Who Trusts Gallup Polls about Religion?

December 2, 2011

Expert demographers on nonbelief in America have figured that Gallup's reassuring polls about SO many god-believers couldn't be reliable. 

Sure, pioneer George Gallup was quite religious, and happily asked simplistic questions about religion for decades. "Over 90% of Americans keep firmly believing in God" has been the refrain from Christians forever, it seems.

And now that religious bias has been handed down to the current Gallup leadership.  As Terry Mattingly reports at The Republic in his piece "George Gallup Jr's interest in religion," the son is even more interested in supporting religion than his father.

Want real demographic data on nonbelief in America? For starters, head over to Barry Kosmin's Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture. The Institute's "American Religious Identification Survey" (see the 2008 report) is vastly more reliable, and avoids prejudices against nonbelievers.

Leave faith in Gallup polls to the Christians.



#1 David (Guest) on Friday December 02, 2011 at 11:53am

OK, but WHY is the ARIS more reliable?  What are the inherent biases in Gallup’s approach?  How does the ARIS avoid these biases?

I quote ARIS, you quote Gallup, and we’re left with he said she said unless the evidence is available to show why my survey beats up your survey.  Who trusts Gallup polls?  Who doesn’t without evidence to the contrary?  “Gallup” and “poll” are almost synonymous in this country.  Some more detail of the sort that skeptics need to do our job would be appreciated.  Thanks!

#2 SelfAwarePatterns on Friday December 02, 2011 at 12:33pm

Another possible source are the Harris polls which are conducted online rather than by phone.  They show 9% disbelief with another 9% not sure and 82% believers.

Additional poll results are at http://www.harrisinteractive.com/Insights/HarrisVault.aspx 

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#3 L.Long (Guest) on Friday December 02, 2011 at 5:55pm

To Dave#1:
  Yes they will always resort toe the ‘he said, she said’ thing.  But the part not really stressed isn’t the poll results as much as the poll questions.  When anyone says here is a poll, the 1st thing I look for are the questions and if the questions are not included then they are not truly relevant as you can not test the bias of the questions to the answers.  And since so many do not include the questions they are all mostly BS.

#4 SocraticGadfly (Guest) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 at 1:04am

Again, again, again, I have to tell people like CFI, Gnu Atheists, etc., that, re ARIS, “nonreligious” (its term) is NOT the same as “nonbelievers (in a deity).” In fact, ARIS separately polls for atheists and agnostics, John and **there is no “surge.”**

There is a surge in the “nonreligious,” but it’s likely many of them would go by other descriptors such as “spiritual but not religious.” They’re NOT atheist or agnostic.

Indeed, let’s look even at Western Europe. I know it’s much more irreligious than the U.S. Is it THAT much more atheistic, though? I doubt it.

#5 SelfAwarePatterns on Tuesday December 06, 2011 at 8:07am

The ARIS data shows that very few people call themselves atheist or agnostic but about half of the non-religious are also non-believers to one degree or another.  A quarter have deistic beliefs and the last quarter have belief in a personal god.

Again, I think the Harris polls are instructive here since their methodology avoids the responder having to admit their lack of belief directly to another person.  Admittedly, the questions are slightly different which by itself can change the results.

I don’t think anyone can reasonably argue that the number of non-believers isn’t on the rise with a large surge having happened in the 90s.  We can argue about the exact numbers but they are definitely higher than 20 years ago.

#6 Melody (Guest) on Tuesday December 06, 2011 at 11:16am

CFI is quite aware of the difference between non-religious and non-belief. CFI President and CEO, Ronald Lindsay, and Executive Director of CSH, Tom Flynn, both do talks on the demographics of unbelief.

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