by the Pew Research Center have become a chief source of information on the U.S. religious landscape.

The survey questioned 35,071 U.S. adults last summer. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus six-tenths of a percentage point.

Just short of 1 in 4 Americans now describe themselves as being agnostic, atheist or simply “nothing in particular,” up from roughly 1 in 6 in 2007, according to the new study. The ranks of the “nones,” as the study labels them, have grown in large part from people abandoning the religion in which they were raised. By contrast, Christian ranks have eroded. Roughly 173 million adult Americans identify as Christian, just under 71 percent of the U.S. population. That’s down from 178 million, or 78 percent of the U.S., in 2007.

The rapid increase in the number of adults without ties to traditional religious institutions has strong implications for other social institutions and for politics.

Whether a person attends religious services regularly is among the strongest predictors of how he or she will vote, with traditional religion strongly tied to the Republican Party, at least among white Americans.

Almost 1 in 5 American adults were raised in a religious tradition but are now unaffiliated, the study found. By contrast, only 4 percent have moved in the other direction.


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