To Feel the Spirit, Poll Says Go South

By Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service
Saturday, February 7, 2009

Want to be almost certain you'll have religious neighbors? Move to Mississippi.

Prefer to be in the least religious state? Venture to Vermont.

A new Gallup Poll, based on more than 350,000 interviews, finds that the Magnolia State is the one where the most people -- 85 percent -- say yes when asked, "Is religion an important part of your daily life?"

Less than half of Vermonters, meanwhile -- 42 percent -- answered that same question in the affirmative.

Joining Mississippi in the top "most religious" states are other notches in the Bible Belt: Alabama (82 percent), South Carolina (80 percent), Tennessee (79 percent), Louisiana (78 percent) and Arkansas (78 percent).

New England predominates in the top "least religious" states: Following Vermont are New Hampshire (46 percent), Maine (48 percent), Massachusetts (48 percent), Alaska (51 percent) and Washington (52 percent).

"Clearly, states in the South in particular, but also some states in the Southwest and Rocky Mountains . . . have very religious residents, and New England states in particular, coupled with states like Alaska and others, are irreligious," said Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll.

The reasons why, however, are far less clear, analysts said.

For example, some might attribute the religiosity of Mississippi to the high percentage of African Americans -- long known for being comparatively highly religious -- who live there.

"Mississippi is still No. 1, even if we look only at whites," Newport said. "Whites in Mississippi are also very religious."

Overall, Gallup researchers found that 65 percent of all Americans said religion was important in their daily lives. The sample of 355,334 U.S. adults, including respondents with land-line phones and cellphones, had a margin of error of plus or minus one percentage point. Some states had margins of error as high as plus or minus four percentage points.

Newport was surprised that one state -- Utah (69 percent) -- did not make the "most religious" list, given the state's large Mormon population.

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