Just three years ago, half of the U.S. adult population felt the influence of religion on American life was rising. Today, only a little more than a quarter believe so.
A recent Gallup Poll found that just 27 percent of Americans perceive religion's influence to be on the upswing while 67 percent of Americans say religion as a whole is losing influence on American life.
The trend is consistent with those who attend religious services regularly as well as those who seldom or never attend services, with majorities saying religion is losing influence in this country.
Since 2005, the Gallup Poll has recorded a downward trend in those who believe the influence of religion is increasing. The record low for this perception was in 1970 when only 14 percent said religion was increasing in influence at that time.
The last time a majority of Americans felt the influence of religion was rising was in December 2001, just months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when 71 percent said religious influence was increasing – the highest percentage Gallup Poll recorded since 1957.
Previous polls show that there was a long period of doubt about the influence of religion during the Vietnam War era – from 1965 through 1975, according to the Gallup report. Then, in the 1980s, religious influence was perceived as growing when religious conservatism, or the "religious right," was gaining prominence during the Ronald Reagan presidency.
The Gallup Poll suggests that the recent waning perception that religion is increasing in influence is "partially a result of the decline of Republican political strength throughout President George W. Bush's second term."
"At the close of 2008, few Americans perceive that religion is thriving in U.S. society, and a relatively small majority believe religion is relevant to solving today's problems," the report stated. "These perceptions may stem in part from the political climate – characterized by a weakened Republican Party and the incoming Democratic administration – as well as from the overwhelming consensus that the main problems facing the country today are economic."
In other major findings, the percentage of Americans who believe that religion can answer society's problems is at an all-time low, with only 53 percent saying religion "can answer all or most of today's problems."
The poll, conducted Dec. 4-7, comes during an economic crisis and at a time when the vast majority of Americans believe the U.S. economy is the nation's greatest challenge.
Meanwhile, over the last several decades, the percentage of those who perceive religion as "largely old-fashioned and out of date" has been on a continuous rise. The latest poll found that 28 percent believe it's old-fashioned.
Among Americans who attend worship services weekly, 82 percent say religion can answer today's problems. Only 27 percent of those who rarely or never attend agreed. Also, Americans across all age groups were more likely to say that religion can answer today's problems than reject it as old-fashioned. But the poll found that confidence in religion to solve problems increased with age (44 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds believe religion can answer problems compared to 52 percent of those 35 to 54 years old and 60 percent of those 55 years and older).
Despite the decreasing confidence in religion among Americans, a majority still says religion plays a very important role in their own lives and self-reported church attendance has not declined this year, the Gallup Poll noted.
Results of the latest poll are based on interviews with 1,009 national adults, aged 18 and older.