A report published by the Pew Research Center (pdf) today indicates that almost 20 percent of U.S. adults polled reported no religious affiliation, that 32 percent of those under the age of 30 reported no affiliation—and that both of these numbers are on the rise.
The data, by the Forum on Religion and Public Life group at Pew, was based on telephone interviews with 2,973 U.S. adults around the beginning of this July. The study credits the overall rise in non-religious affiliations (up almost 5 percent in the last five years) to generational replacement—that growing number of young folks.
"These generational differences are consistent with other signs of a gradual softening of religious commitment among some (though by no means all) Americans in recent decades," the report says. "Pew Research Center surveys conducted over the last 10 years, for example, find modest growth in the number of people who say they seldom or never attend religious services, as well as a declining number who say they never doubt the existence of God."
But the report doesn't paint the unaffiliated as entirely godless.
"Many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way," Pew reports. "Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as 'spiritual' but not 'religious' (37%), and one in five (21%) say they pray every day. In addition, most religiously unaffiliated Americans think that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor."
Still, an "overwhelming" number say they think religious organizations are "too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics."
Candidates out on the campaign trail this week might also take note of some of the survey's political ramifications. Six out of 10 unaffiliated registered voters are Democrats, says the report, and in 2008, they voted for Barack Obama as faithfully as white Protestants voted for John McCain.