A new poll released on Monday from Public Religion Research Institute finds that Americans who are unaffiliated in their religious views or who are less religious are less likely to head to the polls this election season. If the findings from this survey hold true, it could spell troubling news for the Obama campaign since voters who are less religious are more likely to support the president.
Americans who identify themselves as religiously unaffiliated are the fastest growing segment in America's religious landscape. The annual PRRI survey found that 19 percent of Americans consider themselves part of this group. However, only 7 percent say they were raised in a religiously unaffiliated household.
Interestingly, President Obama, who has said he is a Christian, has a substantial lead among the religiously unaffiliated with 73 percent of those polled, while only 23 percent of that group say they support Mitt Romney, who is Mormon.
Americans who are affiliated to a religious group are much more likely to vote than those unaffiliated to a particular religion by a margin of 73 to 61 percent. For this reason, President Obama could be losing votes if the religiously unaffiliated choose not to vote in large numbers.
"The majority of Americans who are now religiously unaffiliated were raised in a particular faith," said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director and report co-author. "Their reasons for leaving vary widely, ranging from a rejection of the teachings of their childhood faith or a fading belief in God, to antipathy toward organized religion, to negative personal experiences with religion or life experiences generally."
Those who identify themselves as religiously unaffiliated are comprised of three subgroups: "Unattached believers," or those who describe themselves as religious but have no religious identity, make up 23 percent; "Seculars," or those who say they are secular buy not religious make up 39 percent; "Atheists and agnostics," who are generally white and better educated than the previous two groups, make up 36 percent of the religiously unaffiliated.
Yet one of the more significant findings of the poll highlighted the differences between Americans who hold distinctly different religious views. For example, nearly 9-in-10, or 89 percent, of atheists and agnostics favor same-sex marriage, compared to 7-in-10 seculars and 6-in-10 unattached believers.
However, likely voters surveyed – both religiously affiliated and unaffiliated – see the same-sex marriage issue as insignificant when compared to other more pressing issues such as the economy, national security and healthcare.
The survey also showed that President Obama held a four-point lead over Romney in late September, however, that lead has been cut after the second of three presidential debates.
The Real Clear Politics average of national polls shows Romney with a razor thin lead over Obama, 47.7 to 46.9 percent, which signifies the race is a virtual dead heat.
Romney and Obama will face each other for their third and final debate on Monday night to discuss foreign policy issues.
The Public Religion Research Institute survey is funded by the Ford Foundation and the Nathan Cummings Foundation. Results of the survey were based on 3,003 bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews of American adults conducted between Sept. 13 and Sept. 30, 2012. The margin of error is +/‐ 2.0 percentage points for the general sample at the 95% confidence interval.