Gallup Poll

Did America just undergo a massive pro-life lurch? Reporters should interpret polls carefully

Did America just undergo a massive pro-life lurch? Reporters should interpret polls carefully

Axios, always atop breaking news trends, posted a bold headline Feb. 24 that announced “New Poll Finds ‘Dramatic Shift’ on Abortion Attitudes.”

The February poll showed Americans are evenly split between those identifying as “pro-choice” and as “pro-life,” tied at 47 percent, while only a month before the same pollster reported pro-choicers outnumbered pro-lifers, 55 percent to 38 percent.  

The Axios article recycled a press release from the polls’ sponsor, the Knights of Columbus, that proclaimed "in just one month Americans have made a sudden and dramatic shift away from the prochoice position and toward a pro-life stance.” See January release here and February release here.

Abortion attitudes remain as politically and religiously potent today as they’ve been the past 46 years, so reporters are ever alert to trends. But should the media be reporting that thinking across the fruited plain lurched from a big gap to a tie between Jan. 8-10 and Feb. 12-17, the survey dates? 

What are the odds? Democrats’ recent advocacy for unpopular late-term abortions alongside intimations of infanticide might be driving a modest pro-life uptick, but 17 points? 

With polls, journalists always need to be careful and assess the full context. The Religion Guy’s hunch here is that the fat abortion-rights majority in January was an outlier, and the February tie is pretty much representative of American thinking.  Why? See below. 

Preliminaries: The Knights, who paid for both the January and February polls, are ardently pro-life Catholics. However, they hired the well-regarded Marist Poll to run the survey and crunch the numbers. Despite its Catholic name and origin, sponsoring Marist College is officially non-sectarian. Technical note: the Knights did not reveal the polls’ response rates, an all-important factor. 

The Religion Guy maintains that February’s 47-47 tie is interesting but not the big news as trumpeted.

Enter the Gallup Poll, journalists’ invaluable gold standard for asking consistent religious and moral questions across many years. 

Gallup’s comprehensive compilation on abortion attitudes shows this version of the Marist question, asked 32 times since 1995: “Would you consider yourself to be pro-choice or pro-life?”

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Thinking about trust & the press: Religion-beat pros are liberals who 'get' the right?

Thinking about trust & the press: Religion-beat pros are liberals who 'get' the right?

And now, an all too familiar word from America's Tweeter In Chief: "The Fake News hates me saying that they are the Enemy of the People only because they know it’s TRUE. I am providing a great service by explaining this to the American People. They purposely cause great division & distrust."

This is, of course, a variation on his larger theme that the entire mainstream press is the Enemy of the People, or words to that effect. Meanwhile, "fake news" has become a phrase that (click here for a tmatt typology on this term) is all but meaningless in American public discourse.

Whenever a Trumpian Tweet storm kicks up, I always say that it's stupid to say that something as complex as the American Press is the Enemy of the People. However, after decades of reading media bias studies on moral, cultural and religious issues, I think that it’s possible to say that significant numbers of journalists in strategic newsrooms are the enemies of about 20 to 40 percent of the nation's population. This remark usually draws silence.

This brings us to the growing "trust gap" between the American press and the American people. What can be done to improve this tragic situation?

That's the subject of this weekend’s think piece, which is a Q&A at FiveThirtyEight, that includes a rather strange reference to improving religion-news coverage. The discussion opens like this: 

micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): It’s time to gaze at our navels!!! We’re chatting about the media. Everyone ready?

nrakich (Nathaniel Rakich, elections analyst): I’m not not ready.

julia_azari (Julia Azari, political science professor at Marquette University and FiveThirtyEight contributor): Technically, I’m in a different field full time, academia, where we never do any navel-gazing, sooo …

micah: On this week’s FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, we talked about President Trump’s attacks on the press. Trump’s criticisms are mostly wrong, but the press as a whole (yes, it’s not great to lump all the media into one) does have a trust issue.

With that in mind, our mission for today: What resolutions do we think journalists (us and everyone else) should make to improve Americans’ faith in the press? 

Now, if you are an advocate of old-school, "American Model of the Press" journalism (stress on accuracy, balance, fairness and respect for voices on all sides of public debates), this Q&A is going to make you upset.

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Has religion's image in the mainstream news media gotten better or worse?

Has religion's image in the mainstream news media gotten better or worse?

KEN’S QUESTION:

Is the picture of religion in the media generally better or worse (or both) than it was 25–30 years ago?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Unquestionably worse.

To begin, let’s acknowledge that the media inevitably report more about the bad than the good news. We take for granted countless acts of charity quietly performed by religious agencies and individuals while the scandals hit page one. The following comes from an American viewpoint, though affected by circumstances in world religions.

Sadly, there’s gradually increasing suspicion in the U.S. not only toward “organized religion” but the other institutions whose authority and credibility sustain society. The Gallup Poll is the go-to source because it has asked consistent questions for decades about regard for institutions and vocational groups, not precisely Ken’s topic but relevant.

A Gallup survey of U.S. adults last June found 23 percent expressed “a great deal” of confidence in “the church or organized religion” plus another 18 percent with “quite a lot,” totaling 41 percent. That was a better showing than (in descending order) the Supreme Court, medical system, public schools, U.S. presidency, organized labor, news media, big business and Congress. Religion was exceeded only by the military (72 percent) and police (57 percent).

Not bad. But that was the worst esteem for religion since Gallup first asked this question in 1973, and a notable drop from the 60 percent as recently as 2001.

The same pattern occurred last December with Gallup’s perennial question about rating “the honesty and ethical standards” of different vocational groups. With 42 percent expressing “very high” or “high” regard for the clergy, they were outranked by eight other vocations, the worst number since the first such poll in 1977 and a drop from 64 percent in 2001.

The broadest status scenario came in 2014 from political scientist Tobin Grant at Southern Illinois University.

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Today’s low point for American news media affects all beats -- including religion

Today’s low point for American news media affects all beats -- including religion

Instead of the usual focus on religion coverage, this Memo scans the over-all news-media landscape as viewed by a newshound of (embarrassingly) long experience.

The Religion Guy, who strives to be non-partisan, believes with others that America’s news media -- in terms of economics and public trust -- have reached the low point of the past half-century.

This affects the religion beat as surely as every other segment of journalism.  

There’s chaos at the storied Los Angeles Times and Newsweek, with other forms of newsroom turbulence that shakes even Gannett’s DC monolith honoring journalism's role in American life.

With GetReligion readers, there’s no need to detail the economic travail and consequent death of countless dailies and magazines, with staff shrinkage for those that still struggle to survive.  Can online ad revenues sustain decent coverage? Will twittery Americans read substantive copy any longer?   

But forget media economics and corporate maneuvers. Worst of all is sagging esteem. Consider TV shallowness and bile, stupendous screw-ups forced by 24/7 competition, and the eclipse of objectivity -- or even minimal fairness -- amid the glut of opinion. There’s also simple bad taste, the StormyDanielsization of daily news budgets.  

In September, 2016, the Gallup Poll found Americans’ trust in the media to report “fully, accurately, and fairly” was the worst since it first asked this question in 1972. Only 32 percent had a “great deal” or “fair” amount of trust, down 8 percent in just a year. A mere 26 percent of those under age 50 felt trust, capping a decade of decline. One year later, 37 percent of respondents thought the media “get the facts straight” but with a worrisome partisan breakdown: 62 percent of Democrats versus only 37 percent of Independents, and a pathetic 14 percent of Republicans.  

However, it was a good sign that less than one-fifth of those of whatever partisan identity or educational level had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Internet news.  

There was much to mourn before Donald J. Trump came down that golden escalator.

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Polls can be problematic, but journalistic blessings upon Gallup's long, long religion trend lines

Polls can be problematic, but journalistic blessings upon Gallup's long, long religion trend lines

Let’s admit it. The news media are poll-obsessed, especially with politics. But don’t blame pollsters if journalists over-work surveys or neglect necessary caveats.

Take Michigan’s presidential vote. A November 3 poll for Detroit’s Fox2 put Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 46 to 41 percent.

Did news reports mention the “margin of error” of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points? With that factored in, Trump could actually have been slightly ahead, and in fact he won Michigan by three-tenths of a percent.

In “Inventing American Religion: Polls, Surveys, and the Tenuous Quest for a Nation’s Faith,” sociologist Robert Wuthnow doubted any polls are representative nowadays since “response rates” among randomly selected respondents are so low. GOP pollster John McLaughlin pursues another complaint, that sampling techniques consistently undercount Republicans. 

So religion scribes must be wary. Nonetheless, blest be the Gallup Poll, especially for trend-tracking because it has posed the same questions across years and decades, e.g. the famous “did you, yourself, happen to attend” worship this week?

Sure, fibs and faulty memories may inflate the results, but the downward trend line is noteworthy.  

Gallup’s annual “Values and Beliefs” poll in May finds the most permissive U.S. views to date on 10 of 19 moral issues -- though adultery still gets mere 9 percent acceptance. That got more coverage than Gallup’s subsequent report on the poll’s responses about the Bible that presumably shape moral opinions. (Note the sampling error of plus or minus 4 points, with no “response rate” in the fine print.)

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America's most and least religious states: How could this shape Democrats’ future strategy?

America's most and least religious states: How could this shape Democrats’ future strategy?

There’s a solid local angle for every U.S. media outlet in 2016 polling that Gallup applies to ranking all 50 states in order of religiosity. Beyond collecting hometown reactions, reporters can factor in Pew Forum’s 2015 survey on religious identifications in each state’s population. Both data sets benefit from huge random samples.

Gallup counts as “very religious” the 38 percent of respondents who said they attend worship nearly every week and that religion is important to them. The “moderately religious” (30 percent) met only one of those two criteria, and the “nonreligious” (32 percent) met neither. Gallup’s “nonreligious” are similar to, but not identical with, Pew’s “nones” who lack religious identity.

Also, a rough political scenario can be developed by comparing Gallup rankings with the 2016 vote. President Trump won 23 of the 25 most religious states, the exceptions being No. 19 Virginia, whose pious Senator Tim Kaine was on the Democratic ticket, and heavily Hispanic New Mexico at No. 21. Mr. Trump romped in the eight states where half or more of respondents were “very religious” -- Mississippi, followed by Alabama, Utah, South Dakota, South Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton carried nine of the 10 most “nonreligious” states. Tops was Bernie Sanders’ Vermont (at 58 percent ), followed by Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Nevada, Alaska (the oddity with a big Trump win), Oregon, Connecticut, Hawaii and Washington state. Next on the nonreligious scale were closely fought New Hampshire, then the two states that accounted for Clinton’s popular vote margin, New York and California (each with 40 percent nonreligious).

Where and how might the troubled Democrats improve their prospects?

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Discuss please: Sarah Pulliam Bailey's letter to evangelicals who are mad at mainstream press

Discuss please: Sarah Pulliam Bailey's letter to evangelicals who are mad at mainstream press

There are several obvious things that need to be said about the rather brave opinion piece that Sarah Pulliam Bailey -- yes a former GetReligionista -- has published at The Washington Post, where she works as a full-time religion-beat professional.

First, things first: About that headline, which proclaims, "Evangelicals, your attacks on ‘the media’ are getting dangerous." Why address this open letter to evangelicals?

During my years in the Washington, D.C., area I had to look like crazy to find traditional religious believers of any stripe who still subscribed to the major newspapers in Beltway-land. For those who did, talking about the tone-deaf or biased coverage of moral and social issues produced in those newsrooms was something they let me hear about on a regular basis. Hearing D.C.-area people talk about media bias (on moral and social issues more than on politics alone) helped inspire the creation of the weblog.

So why focus on evangelical anger at mainstream news, in a year in which Gallup numbers show that distrust of the journalism establishment is at an all-time high among Americans, period?

Yes, the anger and even hate is real. I know that because of my quarter of a century of work in Christian higher education, primarily teaching journalism and mass-media studies to young evangelicals. Way too many conservative evangelicals have written off journalism -- period. That's really bad theology if one believes that all of God's creation (even journalism) is both glorious and fallen. Meanwhile, many progressive evangelicals (often in higher education) view journalism as a shallow, anti-intellectual, merely "professional" trade that is not worthy of serious attention. Both stances are deadly, if the goal is educating young people to work in the mainstream press, perhaps providing some intellectual diversity there in the process.

Still, Bailey addresses her letter to people in her own culture, which is mainstream evangelicalism. Let's look at this a bit, and then open the comments pages for dialogue. Here is the overture:

Dear evangelicals,
You tease about the mainstream media being “Satan’s newspaper.” When I tell you I’m a journalist, I hear your cynicism.
Listen, I was raised in an evangelical home. I know the media is supposed to be the butt of many jokes and the source of many of our problems.

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Life after Hillary or Trump: Can public faith in American press drop even lower?

Life after Hillary or Trump: Can public faith in American press drop even lower?

Back in the early 1990s, when I began teaching journalism and mass media full-time, I used to ask my Communications 101 students a simple question: How many of you grew up in a home in which your parents subscribed to a daily newspaper?

I also asked them how many televisions were in the homes in which they were raised, which yielding some shockingly high numbers.

I would say that, semester after semester, it was normal for about 75 percent of the entering mass-communications students in that particular Christian liberal arts institution to say that there was no daily newspaper in their homes. When I asked why that was the case, the most common answer was that their parents believed that their local newspaper couldn't be trusted because it leaned way to the left and offended their beliefs as traditional Christians.

Do the math. A student who was 18-19 years old in the early 1990s would be how old today? That would be 40-ish?

I thought of this when I was reading mainstream press materials about (1) that recent blast of dire Gallup Poll numbers (click here and then here for earlier GetReligion posts) about public trust in the news and (2) the growing awareness that elite journalists have given up pretending that they can cover Donald Trump and, more importantly, the views of supporters (many of them reluctant supporters), in a fair, balanced and accurate manner. On that second topic, see this conversation-starter of a piece at The Atlantic, with the headline, "The Death of 'He Said, She Said' Journalism."

All of this factored into this week's Crossroads podcast with host Todd Wilken. Click here to tune that in.

As you would expect, we were still mulling over the ramifications of the Gallup numbers. Click here to see a Gallup executive summary of those stats. Here is the hook that drew some (but surprisingly muted) media coverage:

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Those acidic Gallup numbers about the news: CNN blames it on Trump and Trump alone

Those acidic Gallup numbers about the news: CNN blames it on Trump and Trump alone

Donald Trump's campaign for the White House has not been friendly to the American model of the press, that old-school approach in which journalists strive to offer balanced, accurate coverage of both sides in public debates and contents.

For starter's, Citizen Trump's approach to debates and to the concept of verifiable facts is a unique one, to say the least. Saying that Trump struggles with logic, truth and facts is something like saying that, for several decades, Hillary Clinton has struggled with basic questions of law, ethics and accountability. #DUH

But let's focus on Trump, as we take a second look at those stunningly depressing Gallup Poll numbers about the public's increasingly acidic view of journalism. Is there a religion -- or moral and social-issues -- angle in there somewhere? That's the question I asked yesterday.

Also, we're going to look at Trump, because that's precisely what CNN did when considering the Gallup numbers. Check out this headline: "Fueled by Republicans, Americans' trust in media hits all-time low."

The report starts out like this, logically enough (in light of that headline):

In a climate of bitter political partisanship, anti-media rhetoric and diversified media options, just 32% of Americans now say they trust the media "to report the news fully, accurately and fairly" -- the lowest level since 1972, when Gallup began polling. ...
While Americans' faith in media has been in decline for over a decade, this year's findings represent a sharp drop from the previous eight years, when between 40 and 45 percent of Americans expressed trust.
The change is largely fueled by the aggressive anti-media rhetoric of Donald Trump and other Republicans, Gallup said.

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