With Pope Benedict's visit to the United States this week, Gallup has released a survey measuring Americans views on various religious groups as well as atheists. Favorable perceptions of atheists are down 2% from 2006, though this variation falls within the margin of error for the two surveys. Overall, favorable perceptions of all religious groups are down, perhaps a sign of the kind of growing intolerance for outgroups or dissimilar others that occurs during times of economic hardship. For example the increased negativity towards Muslims detailed below is a classic "scapegoat" indicator.

Here's what Gallup reports:

Gallup first asked Americans to rate these religious groups in this fashion in an August 2006 panel survey, and since then, there have been declines in positive ratings for many of the more favorably viewed religious groups. For example, the net positive score for Catholics was +44 in the 2006 survey, compared to the current +32. But there were also declines in the net positive scores of Jews (from +54 to +42), Baptists (from +45 to +35), and Methodists (from +50 to +45).

It is unclear why the net positive ratings for most groups have declined, unless Americans are just less positive about religion overall today than they were two years ago. Groups such as atheists and Scientologists that rated negatively in 2006 are still rated negatively today, with similar scores over time in most cases. One exception concerns Muslims, who saw their net rating tumble from -4 in 2006 to -17 in the current survey.