A majority of U.S. Hispanics identify as Catholic (53 percent); 25 percent identify as Protestant (nearly evenly divided between evangelical Protestant and mainline Protestant ); and few Hispanics (6 percent) identify with a non-Christian religion. But perhaps the fastest growing “religious” demographic among Hispanics, according to a new report from the Public Religion Research Institute, is the religiously unaffiliated—or “the nones” (for “none of the above”) as they are known by other surveys.
Although Catholicism remains the majority religious affiliation among today’s Hispanic adults in the United States, its dominance has declined considerably when measured against respondents’ childhood affiliations. While the media and academic literature have noted the declining proportion of Catholics and increasing number of Protestants in the U.S. Hispanic community over time, the narrative has often emphasized Catholics converting to evangelical or charismatic forms of Protestantism. The PRRI’s 2013 Hispanic Values Survey reveals that this is only half of the story. When comparing today’s Hispanic adults to their childhood religious affiliation, Catholic affiliation drops by 16 percentage points, but growth does not merely accrue among evangelical Protestants. The ranks of both evangelical Protestants and the religiously unaffiliated have grown at roughly equal rates. Evangelical Protestant affiliation has increased by 6 percentage points (from 7 percent to 13 percent), while the percentage of those claiming no religious affiliation has increased by 7 percentage points (from 5 percent to 12 percent. “Nones” account for about 20 percent of the U.S. general population.
According to the report, there is evidence that this dynamic of becoming simultaneously less Catholic and more Protestant and unaffiliated is connected with the experience of immigrating to and living in the United States. Hispanics who were born outside of the United States are more likely to identify as Catholic (64 percent) than Hispanics overall, and are less likely to identify as Protestant (9 percent mainline, 11 percent evangelical) or religiously unaffiliated (11 percent). By contrast, among Hispanics born in the United States, 46 percent identify as Catholic, 31 percent as Protestant (16 percent mainline, 15 percent evangelical), and 14 percent as religiously unaffiliated.
Hispanics generally have a more favorable impression of the current head of the Catholic Church than of the church itself, although this favorability gap is smaller among Catholics. Nearly 7-in-10 (69 percent) Hispanics have a favorable view of Pope Francis, compared to 54 percent who have a favorable view of the Catholic Church. Among Catholics, more than 8-in-10 (84 percent) have a favorable view of the current pope, and roughly as many (81 percent) have a favorable view of the Catholic Church.
Among the report's other findings:
• Like Americans overall, Hispanics are most likely to rank jobs and unemployment (72 percent) as a critical issue facing the country today. However, nearly as many Hispanics (65 percent) report that rising health care costs are also a critical issue facing the nation. Majorities of Hispanics say the quality of public schools (55 percent), the federal deficit (54 percent), the cost of college (53 percent), and immigration (53 percent) are critical issues facing the country. Fewer Hispanics say the growing gap between rich and poor (43 percent), abortion (32 percent), and same-sex marriage (22 percent) are critical issues in the country today.
• Two-thirds (67 percent) of Hispanics say that immigrants currently living in the United States illegally should be allowed to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements. Roughly 1-in-5 (17 percent) say they should be allowed to become permanent legal residents but not citizens, while 1-in-10 (10 percent) say that they should be identified and deported. There is bipartisan and cross-religious support for immigration reform among Hispanics. For example, majorities of Hispanic Democrats (72 percent), independents (67 percent), and Republicans (53 percent) support a path to citizenship.
• By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, Hispanics favor a public investment approach to spurring economic growth over a tax-cutting approach. Roughly 6-in-10 (58 percent) Hispanics believe spending more on education and the nation’s infrastructure and paying for it with higher taxes among wealthy individuals and businesses is the best way to promote economic growth. One-third (33 percent) of Hispanics disagree, saying the best way to boost economic growth is to lower taxes on individuals and businesses and to pay for those tax cuts by cutting spending on government services and programs.
• More than 7-in-10 (72 percent) Hispanics agree the government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, compared to 25 percent who disagree. Nearly 6-in-10 (57 percent) Hispanics agree that it is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves, compared to 40 percent who disagree. However, there are notable concerns among Hispanics about people taking advantage of government benefits. A majority (56 percent) of Hispanics believe that most people who receive welfare are taking advantage of the system, while 30 percent think most welfare recipients are genuinely in need of help.
• Most Hispanics support the principle of a government guarantee of health care, but they are divided on Obamacare. Nearly 6-in-10 (58 percent) Hispanics agree that the government should guarantee health care for all citizens, even if it means raising taxes, compared to 39 percent who disagree. At the same time, nearly half (48 percent) of Hispanics support repealing and eliminating the 2010 health care law known as Obamacare, while about as many (47 percent) oppose repealing the law.