Poll: 75% in RI are Christian, 20% aren’t religious

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island remains the most Catholic state in the U.S., but one in five of the state’s residents don’t identify with any religion, according to a new poll released Tuesday.

The national survey of 35,071 American adults – including 305 Rhode Islanders – was conducted last summer by the Pew Research Center. It found Americans generally have become less Christian and more secular since a similar poll was done in 2007, with 23% of Americans now saying they don’t identify with any organized religion.

“While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages,” Pew said in a statement. “The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.”

In Rhode Island, the poll found 75% of residents identify with various Christian traditions: 42% are Catholic, 14% each are mainline or evangelical Protestant, 2% each are part of a historically black Protestant tradition or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and 1% are Mormon.

Rhode Island is the only state in the country where Catholics make up more than one-third of residents, according to Pew.

Among non-Christians in Rhode Island, the largest group by far was religiously unaffiliated residents, who account for 20% of the state’s population. Jews, Hindus, and members of the “other world religions” and “other faiths” categories accounted for 1% each.

The 2007 Pew poll did not have a large enough sample size for Rhode Island to provide a state-level breakdown of residents’ faiths, so comparisons for the state are not available.

The new Pew findings mirror a similar survey released earlier this year by the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute, which found 44% of Rhode Islanders identifying as Catholic and 21% as religiously unaffiliated. That surveyed just 144 Rhode Islanders.

Still, it appears likely the number of Catholics in Rhode Island has declined in recent years.

Between 2007 and 2014, the Catholic share of the population in neighboring Massachusetts fell from 43% to 34%. In Connecticut it fell from 43% to 33%, and across the Northeast it fell from 37% to 30%. Nationwide, 21% of Americans identified as Catholic last year, down from 24%.

A 2008 Trinity College survey found 46% of Rhode Islanders identified as Catholic then, down from 62% in 1990. That study also showed Rhode Island with the most heavily Catholic population in the nation.Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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