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■by FRANK NEWPORT

Mississippians Go to Church the Most; Vermonters, Least

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ISSISSIPPIANS were the most frequent churchgoers in the nation in 2009, as was the

case in 2008, with 63 percent of resi- dents attending weekly or almost every week. Nine of the top 10 states in church attendance are in the South; the only non- Southern state is Utah, with 56 percent in frequent attendance. At the other end of the spectrum, 23 per- cent of Vermont resi- dents attend church frequently, putting it at the bottom of the list of churchgoing states. Other states at the bottom of the church attendance list are in either New England or the West. Gallup’s com- pilation of church attendance data is based on more than 350,000 interviews

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State

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conducted among national adults, aged 18 and older, across all 50 states and the District of Columbia in 2009. Gal- lup began tracking state-level church attendance on a daily basis in 2008, ask- ing respondents how often they “attend church, synagogue, or mosque—at least once a week, almost every week, about once a month, seldom, or never.” Fre- quent church attendance for the purpose of this analysis is defined as those who report attending at least once a week or almost every week. Nationally, 41.6% of all Americans in 2009 said they attended church this often.

Church attendance levels are widely dispersed across the states, with the high- est levels generally occurring in the South and the Midwest, and the lowest in the Northeast and the West.

Nine of the top 10 states in church attendance—Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas—are in the South. Utah, with its high con- centration of churchgoing Mormons, provides a Western exception. Six of the lowest church-attending states are in New England—Vermont, New Hampshire,

Top 10 States, Church Attendance

% Attend weekly or

almost every week

Mississippi 63 Alabama 58 South Carolina

Louisiana 56 Utah 56 Tennessee 54 Arkansas 53 North Carolina

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Georgia 51 Texas 50

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Bottom 10 States, Church Attendance

% Attend weekly or

State almost every week

Vermont 23 New Hampshire

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Maine 27 Massachusetts 29 Nevada 30 Hawaii 31 Oregon 31 Alaska 31 Washington 32 Rhode Island

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Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut—while the others are in the West: Nevada, Hawaii, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington.

Despite the generally high degree of geographic mobility in the U.S. in recent decades, and the commonality of experi- ence brought about by exposure to mass media and the Internet, substantial state differences in churchgoing behavior persist. Well over half of all residents in a number of Southern states and Utah report attending religious services weekly or almost every week, compared to below a third who attend frequently in New England and several Western states. At the extremes, the range in average church attendance between Mississippi and Vermont is 40 points.

One explanation for these wide dif-

ferences in religious behavior is the sub- stantial differences by state in religious identity. The Southern states have high proportions of residents who identify as Protestant, non-Catholic Christians—faith traditions with high average church atten- dance levels. Residents of New England, the Northwest, and other Western states are more likely to have no religious iden- tity, usually associ- ated with low church attendance. And the majority of Utah resi- dents are Mormons, a group with the highest church atten- dance level of any major religious group in the country.

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Ethnic and racial differences may account for some of the state-by-state dif- ferences in churchgo- ing. Black Americans

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have the highest church-attendance aver- ages of any major racial or ethnic group, and Southern states have a relatively high proportion of blacks in their populations. There also may be cultural differences across states that are related to religious behavior. These differences may be so strong that they help shape the behavior of newly arrived residents. Or, certain types of people may be attracted to cer- tain types of states. Individuals who are attracted to Vermont and Alaska, by way of example, may be the types of people who are less inclined to participate in reli- gious services than are those attracted to Southern or Midwestern states.

Copyright © 2009 GALLUP. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from

www.gallup.com.

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