Why Pew’s latest religion survey is a gold mine (that you can mine yourself)

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Eight years ago, Pew Research conducted its first Religious Landscape Survey. Last year, they completed a second round with another survey of over 35,000 Americans. Pew released its report on the 2014 survey today, but you won’t see the full value of the survey in today’s headlines.

The survey shows some of the religious change in America (you can watch the video above). Put simply:

  • There is an increase in the number of secular Americans, people who don’t identify with a religion or find it important
  • Those in religious traditions remain as active and faithful.

We didn’t need Pew’s survey to know this. It’s something that we’ve seen again and again in surveys over the past decade or so. The value of the survey isn’t found in these headlines.


SEE Pew study: More Americans reject religion, but believers firm in faith


The gold is what is the data yet to be mined. The Pew study includes over 35,000 respondents. A typical poll has around a thousand. Two thousand at the highest.

With so many people, the 2014 Religious Landscape Study allows us to examine religious groups that are rounding errors in smaller studies. Mormons, Jews, and Muslims each have hundreds of members in the survey. Among Christians, we can examine specific denominations or movements such as Pentecostals.

There is also the ability to look at state-by-state comparisons. The survey is large enough to provide a picture of the religious composition of most of the states.

Consider this example: There are 696 respondents who are evangelical Protestant and live in California. With that many, we can give a demographic picture of the typical Golden State evangelical with a degree of certainty unmatched in other surveys.

Pew has an interactive website that allows anyone to drill-down the data:

http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/

Best of all, researchers will soon be able to access the data. Pew makes its surveys available for download, no subscription or fee required.

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