September 4, 2008

Survey Finds Alaskans Less Religious Than Other Americans

GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is a self-described “Bible-believing Christian,” but statistics from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey show that compared with the nation as a whole, Alaska is home to a higher-than-average number of people who are unaffiliated with any particular religion. More than one-in-four Alaskans (27%) describe their religion as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, compared with 16% among the adult population of the continental U.S. In this respect, Alaska closely resembles some other Northwestern states, including Oregon (27% unaffiliated with any particular religion) and Washington (23% unaffiliated).

About two-thirds of Alaskans (69%) belong to Christian religions, compared with 78% among the U.S. population overall.* The number of Alaskans who are members of evangelical Protestant denominations (26%) is identical to the share of the overall U.S. population that is evangelical.

When it comes to religious beliefs and practices, the Landscape Survey finds that Alaskans tend to be less religious on a variety of measures as compared with the overall U.S. population. For instance, whereas a majority of American adults (56%) say that religion is very important in their lives, only 37% of Alaskans place great importance on religion. Nearly one-third of Alaskans (31%) say religion is not too important or not at all important in their lives, compared with only 16% among the public overall.

Americans as a whole are nearly twice as likely as Alaskans to say that they attend religious services on a weekly basis (39% vs. 22%). And nearly half of Alaskans (47%) say they seldom or never attend worship services, compared with only 27% among the public overall.
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Other measures reveal a similar pattern. For instance, more than seven-in-ten U.S. adults (71%) believe in God or a universal spirit with absolute certainty, compared with roughly six-in-ten Alaskans (61%). And while nearly six-in-ten adults in the continental U.S. (58%) say that they pray every day and nearly half (45%) say that they read Scripture at least once or twice a month, only four-in-ten Alaskans pray daily (41%) and fewer than one-in-three (32%) read Scripture at least once a month.

Though Alaskans tend to be somewhat less religious than other Americans, their views on several social and moral issues closely resemble the views of the public overall. Slightly more than half of Alaskans (55%) think that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, as does 51% of the overall U.S. population. And roughly half of Alaskans (51%) say that homosexuality is a way of life that should be accepted by society, nearly identical to the 50% of the U.S. population that takes this view. Alaskans are somewhat more wary than other Americans of the government’s role in protecting morality. More than six-in-ten Alaskans (62%) worry that the government is getting too involved in the issue of morality, while only 33% say that the government should be doing more to protect morality. The general population is more divided on this question (52% worry government is too involved, 40% say government should do more to protect morality).
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Like their views on abortion and homosexuality, Alaskans’ self-described political ideology is quite similar to that of the overall adult population; 36% of Alaskans describe themselves as conservative, 37% as moderate and 21% as liberal. Among the general population, the comparable figures are 37%, 36% and 20%, respectively. Though on average they are no more conservative than their counterparts in the continental U.S., Alaskans are somewhat more Republican. More than four-in-ten Alaskans (44%) described themselves as Republicans or leaning toward the Republican Party in the spring of 2008,* while 36% said they favored or leaned toward the Democratic Party. Among the overall population, only 35% favored the Republicans in the summer of 2007,* compared with 47% who expressed support for the Democratic Party.

* Results for the overall U.S. are based on 35,556 telephone interviews conducted with adults in the continental U.S. between May 8 and Aug. 13, 2007. Results for Alaska are based on 200 telephone interviews conducted with adults in Alaska between March 13 and March 30, 2008. The margin of sampling error for the overall U.S. results is +/-0.6 percentage points; the margin of sampling error for the Alaska results is +/-7.5 percentage points. Methodological details are available in the full Landscape Survey report. Full question wording and survey results are available in the survey topline.

This analysis was written by Gregory Smith, Research Fellow, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Photo Credit: Carl & Ann Purcell/Corbis