The Republican and Democratic presidential candidates will spend parts of the next month trying to convince voters they share their religious convictions and commitment. Church visits and prayer meetings will become more frequent in the home stretch of the election.
Unfortunately for them, there is a clear generational gap in the U.S. for religious commitment. Millennials are scoring the highest numbers for no religious affiliation among those with low religious commitment according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, “The Factors Driving the Growth of Religious “Nones” in the U.S.” The study used a religious commitment scale based on four self-reported factors: rates of attendance at worship services, daily prayer, certainty of belief in God, and self-described importance of religion in people’s lives.
The study cites that, among Millennials (those born after 1980) with low religious commitment, 79% self-identify as “nones” or religiously unaffiliated. This is the highest number of all generations in the U.S. and a staggering difference when compared to just 54% of “nones” among the low religious commitment Silent Generation (those born before 1946). Across all generations, Millennials had the lowest percentage of high-level religious commitment, just 43%. But as Millennials are aging, the percentage with a high level of religious commitment actually decreased by 7% from 2007 to 2014.
While the study doesn’t ask why, there seems to be a trend in the U.S. of seeing “no affiliation” as not such a bad thing. Past generations put their religious affiliations high in their identities, but Millennials don’t seem to feel the same. Acceptance of “none” is becoming more normal for this generation.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was a hit with Millennials, making him a viable threat to steal the Democratic nomination. He called for lower tuition, which sounded good to a group laden with student debt. Sanders was an alternative to the establishment, and as an alternative, he didn’t spend much time courting voters in a house of worship.
It will be interesting to see how this trend affects future elections. All of the contrived images by both candidates at worship services suggest they just can’t get enough “church” and everyone is part of it. But for Millennials, a growing number doesn’t agree with, “In God We Trust.”