I simply must come to Gallup's defense, what with Atlantic editor Emma Green having assailed the polling organization for "pretty extreme" imprecision. "In one of the most ambiguous poll questions ever," writes Green, "Gallup has asked Americans ... 'Do you believe that religion can answer all of today's problems, or that religion is largely old fashioned and out of date?'"
Ms. Green is appalled (as am I, but for a different reason). "Shockingly," she continues,
only 13 percent of people took the out of answering "no opinion" or "other," which is one way of saying "I will not fall for the misleading set-up of your question, pollster man." This year, 57 percent of respondents said religion is the answer for basically everything, and 30 percent said it's "old-fashioned."
Green says the question put to respondents is "conceptually meaningless," yet she ignores the immensely meaning-laden result of 57 percent of respondents saying religion is the answer for basically everything. Now to this humanist that's appalling. Green however is appalled because the pollster was impossibly unspecific--is religion the answer for, say, "political gridlock" or better healthcare delivery? I would counter that's that hardly the point. Respondents were asked a literal question and 87 percent chose one of the two opinionated options, nearly two-thirds of whom (two-thirds of the 87 percent, that is) responded quite literally: Yes, religion is the answer to "basically everything"--with "everything," presumably, including gridlock and healthcare.
Yet even an appalled agnostic of a strong social-democracy bent such as myself could endorse the 57 percent's (or two-thirds') opinion as being on to something quite profound: If we--all of us--actually followed the fundamental teachings of the world's major religions, then yes we'd arrive at the answer to everything and be living in a utopian socialist paradise.
If, on the other hand, we followed for instance Sarah Palin's brand of Christian malignancy, we'd have something along the order of ... today's United States House of Representatives.
So I'll give Green that. Gallup indeed indulged in a wee bit of ambiguity. Still, 87 percent of respondents responded, and that in itself says something about the infinite vagueness of "religion" as a capturable concept.