Uncommon Sense

June 22, 2017

Bad Polling Leads to …

Note I have been very busy lately, so haven’t been posting much. Should be back to normal soon. Steve

I am a regular reader of Religion Dispatches, which I recommend to you. In today’s article, “GOP ‘Stealthcare’ Bill Reveals Catholic Bishops’ Priorities,” the topic is, of course, the GOP healthcare bill. (I didn’t say “new” healthcare bill because there hasn’t been an “old” healthcare bill since Medicare.) Foregoing a discussion of the main topic as we still do not know what is in that bill, I was struck by this section:

“A new Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows just how successful the effort to forge the church’s opposition to reproductive and LGBT rights into a new political wedge issue to motivate right-leaning religious voters has been. According to the poll, which probed the political divide between urban and rural voters:

“Nearly 6 in 10 people in rural areas say Christian values are under attack, compared with just over half of suburbanites and fewer than half of urbanites. When personal politics is taken into account, the divide among rural residents is even larger: 78 percent of rural Republicans say Christian values are under attack, while 45 percent of rural Democrats do.

“This particular divide, and this widespread sense of Christian persecution, is relatively recent. As Julie Ingersoll noted here on RD, while evangelical leaders had tried to gin up a sense of Christian persecution going back to the mid-1990s, as late as 2005, “the argument that Christians were a minority in need of protection was not persuasive in the broader religious right.” But a “little over a decade later, conservative Christians across the country … now see themselves as targeted by powerful elites, one step away from imprisoning and executing people for their faith.”

I find such polling to be destructive as it asks people questions like “Do you feel Christian values are under attack?” without defining what Christian values are. According to Wikipedia, “The term Christian values historically refers to the values derived from the teachings of Jesus and taught by Christians throughout the history of the religion.” What comes to my mind are: give away your possessions and follow Jesus (Renunciation of Worldly Goods), the poor will always be among us, so the need our help, turn the other cheek (Renunciation of Violence), love your enemies (Unconditional Love), along with a few other things.

If you were to ask U.S. citizens if they should give away their wealth and sell their worldly goods, what do you think their answer would be? And couldn’t taxing the rich be seen as a way to help the rich get into Heaven? Didn’t Jesus say a rich man had about as much chance of getting into Heaven as … well, you know?

And, if the poll takers were thinking about one thing as being paramount: belief in a Protestant Christian god (not the Jewish one, not the Muslim one, not the Indian or Asian ones), I can see how they might think that their religion is “under attack.” Atheists are bold nowadays, are we not?

But I recall that in the 1960’s, my high school and college years, some wags did a poll in an interesting way. They tried to get people to sign a petition. The petition, word for word, was the Bill of Rights, Amendments 1-10 of the Constitution. But the typeface was one clearly made by a computer, using no “old timey” script as a give away. They struggled to find anyone willing to sign their petition! Hey, details matter in polls.

More recently, polls have shown that approval rates for Obamacare were much lower than approval rates of the main features of Obamacare, that is if asked “Should pre-existing medical conditions allow insurance companies to raise the price of your insurance or to refuse to insure you?” The answer was a resounding “no.” Obamacare? Boo, hiss!

The religion issue of Christians feeling persecuted is relatively recent as was pointed out in the article and mainly made up out of whole cloth by conservative radio talk show hosts and the like of Fox (sic) News. Since people in rural areas get larger doses of this propaganda, it likely has a greater effect.

If the poll questions were to ask things like “Should we collectively do more for the poor and less unfortunate?” the answer would likely be a high percent yeses. If it were phrased as “Should the government do more for the poor and less unfortunate?” I suspect the answer would be more to the “no” end of the spectrum. This is because our “governments” have been characterized as something other than “we collectively” by conservative propaganda (something evil, bwa ha ha).

How you phrase these questions determines to a large extent how people answer them.

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