Mississippi is the most religious U.S. state, and is one of eight states where Gallup classifies at least half of the residents as "very religious." At the other end of the spectrum, Vermont and New Hampshire are the least religious states, and are two of the five states -- along with Maine, Massachusetts, and Alaska -- where less than 30% of all residents are very religious.
Gallup classifies 40 percent of Americans nationwide as very religious -- based on their statement that religion is an important part of their daily life and that they attend religious services every week or almost every week. Another 32% of Americans are nonreligious, based on their statement that religion is not an important part of their daily life and that they seldom or never attend religious services. The remaining 28 percent of Americans are moderately religious, because they say religion is important but that they do not attend services regularly or because they say religion is not important but still attend services.
Religiosity varies widely across U.S. states and regions, with Mississippi in the deep South and Vermont in New England providing the most extreme example of the disparity. Fifty-nine percent of Mississippians are very religious and 11% nonreligious, while 23 percent of Vermonters are very religious and 58 percent are nonreligious. Although New Hampshire ties Vermont with 23 percent of its residents classified as very religious, slightly fewer (52 percent) residents in the Granite State are classified as nonreligious.
More generally, eight of the 10 most religious states in 2011 are in the South (Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia), with one straddling the line between the South and the Midwest (Oklahoma), and one in the West (Utah). None of the most religious states are in the Middle Atlantic, New England, or West Coast regions.
By contrast, six of the least religious states in 2011 are in New England (Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island) and four are in the West (Alaska, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington), with the District of Columbia and New York rounding out the list.
These state-by-state patterns in religiousness have remained stable in recent years. Southern states have traditionally been the most religious, and states in New England and in the West have been the least religious.
State Cultures Appear to Influence Religiosity
Gallup research has shown that these state differences appear to be part of a "state culture" phenomenon, and are not the result of differences in the underlying demographics or religious identities in the states. For example, while Mississippi has the highest percentage of blacks of any state in the union, and while blacks are the most religious of any major race or ethnic group in the country, the Magnolia State's white residents are highly religious on a relative basis compared with whites in other states. And, Vermonters who identify as Catholics or with Protestant denominations are less religious than Southern state residents who identify with the same religions. It appears there is something about the culture and normative structure of a state, no doubt based partly on that state's history, that affects its residents' propensity to attend religious services and to declare that religion is important in their daily lives.
America remains a generally religious nation, with more than two-thirds of the nation's residents classified as very or moderately religious. These overall national averages, however, conceal dramatic regional differences in religiosity across the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Residents of Southern states are generally the most religious, underscoring the validity of the "Bible Belt" sobriquet often used to describe this region. Coupled with the Southern states in the high-religiosity category is Utah, the majority of whose residents are Mormon -- the most religious group in America today. On the other hand, residents of New England and a number of far Western states tend to be the least religious.
Religion is related to politics in today's America, and it is clear from a glance at Gallup's State of the States map that the most religious states in the union generally are the most Republican, while the least religious states skew more toward the Democratic Party. This means that the most divided states -- and thus, those where most of the heavy-duty campaigning in this year's presidential election will be taking place -- are the ones where residents tend to be neither at the very religious nor at the nonreligious end of the spectrum.
Gallup's previous State-by-State survey on importance of religion was published in 2009. It can be accessed here.