Are Polls a Reliable Source of Information about Religion?

July 16 2015

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


Why President Biden Needs Prime Minister Netanyahu as Much as Netanyahu Needs Biden

Sept. 28 2023

Last Wednesday, Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since the former’s inauguration. Since then, Haim Katz, Israel’s tourism minister, became the first Israeli cabinet member to visit Saudi Arabia publicly, and Washington announced that it will include the Jewish state in its visa-waiver program. Richard Kemp, writing shortly after last week’s meeting, comments:

Finally, a full nine months into Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest government, President Joe Biden deigned to allow him into his presence. Historically, American presidents have invited newly installed Israeli prime ministers to the White House shortly after taking office. Even this meeting on Wednesday, however, was not in Washington but in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Such pointed lack of respect is not the way to treat one of America’s most valuable allies, and perhaps the staunchest of them all. It is all about petty political point-scoring and interfering in Israel’s internal democratic processes. But despite his short-sighted rebuke to the state of Israel and its prime minister, Biden actually needs at least as much from Netanyahu as Netanyahu needs from him. With the 2024 election looming, Biden is desperate for a foreign-policy success among a sea of abject failures.

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Biden no doubt played the Palestinian issue up as some kind of Saudi red line and the White House has probably been pushing [Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman] in that direction. But while the Saudis would no doubt want some kind of pro-forma undertaking by Israel for the sake of appearances, [a nuclear program and military support] are what they really want. The Saudis’ under-the-table backing for the original Abraham Accords in the face of stiff Palestinian rejection shows us where its priorities lie.

Israel remains alone in countering Iran’s nuclear threat, albeit with Saudi and other Arab countries cheering behind the scenes. This meeting won’t have changed that. We must hope, however, that Netanyahu has been able to persuade Biden of the electoral benefit to him of settling for a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia rather than holding out for the unobtainable jackpot of a two-state solution.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship