Monday, June 23, 2014

Public Religion Research Institute's “I Know What You Did Last Sunday” Finds Americans Significantly Inflate Religious Participation"

A study performed by The Public Religion Research Institute used either a) a telephone survey or b) an anonymous web survey to question people about their religious beliefs and religious service habits. The researchers found that the telephone participants reported higher rates of religious behaviors and greater theistic beliefs.

The figure below, from a New York Time's summary of the study, visualizes the main findings. The NYT summary also provides figures illustrating the data broken down by religious denomination.

Property of the New York Times
Participants also vary in their reported religious beliefs based on how they are surveyed (below, the secular are more likely to report that they don't believe in God when completing an anonymous online survey).

Property of Public Religion Research Institute

 This report could be used in class to discuss psychometrics, sampling, motivation to lie on surveys, social desirability, etc. Additionally, the source article provides a good literature review on various ways to "count" religious behavior, including going to churches and counting the people in the pews as well as framing such questions as to take the focus away from religion (ironically, in hopes of prompting more honest answers).

It might also be interesting to ask student to generate a list of other sensitive topics about which people are inclined to lie, ways in which telephone and online respondents may differ demographically, or to think of ways to encourage more honest responding.

Also, The Onion weighed in on the report:

Property of The Onion