Is the Religion Guy the only American who’s already sick of the constant news reports on political polls, and yet can’t help following them because this may be the most aberrant campaign since 1860?
Polls can be interesting but also problematic, as discussed in the Sept. 8 Memo “Are polls about people and pews appealing or appalling? Warnings for journalists.” That item scanned complaints from Princeton’s Robert Wuthnow, one of the leading U.S. sociologists of religion, in a new book: “Inventing American Religion: Polls, Surveys, and the Tenuous Quest for a Nation’s Faith” (Oxford University Press, published October 1).
Wuthnow asserts that polling in general is increasingly slippery, largely because response rates are so low that it’s impossible to know whether results are representative. He also thinks religion is an especially tricky field for opinion surveying and that media reports about results can distort public perceptions.
Following up, the sort of material reporters can pursue is seen in an interview with Wuthnow by Andrew Aghapour, a Ph.D. student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, for religiondispatches.org. (This online magazine is well worth monitoring if you’re not familiar with it. Editor Diane Winston, Ph.D., associate professor at U.S.C.’s Annenberg School, was a well-regarded Godbeat toiler in Raleigh, Baltimore, and Dallas.)
Wuthnow cites Jimmy Carter’s presidential win in 1976, which media dubbed the “year of the evangelical.” Actually it was the year some media suddenly discovered evangelicalism.