Utahns appear to be the exception to Westerners' propensity for shying away from religious affiliation.
While Utah's percentage of "non-believers" is near the national average at 7.8 percent, the state is surrounded by a region with much higher rates of non-affiliated people. Westerners are twice as likely as other Americans to have no religion.About 85,440 Utahns claim no religion, according to Barry A. Kosmin, a senior researcher at the City University of New York Graduate Center.
The center recently commissioned the first national survey of religious indentification, interviewing 958 Utahns.
"Utah is very atypical in the West, which tends to be less religious and less familial," Kosmin said. "This is the Bible Belt, only farther West."
For example, states with the highest percentages of non-believers in the United States are Oregon at 17 percent, Washington and Wyoming at 14 percent, California and Nevada at 13 percent, and Arizona and Idaho at 12 percent. Colorado had 11.3 percent.
The study found that 69.2 percent of adult Utahns identified themselves as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Six percent identified themselves as Roman Catholics. The survey said that 2.4 percent, or 26,290 Utahns, are Baptist. Methodists and Lutherans both numbered near 13,000.
Among groups with less than 1 percent of the population, Jews numbered highest with 7,600. (See chart for other breakdowns.)
LDS Church members in Utah comprise the largest majority of any state. Next closest is Rhode Island, where 61.7 percent are Roman Catholic.
In most cases both locally and nationally, the self-identification aspect of the survey produced discrepancies in numbers when compared to other attempts to survey religious adherents.
For example, the numbers of Utah Jews and Presbyterians identified in the survey are more than double those found in a poll conducted for the Deseret News by Dan Jones and Associates in 1989. Yet Episcopalians found in the older survey appeared to match the new numbers.
It is difficult to compare the two polls because the Dan Jones survey made no attempt to identify only adults and singled out Southern Baptists when Kosmin used a generic Baptist category. However, Kosmin said he places confidence in his Utah research, saying it would have a plus or minus sampling error of 3 percent. The larger the group, the more accurate the statistics are likely to be. For example, the new survey found 65,720 adult Utah Catholics. Dan Jones found 69,944.
Many of the numbers appear much larger than actual membership records. Kosmin said that is not surprising.
"Many people are born Presbyterian and die Presbyterian, but never sign up in between," he said.
The Rev. Max E. Glenn, executive minister of Shared Ministry, agreed that numbering religious adherents can be a difficult task. Comparing various religious faiths can be difficult because of the "apples and oranges" factor. Some churches count baptized children, others don't. Nonetheless, he found the statistics, which numbered only adults, interesting.
"This is a help to get people's perceived faith loyalty and background because of the self-identity. As a church researcher, I am not aware of this methodology being used before. It gives us information about people's perception about beliefs. There is a clear indication people are designating their rootage of faith background and may not be actual current members," he said.
The Rev. Glenn said the statistics for Shared Ministry, which includes six Christian denominations in Utah, show those groups have about 13,206 total members. The denominations include United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church, American Baptist Church, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ.
"If the survey is correct, there are prospects that are triple the number currently attending," Glenn said.
Utah religious affiliations of Utah's 1.1 million residents over 18.
LDS 69.2% 758,020
Others 9.6% 105,160
Roman Catholic 6.0% 65,720
None 7.8% 85,440
Baptist 2.4% 26,290
Lutheran 1.2% 13,150
Methodist 1.2% 13,150
Presbyterian 1.0% 10,950
Jewish 0.7% 7,600
Episcopalian 0.5% 5,480
Pentacostal 0.4% 4,380
Source: National Survey of Religious indentification, Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York. Sampling error: plus or minus 3 percent.