My flu wiki partner, fellow blogger and friend Melanie of Just a Bump in the Beltway fame sent me an email on Friday with subject line: The Times They are a Changin’. In the email was a summary of findings from a recent survey of Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes: 1987-2007 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Pew has been doing these surveys periodically and they present a picture of shifting attitudes on “values” issues. They now show a welcome return to earlier, more moderate views on helping our fellow citizens, a less friendly attitude toward the use of coercive force to achieve political ends and a declining expression of strong religious commitment. Since this is our weekly Freethinker Sermonette, I’ll just talk about this last item, but if you want the full report you can find it here (.pdf). First, the bad news.
Eight out of ten Americans find prayer an important part of their daily lives, believe we will all be called before God at the Judgment Day to answer for our sins, and say they never doubt the existence of God. This 80% number has remained relatively constant throughout the 20 year survey period. It is appalling. On the other hand, the strength of those convictions is softening. Here is a graph of all three questions showing the net 80% figure and the underlying percentage of those who “completely agree” with each of those statements:
The “completely agree” segment has declined considerably since the high water mark of religious enthusiasm in the mid to late 90s. It is now about where it was after two terms of Ronald Reagan. It says something that this comes as a welcome relief, I suppose.
Secular attitudes (atheist, agnostic or no religion) have increased since 1987, from 8% to 12%, but there are stark differences between party affiliations, with Republicans actually losing a point in secularism (6% to 5%) in that interval while Democrats increased secular attitudes from 7% to 11% and Independents from 9% to 17%. Independents are independent in more ways that party affiliation.
Right wing social prejudices have diminished in all age groups, but are especially out of favor in the youngest age cohort. This is mirrored in attitudes about sexual orientation:
While there has been progress in some areas, the picture in others is still so dismaying it just makes me shake my head. Consider this:
The good news here is that for the first time (other than a single year in the early 90s) more Americans think it’s wrong to ban books because of the ideas they contain than think it’s just fine. The bad news is almost half of Americans still thinks banning books is fine.
So, yes Melanie, things are changing: from really, really bad to somewhat less really, really bad. We’ve got a long way to go, though, if these results are any indication. If we keep it up at this pace, in a century from now we might reach the point the French did a century ago.