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Religious Change in America’s Swing States
Daniel Cox,

It’s not necessarily breaking news that Christianity is declining in the U.S. or that more and more Americans are becoming religiously unaffiliated—but what impact will these dramatic changes have on the 2016 election?  Using the American Values Atlas, which is based on 50,000 interviews, we examined religious changes occurring in nine key swing states.


Iowa (+8 Religiously unaffiliated)

Iowa has experienced a dramatic growth of religiously unaffiliated residents in the last seven years. Nearly one in four (23 percent) Iowans are religiously unaffiliated today, compared to 15 percent in 2007. The state has also experienced a proportional decline in its white Christian population, most notably among white Catholics. The white Catholic population in the state dropped from 21 percent in 2007 to 16 percent in 2014.

Virginia (-5 White evangelical Protestant)

In 2007, white evangelical Protestants made up more than one in every four (26 percent) Virginia residents. Today, they account for smaller—albeit still sizable—part of the state’s population at 21 percent. No other religious group has experienced similar change. The size of religiously unaffiliated population increased only modestly from 18 percent to 21 percent. Importantly, while white evangelical Protestants substantially outnumbered the unaffiliated in 2007 (26 percent vs. 18 percent), today the groups stand at parity.

North Carolina (-6 White evangelical Protestant; +6 Religiously unaffiliated)

White evangelical Protestants have long dominated North Carolina’s religious landscape, but no religious group has suffered greater losses over the last seven years in the state. Making up 36 percent of the state’s population in 2007, they account for 30 percent today. Conversely, religiously unaffiliated North Carolinians represent 18 percent of the state’s population today, compared to just 12 percent a few years earlier.


Battleground religion table copy

Colorado (-3 White Catholic; +3 Religiously unaffiliated)

The religious landscape in Colorado has not shifted as dramatically as it has in other battleground states. White Catholics have experienced the most significant losses over the last seven years, declining from 12 percent to nine percent. Religiously unaffiliated Coloradoans have increased only modestly over this same period—28 percent vs. 25 percent. Non-white Christians, most notably Hispanic Christians, have witnessed modest gains during this period as well.

Florida (-3 White Catholic; +5 Religiously unaffiliated)

White Christians make up a somewhat smaller proportion of Florida’s residents today than they did seven years ago, with both white Catholic and white mainline populations declining modestly since 2007. Interestingly, white evangelical Protestants, who account for 17 percent of the state’s population, have not experienced any change. The state’s religiously unaffiliated population swelled to 21 percent from 16 percent in 2007, the largest increase of any religious group in the state.

Nevada (-6 Mormons; +6 Religiously unaffiliated)

Nevada has experienced dramatic changes in its religious composition. The Mormon population in the state has dwindled from 11 percent to five percent, while white Catholics have also declined from 12 percent to eight percent. Hispanic Protestants, however, have risen from one percent in 2007 to six percent today. Religiously unaffiliated Nevadans, who represent the largest “religious” group in the state, continue to increase in size from 21 percent to 27 percent.

Wisconsin (-4 White Catholic; +6 Religiously unaffiliated)

Since 2007, Wisconsin’s white Christian population has steadily declined across major religious traditions; white evangelical Protestants dropped from 19 percent to 16 percent and white Catholics dropped from 26 percent to 22 percent. During this same period, the religiously unaffiliated in Wisconsin increased to 22 percent from 16 percent. Notably, the 10-point gap between white Catholics and religiously unaffiliated (26 percent vs. 16 percent) has completely disappeared with both groups now at parity.

Ohio (-5 White mainline Protestant; +6 Religiously unaffiliated)

No swing state has seen its share of white mainline Protestants decline more rapidly than Ohio. White mainline Protestants now account for 17 percent of Ohio residents, down from 22 percent in 2007. In contrast, white evangelical Protestants now account for 23 percent of the state’s population, compared to 22 percent seven years earlier. Nearly one in four (23 percent) Ohio residents are now religiously unaffiliated, representing a six-percentage point increase from 2007 (17 percent).

New Hampshire (-4 White mainline Protestant; +8 Religiously unaffiliated)

No swing state has a larger proportion of religiously unaffiliated residents than New Hampshire. What’s more, the size of this group is increasing rapidly in the state; more than one-third (35 percent) of New Hampshire residents are unaffiliated, jumping eight-percentage points from 27 percent since 2007. White evangelical Protestants and white mainline Protestants have experienced a decline over this same period.