In our research we explore the population based on a variety of factors. One of those relates to people’s faith. There numerous ways of identifying the faith alignments of people. Some connections are obvious, such as the denominational affiliation of a person, or whether they are Protestant or Catholic. Below are some of the other, less obvious groupings we use in virtually every survey we conduct, along with a brief description of how we define people in those groups. Note that we do not ask people which of these groups they belong to; we assign them to such segments based on their answers to one or (in most cases) more than one survey questions regarding what they believe. These classifications are not related to religious behavior, only beliefs.
Evangelicals represent about 6% of the U.S. adult population. In our surveys they are identified by meeting eight theological criteria. Evangelicals strongly believe that their faith is very important in their life today; describe God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today; strongly affirm that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; strongly believe that the Bible is accurate in all of the life principles it teaches; believe that when they die they will go to Heaven only because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior; strongly believe they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with people who believe differently than they do; firmly believe that Satan exists; and strongly believe that eternal salvation cannot be earned through personal goodness of any kind. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent on church attendance, denominational affiliation, or self-classification as being evangelical. In fact, in our research we generally do not ask people if they think of themselves as being an evangelical Christian.
Non-evangelical born again Christians are about 25% of the adult population. They are people who believe that when they die they will go to Heaven only because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. However, they do not accept all of the remaining seven conditions that categorize someone as an evangelical.
Notional Christians are people who say they are Christian but do not meet the “born again” criteria. In other words, they do not believe that they will go to Heaven after they die solely due to having confessed their sins and asked Jesus Christ to be their savior. About 40% of U.S. adults are Notional Christians.
Other Faith is a category that includes anyone who is aligned with a faith community that is not Christian in nature. These 9% of U.S. adults include those who are associated with faiths such as Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Scientology, Hinduism, and the like.
Skeptics are individuals who describe themselves as atheist or agnostic, or who indicate that they do not believe in the existence of God or have no faith-related ties or interests. This segment has grown to incorporate slightly more than 20% of all adults.
SAGE Cons are a hybrid segment that combines faith and politics. The name stands for Spiritually Active Governance Engaged Conservative Christians. They are defined as adults who are registered to vote; vote regularly; pay above-average levels of attention to news about government and politics; consider themselves to be Christian; are born again (see above definition); deeply committed to pursuing their Christian faith; are conservative on social and economic political issues; are theologically conservative; and are connected to organizations other than a local church that teach biblical principles about the culture and government. Roughly 10% of the adult public, SAGE Cons are drawn from both the evangelical and non-evangelical born again segments.