Pew Forum and Pew Research Center Release Second Annual Poll
9:30a.m. – 11:00a.m.
Data presented by:
Andrew Kohut, Director, Pew Research Center for the People and the Press
Karlyn H. Bowman, Resident Fellow, the American Enterprise Institute
William A. Galston, Professor, School of Public Affairs and Director, Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, University of Maryland
E.J. Dionne, Jr., Senior Fellow, the Brookings Institution and Co-Chair, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life
MELISSA ROGERS: Welcome. My name is Melissa Rogers. I’m executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The Pew Forum serves as a town hall and a clearinghouse of information for issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs. We’re very grateful that you’ve been able to join us today. We’re also grateful for the support of The Pew Charitable Trusts. We can say that on behalf of ourselves and the Pew Research Center, since we are both Pew grantees. And we are grateful to the Brookings Institution for their partnership in this project and for the use of the space this morning as well.
We’re pleased today to introduce our second annual poll on religion and public life. The poll is a joint product of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum. We’re pleased to be able to combine our strengths in this particular project.
What we plan to do is to produce once a year an extensive poll on various issues related to religion and public affairs. This is the second of those annual projects. From time to time during the year we also collaborate on some smaller projects. Most recently, in November 2001, we did a survey on some post-9/11 issues that was a smaller survey than the one that we’re releasing today.
We’re very pleased to be able to work with Andy Kohut and the other good people at the Pew Research Center. It’s been a great pleasure to work with them. I just want to thank Andy, particularly, for sharing his brilliance on polling issues and other policy issues with us. I also want to particularly thank Michael Dimock who led the research team at Pew Research Center and played a major role in conceptualizing and analyzing the results. Carroll Doherty is with us today and I want to thank him for his fine editing and leadership on the project, as well as Peyton and Nilanthi for their good work on this project, and Elizabeth Gross for her fine contributions.
From the Pew Forum, I’d especially like to thank our associate director, Staci Simmons, for her key role in the survey. This is a sad day for us at the Forum because this is Staci’s last Pew Forum event with us. So I just want to recognize her particularly. Come up here a little bit. I want to thank her very much for all she’s done. (Applause.) Stacy has, since the beginning of the Pew Forum more than a year ago, made these events run smoothly, and we’re much in her debt, not only for her great contributions to the survey but just for all the small and large contributions that she’s made to the Forum. And we will deeply miss her.
I also want to thank Amy Sullivan, Kayla Drogosz, Heather Morton, Kirsten Hunter and Christina Counselman of the Pew Forum staff for their contributions to this survey and to this event today.
Last but not least, let me thank E.J. Dionne, who is one of the two co-chairs of the Forum. The other co-chair is Jean Bethke Elshtain, who is a professor of social and political ethics at the University of Chicago. Jean could not be with us today. I want to thank E.J. for his dedication to the project, and particularly for his insights and lending his talent to this whole survey process. It’s safe to say that hardly anyone enjoys developing or analyzing a poll as much as E.J. Possibly, he runs neck-and-neck with Andy on that because he enjoys it so much. And I think it’s because he not only loves public policy but also loves people and loves to hear what they think about the issues of the day. So I want to thank him very much and turn the podium over to him to launch us in a discussion of the many varied findings of this poll.
E.J. DIONNE, JR.: Thank you very much. That was very sweet, Melissa. It’s true that if you scratch a pollster or a political numbers man, you discover someone who probably collected baseball cards and still thinks about batting averages and ERAs and other such things. (Laughter.) I also want to thank Staci. Anybody who knows her knows how central she’s been to any success we’ve done. I’ve said for years, anything good I do is her work and anything that messes up is my work. And Staci, as I’ve said before also to people, is the only person who fully understands the hermeneutics of the Pew grant and what the Pew Forum is all about. So we hope she will continue to help us interpret our mission, and in fact she’s going to continue to work with us. So, thank you, Staci.
This is a fascinating poll. I won’t take any time right now in talking about it because I’d like our distinguished panel to be able to do so. Andy is great fun to work with. He is, as you all know, the director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Andy was president of the Gallup organization from 1979 to 1989. He founded the Princeton Survey Research Associates in 1989. There is a long list of Kohut achievements. I would particularly like to mention his book, “The Diminishing Divide,” which is very much about the issues that we have been exploring together for a very long time. He received his B.A. from Seton Hall and studied sociology at Rutgers from 1964 to 1966. I love having another sociologist around who sort of pretends to be a political scientist. That’s what I do.
I’d like to also welcome Karlyn Bowman. I don’t know if Karlyn liked ERAs or batting averages, but she is someone else who takes great joy in analyzing surveys and does so with great skill and insight. She is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute where she’s worked since 1979. She was managing editor of Public Opinion Magazine until 1990. There are those of us who still regret that Public Opinion isn’t with us. It was a great magazine. Karlyn actually, fortunately, is still around inside the new AEI magazine and does some excellent polling analysis. Her publications include “Public Opinion Toward Congress,” with the late Everett Carll Ladd, and a whole series of other studies. In January 2000 she wrote an AEI occasional paper with the great Marty Lipset on “Public Opinion and the Clinton Legacy.” She is a regular TV and radio commentator and, since 1995, has written a bi-weekly polling column for Roll Call.
Bill Galston, whom I think so many of you know, is a political theorist who both studies and participates in American politics and domestic policy. His entire life is a participant observer study, I think. And I say that with great respect. Bill was deputy assistant to President Clinton for domestic policy. He was executive director of the National Commission on Civic Renewal. He served as director of Economic and Social Programs at the Roosevelt Center for American Policy Studies. He worked for John Anderson’s campaign and Walter Mondale’s campaign and Al Gore’s campaign. Since 1995, Bill has served as a founding member of the board of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, and I want to tout Bill’s latest project, which is called CIRCLE, and the acronym means –
WILLIAM A. GALSTON: Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
MR. DIONNE: There basically isn’t a good civic project around that you don’t discover Bill Galston at. And we’re very grateful that you’re here, Bill.
Andy will kick it off and tell us what the poll says. Thank you, Andy.
ANDREW KOHUT: Thank you very much for coming out on this rainy day. We do at least 12 surveys a year, and four of them are as extensive and major as this, but I can’t think of any one that’s as much fun as the one that we do with the Pew Forum. This has been a good series of polls. Actually, we have done three additional surveys, including one back in the 2000 campaign. But in any event, this has been a terrific collaboration. This is a collective effort, and I think the relative strengths of both organizations are expressed in what you are reading; what you have before you in this report.
I’d like to just give you a brief overview so we can get the perspectives of Bill and Karlyn, and then back to E.J., who always has these great insights on surveys. E.J. and I have been doing this together one way or another for more than 20 years now, E.J.
MR. DIONNE: Scary. (Laughter.)
MR. KOHUT: It is. It seems no matter what the subject is, when it comes to religion and public opinion, I always seem to be talking about the conflicted nature of public attitudes toward the topic under discussion.
Five years ago, the surveys that we did about religion and politics certainly showed how ambiguous the public reactions were and how conflicted views were, and certainly that even applied to opinions about charitable choice. Last year we showed that there was extensive public support for charitable choice but also some significant qualifications. This is even more so the case in the current survey when it comes to the subject of how the public sees the role of religion in a world that is seemingly increasingly conflicted along religious lines.
As I read the overall results of the survey, it was sort of like a ping-pong match. On the one hand, we found a 51 percent majority saying that the principle lesson of 9/11 was that there was too little religion in the world. On the other hand, we found a 65 percent majority saying that religion plays a significant role in most wars and conflicts in the world.
The poll also uncovers what I can only describe as closet concern about a linkage between Islam and violence. When we asked on one form of our questionnaire, “Is Islam more likely than other religions to encourage violence?” 51 percent said no, 25 percent said yes. But on the other half of the questionnaire when we said, “Are some religions more likely than others to encourage violence?” a plurality said yes, 47-to-41. And the people who said yes disproportionately held the view that Muslims are anti-American.
We also got a different response to Muslims, depending on how we defined them. When we asked our respondents to give Muslims a favorable or unfavorable rating, Muslim-Americans got a 54-to-22 percent favorable rating. When we just spoke of Muslims on a separate form of the question, and to a separate subset of the respondents, the rating was 47-to-29 less positive. And when we asked our respondents to rate Islam, we got a 38-to-33 favorable to unfavorable margin, and that’s pretty narrow, narrower than ABC has gotten in the two surveys that it conducted using that question since 9/11.
It’s also clear in this survey that Americans don’t speak with one voice upon these issues. The secular or liberal elements of the country are more critical of religion and of the role of religion in the world generally, but they have more favorable views of Muslims and Islam. The conservative groups, politically, and white evangelical Protestants – in part, some of the same people – are more supportive of the role of religion generally, but they’re more negative and more critical of Muslims specifically.
In other realms, the survey found a rather broad endorsement for religious pluralism. An overwhelming 75 percent of our respondents said that many religions can lead to eternal life. Only 18 percent took the view that only their religion could provide salvation. And given the extraordinary majority in this regard, it’s not surprising to find that even among the most committed religious people, significant majorities feel that more than one religion can lead to eternal life.
But as much as there was a broad consensus on this question, we did find a rather interesting divide on the question of the centrality of belief in God to being a moral person; the issue of personal morality. On the question of whether belief in God is necessary for one to be moral, 50 percent said it was not needed and 47 percent said it was. This issue rings all the familiar bells. African-Americans, Southerners, older people, women, conservative Republicans are those who see a linkage between belief in God and morality while men, younger people, college graduates, liberal Democrats, all the groups that you would expect, say no for the most part. It should be noted that when children are brought into this equation, a 61 percent majority say that kids raised with religion are more likely to grow up to be moral than those who are not. But even there we have a significant minority – more than 3 in 10 – who say this is not the case.
Perhaps one of the most complex set of attitudes in the survey deals with religion and the country. About half of Americans believe that the United States has had special protection from God as a nation, but almost all of those people say the same thing about other countries. It’s not America exclusively. And by the way, just 6 percent held the view that the September 11th attacks were a sign from God that we no longer had such protection, as some have said. Even though most Americans, 67 percent, say we’re a Christian nation, 84 percent say a person doesn’t have to have religious faith or Judeo-Christian values to be a good American.
There is also broad opposition to the idea of government programs aimed at encouraging marriage. Nearly 80 percent of Americans want government to stay out of this area while just 18 percent endorse such involvement. And despite the fact that there’s much more support than decades ago about the churches and other houses of worship speaking out on political and social issues — much more than in the mid-’60s – more than 3-to-1 Americans also reject the idea of churches explicitly endorsing particular political candidates.
The Catholic child abuse scandal has escaped the attention of virtually no one. We had 83 percent who’ve said they had heard about it; 40 percent have said they’d heard a lot about it. There’s broad condemnation of the church’s handling of the situations. Solid majorities of all people, including Catholics, say church officials have covered up cases of sexual abuse rather than dealing with the issue.
Finally, in the post-9/11, post-Enron America, we find a higher regard for the ethics of Washington public officials than for business executives, and we find a higher regard for the ethics of journalists than for business executives or Washington public officials. (Scattered laughter.) Surprise, surprise.
MR. DIONNE: We didn’t fix it that way, honest.
MR. KOHUT: One significant qualification is religious people and conservative Republicans don’t think so. I’ll leave it there.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you very much, Andy.
KARLYN H. BOWMAN: I think, as usual, Andy and Michael and Carroll and the other folks from the Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum have given us much more interesting information than is possible to digest in a short session like this, but let me just say a few words about some of the things that interested me, particularly in this survey.
Andy talked about the ping-pong nature of public opinion in many areas. I often refer to that as ambivalence. And it clearly is an essential property of public opinion, but I’d like to talk about another property that I think is also essential.
Some of the early observers of American democracy worried that public opinion would be fickle; that Americans would be forever changing their minds, making society unstable and making democratic governance difficult. But in many areas, especially those involving core values, continuity and stability I think are often the rule.
One of those areas of profound continuity in American life is the centrality of religion. In 1944, 96 percent told Gallup that they believed in God. When Gallup repeated that question 50 years later, the proportion had not changed. As this new survey shows, the strength of religious belief informs the way we see ourselves and the way that we see our country. Nearly 90 percent said that religion is very or fairly important in their own lives. A majority believe that religion has too little influence on the world these days.
When people care deeply about their values and institutions, as Americans do, they are often anxious about them. That I think explains the concern that we see in this poll, and many others like it, that religion is losing its influence on our lives. But this anxiety is not new. In 1937, in a Gallup question, 60 percent thought that religion was losing its influence in American life. In this new poll, 52 percent gave that response. People frequently tell the pollsters that family ties are weaker than in the past, that young people are less responsible, that business ethics are on the wane. There may be some truth in all of this, but at least some of this is a familiar impulse to nostalgia. In 1939, Gallup found that 62 percent of those that they surveyed thought that Americans were much happier and more contented in the horse and buggy days. It’s quite natural to worry about the deterioration of things that we hold dear.
Other findings in this survey reveal strong continuity with the past. Young people view, in the words of the survey, religion as less essential. For at least as long as I’ve been reading surveys, this has been true. Young people are no less likely to believe in God than their elders but they are just at an early stage in their lives when the active profession of their faith just doesn’t seem to be as important. Young people, again showing continuity with the past, generally tend to be more open and tolerant, and this survey shows that they view Muslims and Muslim-Americans more favorably than their elders. I think this is also part of a global youth culture that I think is a familiar feature to all of us now.
Another area of continuity in religious belief, again that we see in this survey, is skepticism about atheism. For many years, Gallup has asked a question about whether people would vote for a qualified woman, a black, a Jew, a homosexual for president. Majorities now say that they would vote for all of those individuals. The one group about which there is not yet majority acceptance is well-qualified atheists. Atheists in this poll were viewed less favorably than Muslims or Muslim-Americans.
Although I’ve talked about continuity in attitudes, one area of discussion I think is relatively new. Perhaps Andy can correct me on this, but beginning, I believe, in the late ’70s, pollsters began to notice that the strength of religious conviction, not so much denomination, was an important key to understanding attitudes. And I think if you read this report carefully you’ll see that thread going through all of the commentary and analysis of the question.
A number of the questions in the poll point to another core value that defines our society, and I think that is the importance of individual responsibility. Americans are very generous people and, as this poll shows, they consistently tell pollsters that it’s important to help people in need, but they also believe that individuals have to take a lot of responsibility for themselves. Thus, it shouldn’t surprise us that a solid majority in this poll, including current and former recipients of welfare, say people are poor because of individual failures and not because of society’s failures. Pluralities of both groups say that children are in poverty today because of the failure of parents, not socioeconomic problems. The ethic of individual responsibility is strong in the national sample and also among those who have been or are receiving welfare. The view that the welfare system made people too dependent on government and not on themselves, while down from the pre-reform margins, is still strong.
Paradoxically, I think that views on requiring national service may also support that ethic of individual responsibility. Support in most polls for voluntary national service is very high, yet support for a national service requirement is usually much lower. Sixty-one percent in this poll favor a national service requirement for young men, and in the familiar gender gap that we see on this question, 50 percent favor it for young women. Perhaps some of the objection to the requirement is the belief that individuals should act responsibly in this area on their own, and there is a considerable amount of data to indicate that they do.
Another area of continuity is views about the military, the most highly respected institution in American life. In this poll, 70 percent rated the honesty and ethical standards of people in the military as high compared to a third who felt that about public officials in Washington. I think the military’s mission in the minds of many Americans is narrowly and clearly defined and carried out well, and that may explain the institution’s success across so many different polls. By contrast, government’s responsibilities are many and varied, and there’s just a lot more to criticize about what government does.
There were a few findings in the survey that surprised me, and let me touch on those. I guess I was struck by the fact that even among seculars and people with weak religious ties, majorities believe that America would be better off if religion’s influence were on the rise.
Republicans were more supportive — probably as an expression of their support for President Bush, which I think Andy alluded to — of aid to Afghanistan than were Democrats. Perhaps it’s not surprising, given the fact that we have a Republican administration, but the proportion of Republicans who say that public officials in Washington have high ethical standards has more than doubled from the last survey. To me it was also striking that identical proportions of the population as a whole and of current and former welfare recipients felt that the welfare law had changed things for the better. Seventeen percent of the national sample said the new system had changed things for the worse compared to 27 percent of those who had or were receiving assistance.
Finally, just a comment on one question in the poll. As someone who frequently tries to write questions, I know how difficult it is. And I’d like to comment on the question about government’s involvement in marriage education. And when exploring a new area such as this, question wording can be very important. The Pew poll shows, as Andy remarked, that 79 percent want the government to stay out of the marriage business while 18 percent endorse such programs. Even those with a high level of religious commitment were opposed to government involvement in this area. But another pollster, also in the field, recently asked this question differently by asking whether marriage education was something that state or federal governments should be involved in. Again, opposition outweighed support, but this time just barely by 50-to-46 percent. I have to wonder if the question had been phrased this way, whether the results would have been different still: President Bush has proposed that a small amount of the welfare budget be used for experimental programs at the state level to strengthen marriage. Do you think this is a good idea or not? I think question wording in new areas is very, very difficult, and I think it’s valuable to have a lot of different askings with different wordings on an area such as this.
Overall, I think that poll was just full of valuable information, and I’m delighted to be a part of the panel to talk about it. Thank you.
MR. DIONNE: Karlyn, thank you very much. I’m particularly glad you brought up that marriage question because it’s something I hope we could talk about some more.
And now, the philosopher pollster, Bill Galston.
DR.. GALSTON: Right. I am the outlier with three people who wallowed in polls and their interpretation all their lives.
MR. DIONNE: Wallowed? (Laughter.) If you keep talking like that, Bill, next time we’ll ask for a favorable/unfavorable about philosophers.
DR. GALSTON: I’m going to provide just some very brief interpretive remarks, divided into two categories: basket one, what can we glean from this survey about the state of contemporary American public culture; and basket number two, what are the intriguing questions raised but not answered by this survey? In my judgment, one of the most important functions of the survey is not so much to answer questions as it is to raise questions which can then be investigated in other ways. And I think this survey does that magnificently.
Let me make four points under the U.S. public culture heading. The first one I will call “Tocqueville lives.” And what I mean by that very simply is – as Karlyn and Andy have both emphasized -that the familiar Tocquevillian theme about the dependence of the strength of America on the faith of America is clearly revealed in this survey. Having said that, a couple of qualifications are in order. First of all, the propensity to say that is highly correlated with the intensity of the faith of the respondent. And so, if there are shifts in the intensity of faith, over time and the propensity of people to identify themselves as individuals of no faith – and I believe that both of those trends may be at work although I’m not sure – then one might expect some erosion of support for this basic Tocquevillian doctrine.
Secondly, I’d love to see a time series on exactly this question, if it exists, for the following reason: the 36 percent who demur; who say, no, the strength of America is not dependent on the faith of its people, is not a trivial number. And if that number is not only non-trivial but actually rising over time, I think that would tell us something very interesting. I don’t know whether it is or not, but I would bet that 50 years ago you wouldn’t have had 36 percent of the people giving that answer, but I don’t know.
The second thing we learn about U.S. public culture from this survey, I will summarize as, “Alan Wolfe is right.” The most fundamental question about the relationship between any believer and the faith of that believer is whether the believer understands his or her path of faith to be the one true path, because so many social consequences flow from your answer to that question. And that fact that 75 percent of the faithful in the United States are willing to say, in response to a very clearly worded question, that there are many paths to salvation, many paths to eternal life, many paths to God, I think speaks volumes about the nature of faith in America and tells us a lot about how deep and even fervent faith can be reconciled with liberal democracy and with pluralism. And, you know, if we had a lot of time to talk about that, we might talk about the historical processes that have shaped the characteristics of American faith so that such an overwhelming fraction of believers give what, by historical standards, is an extraordinary answer to a most fundamental question.
The third observation about U.S. public culture might be summarized as, “American exceptionalism is alive and well,” not only along the dimension of faith but, as Karlyn emphasized in her remarks, along the dimension of individualism and individual responsibility. I find the sturdiness of the responses to the welfare question, even when prompted with a question about the 10 million children living in poverty — which I would have expected to move some numbers – and the number of people giving the individual responsibility answer was utterly unmoved, in both the emotional and the statistical sense, by that question. That tells me that the American exceptionalist tendency to attribute outcomes to individuals rather than social processes and large institutions is very powerful. And nothing that has happened either in recent months or in my lifetime seems to have altered that.
There is a fourth and final thing that I think we learn about American public culture – and here is a point of discontinuity with the past, or change over time. I am really struck with the numbers that point to what I will call “the increasing moral pessimism of the American people.” The conventional wisdom is that people at all times through history have tended to look back and see moral decline. But the numbers set forth on page 10 of this survey make it crystal clear that, at least in the American case, that’s not the case. As recently as 50 years ago, more people said that people are as honest and moral as they used to be than said no. Many more people said that young people have the same sense of right and wrong today – young people – as they did 50 years ago, 57-to-34. That number, as we speak, is 19-to-76. So there has been a long-term 50-year cycle in the direction of increasing moral pessimism. So this is one of the few areas where you have, I think, non-trivial instability. It is also striking that young people agree with this assessment, which you wouldn’t have necessarily expected.
I have a hunch that this long-term cycle towards increasing moral pessimism colors the entire political outlook of the American people today. That’s my hunch. What I don’t understand is what this number means. Why is it that you have seen this huge 50-year shift from moral optimism to moral pessimism among the American people? I have no idea. I have some hypotheses, but I hope that we can get to work on that question because I do believe that this is one of the orienting sentiments that Americans bring to their public life. I can’t prove it. That’s what I believe.
There are wonderful provocations in this survey, but I’d like to know more. Let me just give four very quickly. I note that 84 percent of the respondents say that you can be a good citizen without faith, and that 50 percent of the people say that you can be a moral person without faith — from which I infer, as a statistical conclusion, that substantial numbers of respondents believe that you can be a good citizen without being a moral person. That must be the case. I’d sure like to talk to those people. I’ll file this under the heading of what does this mean. It is an interesting anomaly.
Karlyn – this is the second point – talked about the section of the report where young people differ, systematically, on issues of religion, and I think a question that we need to ask here is what is the balance as between generational change and life cycle effects? I think both are probably at work in these numbers, but I’d sure like to see it broken out.
The third area of interesting material for speculation is, as I noted before, 50 percent of the respondents say that you can be a moral person without faith, but 61 percent said that children are more likely to grow up to be moral persons if they’re brought up in the context of faith. I think there are some interesting questions in interpretation of those numbers when you put them together. Let me just offer two.
One is that adults, especially parents, see faith as an important vehicle for moral learning. The sorts of stories that you tell through faith traditions are an important part of the moral learning. But here is an alternative and somewhat darker interpretation, for which I think there is also some evidence, namely that parents experience themselves as beleaguered in their efforts to bring up moral children in modern culture. So they see faith communities as havens from a culture that, to say the least, is not supportive of their efforts to communicate appropriate moral principles and practices to their kids. And there may be other interpretations. I’d like to know more about those numbers.
Finally, I am somewhere between struck and stunned by the extraordinary volatility, recently and over time, of the responses to the question, “At the present time do you think religion as a whole is increasing its influence on American life or losing its influence?”
Just to give you a couple of long cycles and short cycles, in March 1957, 69 percent said that it was increasing its influence. About 10 years later, 19 percent said that it was increasing, and 67 percent said it was decreasing. That’s a long cycle, and then there was a modest recovery. But take a look at the past six months, or, rather, the past year. In March 2001, 37 percent said that religion was increasing its influence. In November of 2001, about two months after September 11th, 78 percent said it. In December, 71 percent. Today, as we speak, it’s back down to 37 percent, exactly where it was a year ago.
What does that question mean? What are people thinking about and feeling when they’re responding to that question? These are extraordinarily volatile numbers by survey standards, I think. Their response to that question is, to some extent, a proxy for lots of other feelings that they have about what’s happening to them and their country, and I’d sure like to know what they are.
So, over and out.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you so much. I’d like to just throw a few more thoughts on the table. The great thing about having Karlyn and Bill here is that they really help point you to the richness of what we’ve found, because there are a lot of different pieces of this survey that I think lots of folks would be interested in. I want to underscore a couple and sort of bring in a couple more.
It seems to me that the purpose of survey research often is to shake conventional assumptions about what people think. There is a convention in Washington for politicians, pundits and others to say that the American people insist that or demand that, and that usually has nothing to do with the American people. It has to do with what the pundit or the politician wants to insist on or demand. I think a survey can help us see when that statement is true and when that statement is less true.
I think it is very striking, as Bill pointed out, this many-paths-to-God view that is very strong among Americans underscores the Alan Wolfe thesis. It also underscores another half of the Alan Wolfe thesis; the findings on the importance people ascribe to religious faith, and the ways in which they do see religious faith, even if they have the strongly intolerant view, the importance they see in using religious faith, or a religious faith’s efforts to undergird a moral society.
I love Bill’s finding on citizens and morality. It’s one of the paradoxes of survey research that if you ask the question, do you think you have to be moral to be a good citizen, I’m sure almost all those people who are in that mixed category would say of course you have to, but it’s an intriguing finding.
I just want to call your attention to a page in the report which I find fascinating, on page 29. One of the reasons I love working with Andy is he has a long history of asking the same question in very different ways for the very purposes that Karlyn described because question wording on some issues matters hardly at all when people’s views are very, very clearly formed, and on other issues matters quite a bit.
If you look at the chart on page 29, we ask three different formulations on attitudes toward Muslims. We asked it about Muslims, about Muslim-Americans – and we split the sample in half in that case – and we asked it about Islam.
If you go down that chart, what I found fascinating is some groups made a particularly large distinction between Muslims in general and Muslim-Americans. I identified white men, people over 65, people with some college education, and also, I believe, conservative Republicans. Adding the word “American” bumped up the number by somewhere between 10 and 15 points. I’m not going to pretend to interpret that for you, because I’m not sure what that means, but I think it’s very important in understanding the complexity of American attitudes toward Islam at a moment when American attitudes toward Islam matter a great deal.
The volatility Bill was pointing to in that number about the importance of religions is something that very much struck us. It struck us in the first instance because we did that first November survey right smack in the middle of our great national reaction to September 11th. With this kind of volatility, as Bill says, one should always be wary of too much interpretation until we have more data points. But it does suggest that something very special was happening in that period and that some of what was special may not wear off, but some may well wear off. I’d actually like to go back to Andy to speak about that.
I’ll throw out four quick points. There are two very strong dynamics in public opinion. One is between strong support for helping the poor and a generalized skepticism about government itself. So many political debates, I think, play out depending on which side is emphasized in the public debate. It’s no accident that people who are more liberal tend to emphasize the need to help the poor and people who are more conservative tend to emphasize the fact that government often fails. I think you see that here.
There is overwhelming support for more government assistance for the poor, even though, as Karlyn pointed out and as Bill pointed out, we found a strong general belief that children are poor because of the individual problems of parents, not because of social factors. There is a big split on that, by the way, between African-Americans and whites, where African-Americans, as Andy points out, are the one group to say these are social and economic factors that we have to factor in.
But on the question of helping the poor, generally there is a strong consensus across the board, and similarly there is another dynamic between social responsibility and individual responsibility. People actually believe in both those things, and I think it’s, again, a very important piece of our political debate. Which form of responsibility you emphasize can lead you in different directions. On that score, we’re just pointing you to the chart on page 22 — government should help the needy, even if it means foregoing future tax cuts. I was struck by what a large percentage of conservative Republicans, let alone liberal Democrats, agreed with that. Obviously there is a split by party, but even among conservative Republicans it is virtually even as to whether it’s more important to continue with the tax cut or to help the needy. I think that’s, again, a case of watching that dynamic play out.
One technical point which struck me reading this, so it may have struck others, if you see an “n/a” in a column, that means that there are not enough people surveyed in that particular cell to draw a conclusion. So rather than give questionable numbers we put no numbers down at all.
Lastly, I’d like to say a couple of words on the marriage question. I’d like Andy to comment on Karlyn’s remarks on that, and then we’re going to go immediately to questions. We were very struck by how high that number was on this question. In a lot of surveys we actually have gone back and asked questions in a number of different ways. We did that on faith-based organizations, for example. In this case, the desire to have fresh numbers for you today meant that we didn’t have time to go back in the field and ask this question in a different form. I’m glad Karlyn brought that up.
Our finding is not dispositive as to where this debate is going to go. But it does suggest that there is a strong public predisposition toward privacy in certain matters, and this is clearly one of them. But I think, as Karlyn says, we are going to see a lot more polling on this question, and we will probably get mixed results, although even – as Karlyn pointed out – even when you ask the question in a fairly sympathetic way, you’ve still got a smaller majority skeptical of these programs. So I think there is a lot of play on this question, but I think this finding is probably the strongest version of skepticism we’re going to find. I think you’d really have to push the question very hard to get any kind of strong majority on the other side.
But on that particular point, I want to give Andy a chance to make some comments. Then when I go to the audience, if it’s okay with everybody I’d like to ask any reporters in the audience who may face things called deadlines and may have to leave early, I want to give reporters, journalists the first shot, not because they fare well in our poll but because it may be urgent to their work. So if they could ask the early questions, and then we’ll move on to everyone.
MR. KOHUT: Karlyn, I agree with you completely about the issue of question wording. I also agree with you totally about the value of looking at more than one cut at a question. In 1982 I had the temerity at the Gallup Poll to start a sub-column called Poll Watch, and the Gallup people said why would we want to talk about anyone’s poll other than Gallup. I’m a great believer in what you do.
The only qualification to what I would mention is the way you frame this. This is not a difference in question wording. This is a difference in concept. We asked about encouraging marriage. They asked about educating about marriage. Educating about marriage might not necessarily lead to encouraging. (Laughter.) I’m absolutely serious. An education program that suggests to women, or men as well, that this is a bad marriage, get out, is hardly encouraging. So these are different questions.
The other comment I would make to you, Bill, is volatility is the wrong word to use with respect to this trend on whether religion is losing or gaining influence in American life, because in fact, this question has been so stable for so long. But what we had in the two measures in December was something extraordinary. In fact, we had a discussion in our conference room with you saying this is a weird time. I don’t think we should do very many surveys that are going to have enduring findings. Gallup did, and we did, these surveys, the first two in probably decades, that showed a substantively different result, with 71 percent and 78 percent, respectively, saying religion is increasing in influence, and I have no idea what exactly people meant except we have two separate survey organizations, two different questionnaires, two different contexts, producing measures that were unbelievably different from this long-time series at the Gallup poll.
So volatility is not the word. The issue is, what was in the environment in November, December of 2001 that has dissipated so incredibly?
Another comment I would make with regard to your first point, Bill, is that there are two trends. There are more unchurched people, more seculars, in the past few decades, but there are also more intense religious belief on the part of those people who are religious, and they run counter. It has a lot to do with what we’ve talked about with respect to the cultural divide in the country. I think your point about moral pessimism is a terrific one, as were so many.
MR. DIONNE: I like Andy’s funny line about educating about marriage does not mean encouraging it — in truth, many of the conservative church programs, marriage encounters and other preparations, are actually designed in many cases to make people contemplate whether they should actually get married or whether they’re meant for each other. I think it will be fun to play around with the word encouraging to see how people look at that.
I always say no one likes to ask the first question, so who wants to ask the second question?
ARSHAD HASAN: I noticed on page 30 that under religious affiliation all the affiliations are either Christian, some denomination of Christianity, or secular. Does that mean there was not a significant sample of Jews, Hindus, atheists or agnostics?
MR. DIONNE: This is about why we don’t have Jews, Hindus, Muslims, agnostics, others in the survey.
MR. KOHUT: There is no breakdown. There are too few of them in this survey to break them out reliably.
MR. DIONNE: We actually thought of doing oversamples in order to get sufficient numbers. If you do, there are still, as groups, they’re significant groups, obviously, to our society, but in terms of size they’re small enough in the general population that you have to do either oversamples in certain regions or large oversamples. We actually discussed that. I’d like to do it. It costs a lot of money, and that’s the real constraint for a survey like this. But that’s why they don’t show up in the analysis.
JOE LOCONTE: On page 33, I was fascinated by this, the question about the bigger lesson to be taken from September 11th, the attacks, religion has too much influence in the world has too much in the world or has too little. These significant numbers of people, almost two to one, depending on how you count it, say it’s too little influence. That’s certainly out of step with many of our elites, political academic elites, certainly the New York Times crowd. How do you explain that? Any instinct about why that is, still this persistent idea that we need more religion, not less, even after September 11th?
MR. KOHUT: I think it’s a general affirmation of religion on the part of people, especially religious people. You can see the groups that say that are the most religious groups of people. But on the other hand there is another side of public opinion. People also hold that there is a dark side to religion. On the same page, it shows 65 percent saying that religion either has a great deal or a fair amount of effect on wars and conflicts around the globe.
MR. DIONNE: Could I say something, and, Andy, correct me if I’m wrong. You ask the question why is this different from certain elites? I do think that question is conditioned by high or low levels of religiosity and to some degree by class and education. So there is a kind of highly educated secular class of people who are more skeptical of religion than other Americans, and that comes through in the survey.
But I think Andy is right to underscore this ambivalence, that you have this strong general support of religion and these worries about religion’s impact at the same time. They co-exist. Same people believe both things at the same time.
AL MILLIKEN: Al Milliken, Washington Independent Writers.
One thing that strikes me, I see there was a reference to a question about the Koran being the Bible of the Muslims, but there doesn’t seem to be anything in the survey regarding the Bible, the word of God as far as whether people have knowledge of it, whether people look to it as a word of authority. This is really striking to me. It does seem to me that the Bible, at this time, in the history of this country, it is considered very insignificant compared to the weight and value it had in our nation’s past. This survey, I’m wondering if it was deliberate or wasn’t intentional on your part to leave it out. It seems like either way it does say something about the times today, the role in religion.
MR. DIONNE: There is a traditional polling question that’s asked a lot that we had in various iterations of this survey that have to do with people’s view of the Bible. We didn’t put it in this survey because there are so many other askings of this question. What we’re trying to do with this survey is put some new questions on the table. On that particular question, of the importance of the Bible to people, we felt that there are plenty of places where people could find that.
Secondly, our purpose here, because Islam has become so important to the political debate, was that we were simply interested in public knowledge of certain basic aspects of Islam, and that, again, this was a new question that we could put on the table to see what we could find. There are plenty of questions here that relate to Christians and Muslims and Jains and everyone else. The Bible question was not consciously omitted for any religious or political reason. It was omitted because if you want the answer to that question, there are a ton of surveys, including many of Andy’s, where you could find that answer. So we wanted some new questions that you could find answers to.
MS. BOWMAN: Gallup has just released a document looking at their Bible- reading questions from the 1930s on, and we see in a lot of areas very powerful continuity. They describe it as revered but not read. They said that might have been true 50 years ago, too, given their own questions. But this is an entire document on Bible reading, so you might want to see that on the Gallup web site.
MR. DIONNE: Andy, do you have a comment on that?
MR. KOHUT: No, just to say that the question about the Koran was put there to try to test people’s knowledge about Islam and Muslims. And that the issue of how much people know about Islam and Muslims is kind of interesting in that it led to more favorable attitudes towards Muslims on the one hand, but it didn’t lead to less anxiety about conflict. So you have these two strains in the survey of lack of information leading toward hostility. Then, there being a fair amount of informed, significant set of informed people who are also concerned about conflict between religious groups and the basis of violence in Islam.
MR. DIONNE: I was struck by something else in the survey, and I’d like to throw it at Andy and the rest of the panel, which is fascinating findings on African-Americans and white evangelicals, and there are two big sort of elephants in that room, or maybe donkeys. I don’t want to make them partisan. I’ll use some other animal. (Laughter.) Giraffes.
On the one side you have a very large political difference. You see it on questions relating to poverty, on the death penalty. There are, as we know from voting, very different political analyses. Yet, on almost all the questions, on a whole host of questions related to the attitudes toward religion and morality, there was actually a great confluence between white evangelicals and African-Americans, so that in some ways the behavior and attitudes in the church is quite different than the behavior and attitudes in the polling place. I wonder if anybody wanted to comment on that, because I think it really jumped out from this data.
MR. KOHUT: African-Americans express solidarity with their ethnic group, with their fellow African-Americans on economic issues that reflect their religious faith on social issues, in fact, reflect social conservatism. One of the most interesting things that we did in an analysis that was abbreviated or not released as a consequence of 9/11 is we found that African-Americans in the so-called red states are much more –
MR. DIONNE: The Bush states.
MR. KOHUT: — the Bush states — are much more socially conservative than African-Americans in the blue states, yet they vote as Democratic.
MR. DIONNE: But doesn’t that mean the South – in other words, it’s essentially a southern phenomenon.
MR. KOHUT: Yes, mostly southern phenomenon. But, I think it underscores the point that there are two tracks in African-American thinking. One is economic and African-American from the point of view of the well-being of the group and then another has to do with religious faith and relates to social issues.
MR. DIONNE: The other thing I was curious about, and I wonder if anybody wants to take this on, the same religious analysis could actually lead to a different set of political conclusions. In other words, clearly solidarity has something to do with this. But it’s also people who essentially read the same gospel have strong views about its importance, and yet reach different conclusions in terms of social justice, death penalty and the like.
DR. GALSTON: You know, we read the same Bible and pray to the same god. So this is not the first instance in American history of the same religious reservoir leading to radically different political conclusions.
THABITI ANYABWILE: You took the question right out of my mouth. Just in the way of comment, though, if you look at some of the earliest historical items of African-American preachers, et cetera, you see that same kind of evangelical conservatism, although the crucible in which that theology was born was very much associated with the slavery past of this country. So, you see also a very prominent concern for social justice and a number of other issues that frankly many mainline and white evangelical congregations kind of did nothing with. So I appreciate your comments.
MR. DIONNE: Social justice and attitudes on social issues don’t go one-to-one, and the place where they most depart is among African-Americans. And actually, again, if I read this survey right, Catholics fall somewhere in between here, in terms of, you know, that there is clearly a social justice streak among white Catholics that pushes them closer to the African-American side, but not all the way. There is also a kind of conservative streak, and they are an ambivalent group. I’m talking about the numbers are highly committed religious people in each instance, white evangelical or white Catholic or African-American.
FATHER KEMP: I have five Muslim students in a Catholic theology course for undergraduates at Georgetown University. I know they’re going to be fascinated by these poll results. I’m wondering what you make of the difference as you look across the line between Muslims, Muslim-Americans and Islam. Could somebody comment on that? Are we assuming that people see Islam as something foreign, where as Muslim-American is something near? What are the questions under the questions here?
MR. DIONNE: Karlyn?
MS. BOWMAN: I think the use of the word “American” is what pushes that number up. I think it’s very straightforward. I think there is just a lot less known about Islam, and in many groups the “don’t knows” were a lot larger about Islam than the other Muslims and Muslim-Americans.
LINDA WOLF JONES: But even if you leave out the Muslim-American column, every single demographic category has a more favorable attitudes on Muslims than on Islam. I wondered if it has something to do with people not wanting to put down other people as they may be willing to put down a theology.
MR. KOHUT: That’s a very smart observation. I think there are two things to say about that.
One, I think that Americans remember the lessons of World War II and know their history about what happened to the Japanese here after Pearl Harbor. I also think, and we demonstrated in the survey that we did in December, that President Bush has been heard in talking about let’s not make this Muslim/non-Muslim. In fact, a lot of the change in opinions in a favorable direction toward Muslims have come from his constituents, conservative Republicans, who, in fact, had better opinions about Muslims after 9/11 than they did before 9/11.
So you have these two different influences creating the positive ratings that we see about Muslim-Americans. But I think under the surface there is the potential for a much more negative reaction down the road, and I don’t think we can be complacent about these opinions, because there is so much fragility in the measures.
MR. DIONNE: And I think, again, just to underscore the point, it’s clear that President Bush had enormous effect in his own constituency — in particular, conservative Republicans – toward a more favorable view of Muslims in general and of American Muslims in particular. And on that chart on page 40, the difference in attitudes toward Muslim Americans and Islam among conservative Republicans, they appear almost to be completely different questions. If you look across the line, Muslim Americans: 56% positive, favorable; 26% unfavorable. On Islam itself, it flips around: 35% favorable; 47% unfavorable. I think your point is exactly right in terms of people not wanting to say bad things about individuals, but I also think there is some still to be explored either ideologically or philosophical point here because our other groups were, very realistic, quite a bit of consistency, but the gap between Muslim Americans and Islam is big all the way down the line, no matter what group.
I want to bring Father Reddington in on this as he is a genuine expert on this subject.
FATHER JAMES REDDINGTON: Thank you, E.J. James Reddington from Woodstock Theological Center. It strikes me that the wording of the question may have tweaked this particular difference, that I think, very rightly, the Muslims have portrayed Islam as in vast majority not in favor and very much against, the killing of innocents and radical activity of the kind of terrorism that we’ve seen and so on, and yet, it hasn’t been clear how the vast majority moderate Muslims, as well as the rest of society, might — ideologically as well as militarily — go after the radical Muslims who have bombed the Trade Center and so forth. And that, the uncertainty about that question, and the more sort of theoretical possibility of an opinion on Islam, might bring out what demons are there in Islam or might there be in Islam that get a kind of higher percentage negative rating.
In that respect, let me just mention John Esposito’s book that’s about to come out in a month or so called “Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam” that might help on that question.
JOSH YATES: My name is Josh Yates and I’m a Civitas Fellow here at Brookings. Someone on the panel mentioned that surveys are good at raising questions, and one of the questions that has sort of come up as I just briefly looked at this. It seems like on a number of measures, the majority of people think that religion’s influence in the world is a good thing, that there’s too little religion in the world. But that is counterbalanced by the fact that people also believe, by a majority, that people don’t have to be religious to be a good citizen or even to be moral, and so my question has to do with the meaning of religion at all. What does religion mean to people if in fact it doesn’t have any real functional purpose of making people moral or better citizens? I was wondering if you could address that.
MR. DIONNE: That’s a great question. Dr. Galston, you want to take the first crack at that good question?
DR. GALSTON: Yes. I was the one that said that one of the great functions of surveys is to raise questions that you can’t necessarily answer on the basis of surveys, and in my remarks, you know, I tried to sort of poke beneath the surface a little bit, and for example, point out the existence of this large pool of people who statistically speaking, appear to think that you don’t need to be moral in order to be a good citizen. I mean I think, you know, the question that you’re raising is part of a series of questions raised by the survey. Here is my hunch: that when most Americans think about religion, they think not so much in doctrinal or ideological or even personal moral terms, as they do about faith community, and the instinct is to believe that many good things flow for individuals and for society, from membership in a faith community and as Eisenhower once put it, famously, I don’t care which one.
So there is this generic and almost undifferentiated propensity to believe that social attachment to a community that is defined these days, is very likely to be a good thing. Now exactly why it’s a good thing and what the consequences of this goodness are, I think the consensus begins to break down very quickly. So that is my hypothesis that I put on the table in answer to your question, but it is nothing like an answer.
MR. KOHUT: I would like to try another element of that question, and that is that when you confront Americans with America and religion, their core values say we don’t qualify a definition of who is an American and who is not an American on the basis of religion even though Americans don’t have a high personal regard for atheists or people who don’t believe in God, and feel very deeply, on a personal level, suspicion about people who renounce God – they don’t that they can be good people and many don’t think that.
So I think that there is this core political value that we learn from the cradle that citizenship is not contingent upon religion or lack thereof, and I think that’s what the response to that question means.
MR. DIONNE: I think it’s sort of two parallel values in the American people that Andy underscored: a generally high evaluation of religion in general, and a belief that there should there should be no religious test for citizenship attitude I think helps explain this disjunction. But again, just to go to the numbers. If you look on page 36, there really is quite a difference on those questions depending on people’s level of religious commitment, and also where they’re coming from theologically.
On the question of whether the strength of American society is based on religious faith, among white Evangelicals, and black Protestants, the numbers are in the 70s and 80s on that, whereas nationwide, it’s only 58%, also among high-commitment white Catholics, and you see that all across the board. So that’s the third element that there are many Americans who are very religious Americans who actually do bring their answers to these questions in line with each other, but for a lot of Americans, some of whom are religious, there is this desire to be simultaneously religious and tolerant, and I think that explains some of these numbers.
DR. GALSTON: Andy, you and I have been talking for months, off and on, about 9/11, and for the past three or four months, I’ve been posing the following question: Suppose we had had Pearl Harbor but not World War II. How transformative would Pearl Harbor have been as an event? What would the residue have been in American culture? And I’m increasingly tempted to believe, and the numbers in this survey do little to persuade me that that might not be a bad way of framing 9/11. You know, a Pearl Harbor-ish event that was not followed and will not be followed by anything like a national mobilization. And so as I look at this survey, I see a lot of numbers subsiding back towards their 9/11 level – pre 9/11 levels. Given the fact that we now have some distance, what is your overall take on the question of whether 9/11 is a spike or a transformative event?
MR. KOHUT: Well, I think, you’re largely right. I would add two words of qualification — so far. I also think, though, that there are some transformative issues, and one of them has to do with the salience of nation, of the nation, that besides having more patriotism, besides the President getting more political support and recognition and appreciation of national consensus here in Washington and the nation are important in a way that they haven’t been through much of the last two or three decades. In 2000 we found a record number of people saying, who is elected president is really not that important. I guarantee you that in 2004, we will get that same answer. And there’s a lot of other things that we’ve put together in the real analysis that speak to that, and I think that’s one of the real legacies, that because we now have a need for national defense, that is not transitory, that will last for a long time, Washington and the state of the nation, and thinking of ourselves as a nation, parts of patriotism are back.
MR. DIONNE: Just on this ambivalence point, I just can’t resist before we close, bringing back one of the most fun findings we have discovered in the course of our surveying together, where we ask Americans two questions. One is, do you prefer to have a president of religious faith, and do you like it or dislike it if someone talks about their religion too much in public.
You get 70% who wanted a president of strong religious faith, and 50% who dislike people who talked about their religion too much in public. Now you could ask the question, if people don’t talk about their religion in public, how will you know that the person is of a strong religious faith, but I think those two findings again capture this ambivalence among the American people: a general respect for religion and a worry about what is exactly its proper role in the public square.
I want to thank Andy and Melissa, and all of you for coming. On the Brookings side, I want to thank Kayla Drogosz and Christina Counselman, and also my colleagues Paul Light, Tom Mann, and Mike Armacost for supporting this work for a long time.
Thank you all very, very much.