Mark A. Smith is professor of Political Science and an adjunct professor of Comparative Religion and Communication at the University of Washington. His research focuses on economic and religious groups, ideas, and influences in American politics. In his new book, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics, Dr. Smith argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is and is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them.
This weekend, I appeared on State of Belief Radio to discuss the exciting findings from the 2012 American Values Survey. Every year, PRRI goes into the field with a new survey on religion, values, and public life, seeking to get to the heart of the values that, if it’s an election year, will influence voters’ choices. I observed that one of the “headlines” from the survey is the shifting diversity of the American religious landscape, an element that often goes overlooked, although more than one-third of Americans have shifted their religion to something other than the religion of their childhood. The survey also dispels the idea that there is one monolithic “Catholic vote,” and explores the composition of the religiously unaffiliated.
I explained that there are some substantial generational changes driving the growing numbers of the religiously unaffiliated. Nearly one-third of Americans under the age of 30 say they are unaffiliated, compared to 19% of the general population. These Americans also tend to lean Democratic: 23% of Obama’s coalition is religiously unaffiliated (for a look at the composition of the presidential candidates’ religious coalitions, check out our graphic of the week). The survey also breaks down the subgroups among the religiously unaffiliated: atheists and agnostics, seculars, and a newly-identified group of unattached believers. Watch the segment below: