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Can we trust religious polls? [infographic]

Polls about religion have become regular features in modern media. They cast arguments about God and the Bible and about spirituality and participation in congregations very differently from the ones of preachers and prophets earlier in our nation’s history. They invite readers and viewers to assume that because a poll was done, it was done accurately. They produce a veritable flood of information purporting to tell what the typical American thinks and what the hypothetical person believes and does. Flooded with such information, the temptation may be to accept it without further thought — or to regard it with mild highbrow disdain.

And yet, despite having more polling information than anyone possibly wants or needs, polling companies continue to reel out numbers and percentages, and news media long accustomed to thinking that numbers and percentages are news continue to publicize the results. This is happening despite increasingly serious difficulties in conducting polls and producing valid results. Not only are large majorities of the public skeptical of poll results, they are also unwilling to answer when pollsters call, leaving the reported results in danger of missed and unanticipated errors.

The time has come when we must ask ourselves a critical question: can these religious polls be trusted? Take a look at our infographic below, which shows an example from a recent poll that wasn’t exactly as it seemed.

 

Wuthnow Polls infographic

Download a JPEG of the infographic.

Featured image: “P002318” by concep007. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr.

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