The first step toward being truly rational is accepting evidence, at least provisionally, once it has been demonstrated to have been arrived at in the most objective and scientific way possible. I don’t want my hometown to be viewed as it is, but if I read a poll which says that the city is generally perceived as a bad place to live, I’m not going to deny that that is the way people see Springfield. When I read that people are moving south and west, I don’t deny that it’s happening because I don’t want it to be happening.
There was a list published by the Advocate a few months ago which placed Springfield as the number two Gay Friendly city in the United States, and it was pretty clear where the flaws were in the methodology, but it was also clear that the point of the list was to get people to think outside the box(no pun intended) regarding what creating a gay friendly community entailed (pun intended). As I wrote in the blog post dedicated to that honor, while the list may have exaggerated the gay friendly nature of my hometown, it was certainly a welcome shot in the arm (no pun at all) to Springfield’s self image as far as I am concerned.
A much more recent, much more rigorously systematic poll listed the Springfield Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA) as one of the least religious in the United States. There are many reasons, regardless of any particular individual’s personal views on religion, to view this as a generally positive thing. While in many cases the data do not show causation, there is certainly a correlation societally between social health and a lack of religiosity. Worldwide, the healthiest, wealthiest, and least criminal cultures are the least religious.
Regardless of that, what has amazed me is the response of the religious to this information. Instead of seeing the facts as presented as real, true, and accurate and strategizing, if they see it as a bad thing, for what they view as improvement in that area, they deny that the results of the poll are correct. They do so completely without any reason apart from the fact that it doesn’t correspond to their lived experience here in this area…AS religious people!
One minister claims diminishing attendance at religious services is due to economic stress. Neat! Only, the question of attendance wasn’t addressed in this particular poll, only how people self assess regarding the strength of their religious commitment! So…people view themselves as less religious because they don’t attend church due to economic difficulties? It’s possible. Another man responded to the poll by saying it was clearly wrong because there were a lot of church buildings around (I’m not making this up!). So, to determine how religious your region is relative to other regions of the United States the conclusion is determined by whether it seems that there are “a lot” of church buildings “around”? Someone call the Nobel Prize Committee!
Or, you could go with this methodology:
Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey Jan. 2-Dec. 29, 2012, with a random sample of 244,917 adults, aged 18 and older, living in 189 metro areas within the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
The metro areas referred to in this article are based on the Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. In many cases, more than one city is included in the same MSA. The San Jose, Calif., metropolitan statistical area, for example, also includes the smaller nearby cities of Sunnyvale and Santa Clara in addition to San Jose itself. Each respondent is attributed to his or her MSA based on the self-report of his or her ZIP code, and all metro areas had at least 300 completed surveys in 2012.
Maximum expected error ranges for the MSAs vary according to size, ranging from less than ±1 percentage point for the largest metro areas represented to ±6.5 percentage points for the smallest metro areas.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cellphone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup’s polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.”