Survey shows U.S. evangelical numbers still growing

February 25, 2008

DALLAS – America’s evangelical movement is still growing and winning converts — with political implications that will likely be felt in this election cycle and beyond.rtr1wmkc.jpg

A new and extensive survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released on Monday found that 26.3 percent of U.S. adults or one in four count themselves as evangelical Protestant.

That is higher than the widely cited one-in-five figure which is based on what denominations report to the National Council of Churches USA (NCC). But surveys and polls such as the one conducted by Pew can also catch people affiliated with churches that don’t report to the NCC.

Pew’s “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey”, based on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans age 18 and older, also shows that evangelicals outnumber Catholics who accounted for 23.9 percent of the survey’s respondents.

“The evangelical Protestant tradition is still growing but also becoming more diverse … so it may give them more clout in politics but because of their diversity it not be used in the same way,” John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum, told journalists during a conference call about the survey.

White evangelical Protestants have emerged in the past three decades as a key base of support for the Republican Party, which has galvanized them to go to the polls by taking hardline stances against abortion rights and gay marriage.

But as Green and others have noted, they may in fact be splintering politically and moderating as their ranks grow –  perhaps because they are attracting more people with different priorities.

Having said that, all the available evidence to date suggests that most remain firmly in the Republican camp, even if the movement’s agenda is widening to embrace other Biblical concerns such as the environment.

Pew plans to follow up in the spring with a report on other findings from the survey which will look specifically at Americans’ religious beliefs and practices as well as their social and political views.

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- Photo credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder

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