A majority of Americans believe that religion's influence in the nation is waning, yet also think society would be better off if more Americans were religious, according to a new survey.
The results, released Wednesday by Gallup, represent some of the lowest ratings Americans have given to religious influence in the United States since the organization first began asking about the subject more than 40 years ago.
About 77 percent of Americans said religion is "losing its influence" on American life, while only 20 percent said religion has gained in influence.
The numbers are similar to responses given in recent years about the role of religion in the U.S., but the gap has gradually widened between how many believe religion's influence is increasing and how many believe it's decreasing. Only in the year after the Sept. 11 attacks and in 2005 were Americans more likely to believe the national role of religion was increasing. But the latest responses represent some of the worst ratings given to religion's role since 1969 and 1970, during the Vietnam War and in the midst of countercultural movements around politics and sexuality.
"In general, highly religious Americans are neither more nor less likely to say religion is losing its influence than those who are not religious. There is, however, a modest relationship between Americans' ideology as well as partisanship and their views of the influence of religion, with liberals and Democrats more likely than conservatives and Republicans to say religion's influence is increasing in American society," the group said in a statement.
In tandem with that downward trend, about 75 percent of respondents also said it would be good if more Americans were religious. This belief was more prevalent among Americans who regularly go to church and who said religion is important in their lives. But the survey also found that more than half of respondents who "seldom or never attend" a place of worship and "close to one in three Americans who say religion is not important to them personally" said society would benefit if more Americans were religious.
"The fact that most Americans think the country would be better off if more Americans were religious shows that many of those who believe religion is losing its influence may think this is a negative state of affairs," Gallup said in its statement.
Researchers stressed that the survey's results don't represent Americans' own religious beliefs, such as how often people go to religious services or the importance of religion in respondents' daily lives.
Gallup conducted the survey via telephone May 2-7 with a random sample of 1,535 adults. The margin of error was 3 percent.