"Empty pews" by Jason Scott / CC BY 2.0

How Many Nones Are There? Maybe More than We Thought

Mar 17, 2020

By Ryan P. Burge, Eastern Illinois University

It’s a rare day when I don’t do some type of statistical analysis with survey data related to religion and/or politics. When I am presented with a question about what the public feels or how they behave in these areas, I immediately know which datasets would yield the best results. Becoming so familiar with a lot of the data out there has led me to notice some discrepancies between surveys.

The biggest, and most nagging, disagreement is in the percentage of the population who are classified as religiously unaffiliated – the “nones.” The two surveys in question are the General Social Survey, which has been conducted at least biannually since 1972. It asks: “What is your religious preference? Is it Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, some other religion, or no religion?” The other is Cooperative Congressional Election Study, which has been conducted since 2006. The CCES uses an approach to measuring religious affiliation that was developed by the Pew Research Center. It asks: “What is your present religion, if any?” Then there are eleven potential choices listed, with three possibilities for the nones: atheist, agnostic, and nothing in particular.

When you compare those who say they have “no religion” in the GSS, to those who say they are either atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular in the CCES, a significant difference emerges.

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