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The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2001 is, as the name suggests, a scientific survey of religious beliefs in the United States, conducted by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Using a random sample of over 50,000 American citizens aged 18 or over in the continental U.S., the ARIS is the most comprehensive survey on religion in the United States to date (as the U.S. Census does not ask about religion).

Methodology

For the ARIS, 50,281 residential phone numbers were randomly dialed. Of these, approximately 95% of those surveyed participated. There is the possibility for slight skewing of the sample due to exclusion of (1) those who could not speak English well enough to communicate their answers and (2) households without telephones, but the resulting sampling error is most likely minor. For those who did participate, a host of demographic questions were asked, including sex, race, political affiliation, level of education, and total household income. A subsample of 17,000 respondents were also asked questions about conversion (whether they had converted religions recently or more than once), interfaith families, degree of secularism, communications technology and in the case of Hispanics, country of birth and year of immigration to the U.S. if foreign-born. Both the sample size and the randomness of the methodology ensure that both statistical error and sampling error are minimal.

Results

Extrapolating the data from the ARIS over the whole American population yields interesting results. Approximately 47.1% of Americans consider themselves to be Protestant, and 24.5% as Catholic. Jews make up 1.3% of the population, and Muslims and Buddhists each make up about 0.5%. Perhaps most surprising of all is that 14.1% of respondents said they have no religion; however of these, only 1% (of the total population, not of those claiming no religion) call themselves atheists, agnostics, secularists, or humanists, suggesting that many may be nonreligious theists.

In cross-referencing religion with political affiliation, we find that Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and nonreligionists are overwhelmingly either Democrats or Independents. Among Christian groups, Baptists, Catholics, Episcopalians and Pentecostals are most likely to identify with the Democratic Party; whereas Assemblies of God, Mormons, Evangelicals, and Presbyterians are most likely to identify with the Republican Party. (It's interesting to note that, if the ARIS statistics are correct, nearly a third of the U.S. population is registered Independent.)

The implications if the ARIS is accurate are very great. It is often assumed, especially by members of the Religious Right, that the United States is almost homogeneously Christian, with only a handful of adherents to other religions and philosophies. While Christians are certainly still the majority (making up 76.5% of the population once the Orthodox, nondenominationals, and those who refused to elaborate are taken into account), national leaders can not afford to pretend for long that the non-Christian minority - now nearly a quarter of the population - is physically or politically insignificant.

For further information, go to the official website of the ARIS:

http://www.gc.cuny.edu/studies/aris_index.htm

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