What Does Polling Tell Us About Atheists Versus Believers

Everyone who has studied polling knows the question asked can influence the conclusions that follow. The question, “Do you believe in God?” provides 80% positive answers but may lead to misleading conclusions about the popularity of Christianity.

Everyone agrees there is social pressure to fit in with society’s norms. One norm is Christianity. So, when polling about Christianity the challenge has been to make respondents feel at least somewhat distant from judgments of those around them.

A new approach by two psychologists at the University of Kentucky took on this problem. They asked respondents of a control group if nine statements were true. They included, “I own a dog.” and “I am a vegetarian.” A tenth statement was included for another group, “There is no God.”

Previous published polls asked directly, “Are you an atheist?” Only about 3% to 5% answered yes. The University of Kentucky polling technique, however, estimated atheists to be around 20%.  If this polling technique reflects more accurately the atheist population, current views on atheism have badly underestimated its popularity.

This study would put the number of atheists at about equal to the number of Catholics and three times as large as the largest Protestant denomination, Southern Baptists.

My guess is that this polling technique will upend the polling industry and more effort will be made to find people’s religious leanings without asking them directly. If we are going to do polling it is imperative we come as close as possible to the truth about peoples beliefs.



13 Responses

  1. Jinx II

    I am quite interested to hear/read the results of this new technique over the long haul. From my experience of writing and analyzing surveys and questionnaires, the more neutral and less judgmental we ask the more credible the results are.

    1. JinxII 7:41 I am quite interested to hear/read the results of this new technique over the long haul.

      These results fit my family’s experience better than the 3% figure. I’ve always been reluctant to claim what I have observed around me represents the general population but it might not be that far off.

    1. Michael 10:20 While the majority profess a belief in God or the supernatural, we are functionally a secular or atheist society.

      Interesting observation. I have to think about that. Certainly the U. S. presents a complicated picture.

  2. Rob

    The previous blog post posed the question of atheists being more intelligent. Now this blog post indicates they are apparently incapable of providing consistent, honest answers. Interesting.

    1. Rob 11:06 Now this blog post indicates they are apparently incapable of providing consistent, honest answers. Interesting.

      Your word “incapable” is incorrect. “Unwilling” is correct. I used to be called by atheists who wanted or maybe needed to unload on someone. One was a prosperous young stock broker. He said a couple of his big clients often riffed on their devout Christianity–sometime making digs at atheism. He appreciated some, like me with this blog, put ourselves and names out there, but he could not. Another fellow told me his wife is devout as is her family. He would like to be an out atheist but the price was just too high.

      We can be sure there are Christians and atheists in hostile countries who pretend to be other religions just to stay safe.

      1. Trump is in Saudi arabia making a deal for $350 billion in weapons and other aid. There are no practising Christians or Jews. We destroyed Iraq where 800,000 christians practiced their faith openly. Since we took over and set up a puppet government jihadists terrorize Christians and they have to hide their faith and many have fled the country.

        1. Michael 2:27 I’ve never kept track of how many times we invaded countries and Christians were made worse off–even eliminated–because of it. Many Christians here and elsewhere say it is the most persecuted religion in the world. That is an exaggeration at best. But, how many times did we oust a government we did not like and one worse for Christians replace it? Certainly that was Sadam.

      2. If my word “incapable” is incorrect, then your replacing it with “unwilling” nullifies the point your attempting to make here and in your previous blog entry regarding intelligence. (Because apparently significant numbers of atheists can be incapable of answering honestly, depending on not what question is asked, but how it is asked.) Once again, interesting.

        1. Rob 10:28 “your previous blog entry regarding intelligence”

          Interesting. You seem to imply I wrote in that blog that atheists are more intelligent than believers. Again, interesting. I did not write that. Once again, interesting.

          1. entech

            Interesting indeed, I think the Rob perspective is that atheists are wrong regardless, simply because they are atheists.
            I think that is what Matt always calls bigotry.

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