PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island is still the most Catholic state in the U.S., a new study has found.
A total of 44% of Rhode Islanders identified as Roman Catholic in a survey of nearly 53,000 Americans conducted last year by the Public Religion Research Institute, a five-year-old nonprofit organization based in Washington.
The results are similar to a 2008 Trinity College survey that showed 46% of Rhode Islanders identified as Catholic, down from 62% in 1990. That study also showed Rhode Island with the most heavily Catholic population in the nation.
Rhode Island is no regional outlier, though. The new poll put Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York in a three-way tie as the second most Catholic state, with 38% of their residents identifying that way. Nationwide, 22% of Americans identified as Catholic in the survey.
The second-biggest religious tradition in Rhode Island, however, is no religion at all: 21% of Rhode Islanders surveyed described themselves as religiously unaffiliated. The No. 3 religious tradition in Rhode Island was white mainline Protestant, at 15%.
The survey found unaffiliated residents now represent one of the top three religious groups in all but five states, reinforcing a widely noted trend in recent decades of fewer Americans identifying with organized religion.
Rhode Island is one of only four states where at least four in 10 residents identify with the same religious tradition. The others are Utah, which is 56% Mormon; Tennessee, which is 43% white evangelical Protestant; and West Virginia, which is 40% white evangelical Protestant.
However, the Rhode Island findings come with an important caveat: a tiny sample size.
The institute said it only polled 191 people in Rhode Island as it conducted its nationwide survey, giving the results for the Ocean State a large margin of error of roughly 7 percentage points. Even fewer Rhode Islanders – 144 – were polled on policy issue questions asked by the group.
In addition to the questions on religious affiliation, the Public Religion Research Institute survey also asked Americans about their views on a number of hot-bottom policy issues.
Among the small sample of 144 Rhode Islands surveyed, 62% said abortion should be legal in all or most cases; 60% said illegal immigrants should be allowed to become citizens if they meet certain requirements; and 70% said they favor same-sex marriage, which was legalized in the state in 2013.Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi