By Frank Wessling
Don’t believe it when people say we Iowans aren’t typical of the whole American people. The Gallup Poll, which is extremely careful to measure what is and is not typical, says we’re almost perfectly representative in at least one way.
When it comes to religious belief and practice, we are Mr. and Mrs. Average American.
Being average in this case is nothing to brag about, of course. It probably means, as Bishop Martin Amos noted recently, that we’re more American than anything else. The national culture with all of its good and bad features shapes us more than religious faith does.
A nationwide Gallup survey found that 40.10 percent of Americans are “very religious” according to self-assessment and attendance at religious services. Another 28.30 percent are “moderately religious” and 31.50 percent “nonreligious.” Here in Iowa the corresponding percentages are 41, 28, and 31.
We shouldn’t read too much into such a survey. It skews the definition of “religion” toward the emotional and favors a demonstrative faith. The quiet ones who balance faith and reason and go into their room to pray won’t show up as well.
Gallup found the most religious populations across the southern states. Mississippi led with 59 percent of its sample “very religious” and only 11 percent “nonreligious.”
The only non-southern or border state breaking in to the top 12 was Utah, where Mormons are predominant. There, 57 percent are “very religious.” Oddly, the “nonreligious” in Utah was high – 28 percent – compared to the other highly religious states.
The most “nonreligious” region of the country is New England, led by Vermont and New Hampshire, where over half the people fall into that category. Midwesterners are in the middle.
As already noted, this doesn’t tell us much. But at least it undercuts those folks who claim that Iowa’s first-in-the nation role in choosing presidential candidates is a big mistake because we aren’t typical. We’re the ones who are perfectly typical. It’s those folks in New Hampshire, with the first presidential primary, who aren’t representative.