Printer Friendly Page Galluping On with Sloppy Question Wording, Part 2 ~ #52

Galluping On with Sloppy Question Wording, Part 2 ~ #52

By Alan F. Kay, PhD
2005, (fair use with attribution and copy to authors)
June 14, 2005

In a Gallup survey of April 18-21, 2005, Religion and Social Trends Editor Albert L. Winseman found that a sizable portion of American adults, 42%, consider themselves born again or evangelical Christians.

In this survey, Winseman quoted a Gallup May2-5, 2005, survey that asked a national sample of adults the following question, Q1:

Q1  Which of the following statements comes closest to describing your views about the Bible:

a. The Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word, 32%
b. The Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, 47%
c. The Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by many 18%
DK   3%.

The percent of the adult U.S. population that is Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, of other non-Christian sect, Agnostic, Atheist, or not sure is at least 16%.  These people do not believe that the Christian Bible is either Q1a the actual or Q1b the inspired word of God.  Nor are they likely in Q1c to agree to every one of the five Christian Bible attributes: (1) ancient book of (2) fables, (3) legends, (4) history, and (5) moral precepts.  They cannot be taking this question seriously.  Are the Christian respondents taking it seriously?

Winseman, himself, has doubts.  His survey showing that 42% of American adults consider themselves born again or evangelical Christians seems to contradict his analysis of the Gallup survey from which came Q1.  Winseman explained in that survey that only 22% of Americans fit the description of an evangelical that most evangelical leaders say are their core doctrine.

Here is a possible explanation of the discrepancy. Winseman, a Gallup editor, is best known for his book "Living Your Strengths", 2nd edition 2004, copyright the Gallup Organization, co-authored with Donald O. Clifton, a chairman of Gallup Inc., until his death in 2003, and Curt Liesveld, a church leader and pastor in the Reformed Church in America, and a senior consultant and seminar leader with the Gallup Organization.   Perhaps Winseman's understanding of the core doctrine of evangelical leaders is too narrow and his other categorizations of religious adherents confusing or questionable.  He is too close to the trees to see the forest.

The Polling Critic column #35, originally published April 12, 2004, well over a year ago, proposed a more non-biased and encompassing way to determine the attitudes and involvements of the American people in religious matters.  Publication came six months before the 2004 election, an event that propelled the significance of religious affiliation into perhaps the single greatest national political phenomenon ever.  The question in column #35 is repeated verbatim here as Q2.  Words in italics are read by the interviewer, in [brackets] instructions for the interviewer, in (parentheses) recording ability of volunteered response or no response.

Q2  I am going to read you a list of items: religions, religious beliefs, non-religious beliefs and so on.  I want you to tell me after I read each item what number from 0 to 10 applies for you, where 0 means you have no interest, affiliation, or support for that item and 10 means the item completely characterizes you as far as religion goes.  Now here's the trick.  All of the numbers you give me have to add to 10.  If you have a single 10, then everything else has to be zero.  I'll tell you your running total and you can go back and change any number as you hear more items read.

Here are the items: [Read 18 items in random order] (items not mentioned by respondent automatically are recorded 0)

1.  Protestant     2.  Catholic     3.  Jewish 
4.  Hindu        5.  Muslim      6.  Buddhist    7.  Taoist
8.  Evangelical Christian      9.  Born Again Christian 10. Fundamentalist Christian
11. Deist [If necessary, say, like Founding Fathers and/or read belief in a God who

           created the world but has since remained indifferent to His creation
12.  Other Christian  (sect named by a respondent recorded) 
13.  Other non-Christian  (sect named by a respondent recorded)
14.  Atheist       15.  Agnostic    16.  Spiritual Values   
17.  Belief in re-incarnation     18.  Secular Values.

In the above form, Q2 was worded for a telephone interview, but could be more user-friendly reworded for an Internet survey.  Either way, the respondent is required to supply a number from 0 to 10 for each of the 18 items.  These numerical responses must add up to 10.  This gives each respondent's answers the same weight.  It is a good way to capture a true picture of those respondents whose attitudes are divided.  Many married couples have come from different religious backgrounds, e.g., Methodist and Baptist, and one or both might want to respond with 5 each.  Many particularly young families, or those that have recently moved, choose their church for convenience, or because they like the minister, or the Sunday school, or because they initially know and like a few members of the congregation, not because of any deep devotion to a particular Christian sect.  The same might be true for Jewish families or Sunnis and Shias.  

A question like Q2 could be asked in a survey along with questions on more broadly accepted values (like science, technology, evolution, and others dear to secular humanists and to those who strongly believe in the separation of church and state).  Cross-tabulation of these questions could produce a bonanza for understanding the evolving role of religion in the total population.  The country and national office election candidates themselves could then be in a position to handle the divisive religion issue more sensibly.

>>> 2.5  The Polling Critic

Table of Contents

Return to Top