Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Surprising religion survey

Infographic: One Nation Under God? | Statista
A recent survey about the religious attitudes of Americans has found some interesting results. Some are expected or predictable, but buried within are some surprising details.

The Morning Consult poll conducted last month [download the PDF] found, as the graphic above from Statista shows, a plurality of US voters said that a candidate being Christian would make them more likely to vote for that candidate, while about a third said that a candidate being atheist or muslim would make them less likely to vote for the candidate. This is a largely predictable result—after all, we’ve been saying that for a very long time based on earlier surveys.

What’s surprising, though, is that if one drills down through the results, it becomes clear that most American voters are surprisingly relaxed about most of their attitudes about religion in public life. On a great many issues, it turns out, the most common reply is a variation of “it doesn’t matter to me”.

Of course there are exceptions: Evangelical Christians prefer Christians and are negative towards both Muslims and atheists (less so toward agnostics). Atheists, in contrast, remain pretty open-minded about all things except that knowing a candidate supports the separation of church and state would make them more likely to vote for that candidate, something that wasn’t true even for supporting atheist candidates.

This should surprise no one. Organised religion is in part a tribe, and it’s human nature to support and favour one’s tribe. So Evangelical Christians favouring their own tribe, and being staunch against those they perceive as a threat makes perfect sense. Similarly, atheists, who by definition rely on evidence and rationality to make decisions, are far less tribal in their outlook.

But the MOST interesting thing about all that is that, for the most part, Americans are far less religiously polarised than they are portrayed. Sure, Evangelicals are an outlier in this regard and exhibit more hostility toward out-groups than they should, but some of their other attitudes suggest that the depth of their antipathy toward out-group folks may not be as firmly rooted as we’ve always thought.

Even so, the survey results still do underscore the firm religiosity of most Americans, and even if there may be some signs of hope, the antipathy that is there seems deep and rigid. Until it becomes common for US voters to have no idea what religious views a candidate holds, and until US political candidates no longer feel the need to end every speech with “god bless you”, we won’t see any lessening of religious attitudes in US politics.

There may be hope for a freer, more tolerant, though perhaps merely more pan-religious than non-religious politics in the USA, but that day is some distance away yet. The thing about this survey, especially when combined with others, is that dialling down the volume of religious political expectation may be a bit closer than anyone realises.

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