American and Global Views on Religion

Religion Is More Valued in the U.S. than in Most of the 23 Countries Surveyed by Ipsos

The author(s)

  • Nicolas Boyon Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Julia Clark Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
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Washington, DC — Half (49%) of all adults across 23 countries agree that religion does more harm than good in the world; the other half (51%) disagree. However, views vary greatly from one country to the next. In the United States, only 39% agree and 61% disagree. The survey was conducted by Ipsos Global @dvisor among 17,401 adults aged under 65 interviewed online.

Countries which are most likely to believe that religion does more harm than good tend to be in Western Europe and also include Australia, Canada and India. Chief among them is Belgium where

two in three (68%) agree, followed by Germany, Spain and Australia (each with 63%). Japan is least likely to think that religion has done more harm than good – one in four (26%) agree, preceded by Russia and South Korea (both with 36%).

Two in five people (38%) globally and half (49%) in the U.S. consider that religion defines them as a person. Religion is most seen as core to one’s identity in India (70%) and South Africa (66%), least so in Japan (14%), Sweden (17%), France and Great Britain (23% each).  

Globally, people are split down the middle when it comes to religion’s importance to their country’s moral life. Half (50% on average across the 23 countries) agree that religious practices are an important factor in the moral life of their country’s citizens while half (50%) disagree. In the U.S., twice as many agree (66%) than disagree (34%). Agreement is highest in India and South Africa (78% and 76% respectively) and lowest in Japan (15%), Sweden (31%), Belgium (33%) and France (34%).  

Only one third (32%) of people surveyed across the 23 countries, but nearly half (45%) in the U.S. think that religious people make better citizens. This view is most common in India (62%), South Africa and Brazil (both 54%), and least so in Japan (11%), Sweden (13%) and France (16%).

Despite a global split on the role of religion, a majority of people in each one of the 23 countries say they are “completely comfortable” being around people who have different religious beliefs than their own. South Africa (90%), Serbia (89%) and the U.S. (88%) are the countries with the highest proportions saying they are comfortable being around people with different religions, vastly exceeding the global average of 74%.  Countries with lowest level of agreement are Japan (58%), Belgium (62%), France (63%) and Germany (64%).

Only one in six (16%) people worldwide agree that they lose respect for other people when they find out that they are not religious. India is the only country surveyed where close to a majority (46%) say so. Elsewhere, no more than one quarter agree. Intolerance toward non-religious people is more common in Turkey (24%), South Africa (21%), Brazil (20%) and the U.S. (19%), and least so in Hungary (6%), Sweden (7%), Serbia (9%) and France (9%).

Commenting on the findings, Nicolas Boyon, Senior Vice President at Ipsos Public Affairs said: “Despite a decline in religious practice and affiliation in the U.S., religion still serves as a moral compass and a marker of identity a lot more than it does in any other Western country.”

About the Study

These are the findings of a Global @dvisor survey on attitudes toward religion. In total 17,401 interviews were conducted between June 24 - July 8, 2017 among adults aged 18-64 in the United States and Canada, and adults aged 16-64 in all other countries.

The survey was conducted in 23 countries around the world via the Ipsos Online Panel system. The countries reporting herein are Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United States, Serbia and Peru.

Between 500 and 1000+ individuals participated on a country by country basis via the Ipsos Online Panel. The sample was 1000+ in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Spain and the United States. In all other countries the sample was 500+. The precision of Ipsos online polls is calculated using a credibility interval with a poll of 1,000 accurate to +/- 3.5 percentage points and of 500 accurate to +/- 5.0 percentage points. For more information on Ipsos’ use of credibility intervals, please visit the Ipsos website.

In countries where internet penetration is approximately 60% or higher the data output generally reflects the overall population. Of the 23 countries surveyed online, 17 yielded results that are balanced to reflect the general population: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland, South Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Great Britain and the United States. The five remaining countries surveyed – Brazil (58%),  India (19%), Mexico (44%), South Africa (49%) and Turkey (51%) - have lower levels of internet connectivity and reflect online populations that tend to be more urban and have higher education/income than the general population.

Where results do not sum to 100, this may be due to computer rounding, multiple responses or the exclusion of don't knows or not stated responses.

Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.
For more information about conducting research intended for public release or Ipsos’ online polling methodology, please visit our Public Opinion Polling and Communication page where you can  download our brochure, see our public release protocol, or contact us.

For more information on this news release please contact:

Nicolas Boyon
Senior Vice President, U.S.
Ipsos Public Affairs
[email protected]

Julia Clark
Senior Vice President, U.S.
Ipsos Public Affairs
[email protected]

About Ipsos Public Affairs

Ipsos Public Affairs is a non-partisan, objective, survey-based research practice made up of seasoned professionals. We conduct strategic research initiatives for a diverse number of American and international organizations, based not only on public opinion research, but elite stakeholder, corporate, and media opinion research.

Ipsos has media partnerships with the most prestigious news organizations around the world. In Canada, the U.S., UK, and internationally, Ipsos Public Affairs is the media polling supplier to Reuters News, the world's leading source of intelligent information for businesses and professionals. Ipsos Public Affairs is a member of the Ipsos Group, a leading global survey-based market research company. We provide boutique-style customer service and work closely with our clients, while also undertaking global research.

About Ipsos

Ipsos is an independent market research company controlled and managed by research professionals. Founded in France in 1975, Ipsos has grown into a worldwide research group with a strong presence in all key markets. Ipsos ranks fourth in the global research industry.

With offices in 88 countries, Ipsos delivers insightful expertise across five research specializations: brand, advertising and media; customer loyalty; marketing; public affairs research; and survey management.

Ipsos researchers assess market potential and interpret market trends. They develop and build brands. They help clients build long-term relationships with their customers. They test advertising and study audience responses to various media and they measure public opinion around the globe.

Ipsos has been listed on the Paris Stock Exchange since 1999 and generated global revenues of €1,782.7 million in 2016.

The author(s)

  • Nicolas Boyon Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Julia Clark Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs

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