Empty pews, 1967-2007

The Coalition has a stable advantage over Labor among churchgoers. But Pentecostals aside, is this a diminishing asset? The figure below shows that it is.

Sources: 1967-1979, Australian National Political Atttidues Survey; 1984-88 National Social Science Survey; 1990-2007 Australian Election Survey.

I’ve recorded the answers as given in the surveys, but I think the rise of ‘never’ attend actually occurred in the 1970s. The difficulty is the 1979 ANPA poll, which I suspect is a bit of a rogue survey. In addition to the ‘never’ response, it has a huge 25% ‘not applicable’ response, which matches the proportion in the previous question saying they have no religion. But this no religion response is much higher than the 1981 census or the 1984 NSSS, both of which have about 10% of the population without any religious affiliation. My estimate is that about 25% of the population never attended a religious service in the late 1970s, up from 16% in 1967.

The trend towards lower weekly religious attendance seems to have slowed to a near stall in the 1990s and 2000s, while the never attending group has continued to grow. They now outnumber regular attenders by more than three to one. These are the electoral realities of religion today, not a much smaller number of enthusiastic Pentecostals.