Are Polls a Reliable Source of Information about Religion?

The Pew Research Center’s 2013 report on its survey of American Jewry led to vigorous discussion, and much hand-wringing, in the Jewish community. Now Pew has released a similar report on the state of American Christianity, generating similar discussion among Christians. Tracing the history of polling about religion, Robert Wuthnow points to some of its problems:

Polling’s credibility depends on a narrow definition of science and an equally limited understanding of the errors to which its results are subject. Its legitimacy hinges mostly on predicting elections and making news. With few exceptions, polling about religion is an industry based on the use of the single method of asking questions in a survey, not on multiple methods or extensive knowledge about religion itself. Above all, it depends on a public that is willing to believe that polls are sufficiently valuable to spend the time it takes to answer questions when pollsters call. . . . . [And as] public confidence in polls has tanked, so has the public’s willingness to participate in polls. . . .

[I]f declining response rates leave unanswered questions, what we do know from polls—or think we know—needs to be regarded with much greater caution than is typically the case in journalistic coverage. . . . [J]udging from academic surveys that still have high response rates and ask good questions, the [widely-cited] polling estimate of 90- to 100-million weekly churchgoers is off by about 30 million. If political polling were off by that much, it would be scandalous.

Read more at First Things

More about: American Religion, Christianity, Pew Survey, Polls, Religion & Holidays

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood