Poll about monsters and paranormal beliefs should NOT be compared to global warming opinions

A Halloween-related poll looked at Americans’ views about the holiday and other paranormal and scary subjects. The media, however, chose to focus on the crosstabs query that shows that…
Shocking Poll – More than Two-Thirds of Republican Voters Believe in Demonic Possession | Alternet.

Less than one week away from the election, a terrifying new poll reveals that more than two-thirds of registered Republican voters believe that people can be possessed by demons.

A staggering 68 percent of registered Republican voters stated that they believe demonic possession is real. Meanwhile, only 48 percent of self-identified Republicans believe in another equally if not more scary natural phenomenon: climate change.

The articles in the press, first on Alternet then picked up by Slate.com, are comparing two different surveys in their story. The global warming opinions came from a Pew Research poll last month. The survey itself is interesting but certainly not “shocking” as is suggested. I took a look at the results and they make sense.

The poll results are here:

Halloween Poll Results – Public Policy Polling.

The poll included 1,200 registered voters (N=1200) from October 26th to 28th. The margin of error for the survey is +/-2.83%. It was not a politically motivated poll. But surveys collect demographic data (and in this case DEMONgraphic data) to identify gender, political affiliation,  and age categories and then use those to make additional sense of the data.

The main take away is that everyone is GENERALLY pretty close in their beliefs about most things. The gaps between almost every demographic category were not that large, but there were some interesting exceptions.

Republicans didn’t have an unfavorable view of Halloween any more than other political affiliations. Overall about 25% of the population surveyed does not like Halloween. The biggest point made from this survey was the belief in demon possession with 49% of Democrats buying into it and 68% of Republicans. Overall it was 57%. So, there is this gap but it is not unexpected since Republicans are typically more religious and more fundamental in their beliefs.

A more interesting result from the poll was the “race” category (an annoying term to use). Hispanics are CONSIDERABLY more inclined to believe in ghosts, haunting and demon possession. The overall percentage of people who claim to believe in ghosts in 37% with 26% claiming to have seen one. But for those who identify as Hispanic, these values are 52% and 50%, respectively. Significant. An interesting question was how differently people answered the question of “scariest monster” depending on their race. This suggests a cultural tie-in. A difference was also noted with age, possibly reflecting pop culture monsters of each generation. A definitive result was that no one is really afraid of mummies but zombies are TERRIFYING. “Demons” were not a category and would fall into “something else”.

Poll results of scariest monster by “race”

Belief in ghosts and other supernatural concepts, even enjoyment of horror movies, declines GREATLY with age. With the over 65 crowd thinking all this monster talk is nonsense.

Perhaps the funniest question was that concerning “How long would you survive a zombie outbreak?” The answers clustered around two extremes: we’d last less than a week or more than a year. Women were less optimistic than men with 35% of women saying they wouldn’t last a week. But the 38% of the men reported they would hold out more than a year.

What does this tell us? It says the paranormal beliefs are here to stay. Some population groups are slightly different. It does not really warrant comparison with global warming. The foundation of these TOTALLY different kinds of beliefs are too unlike to compare and I think the initial reporter made a mistake in doing so.

But for the critically thinking crowd, it tells us why the silly stories on demons are so popular and it tells us we ought to focus on outreach to the Hispanic community.

  5 comments for “Poll about monsters and paranormal beliefs should NOT be compared to global warming opinions

  1. November 4, 2012 at 1:16 AM

    I don’t know if it was a ‘wrong thing to do’ – another study I know of did the same. Seeing if there’s a correlation isn’t such a bad thing in itself; at least you can say “there doesn’t appear to be, and we did look”.
    The study in question (by Skeptical Science’s Stephan Lewandowsky):
    http://websites.psychology.uwa.edu.au/labs/cogscience/documents/LskyetalPsychScienceinPressClimateConspiracy.pdf

    • November 4, 2012 at 5:16 AM

      I say it’s apples and oranges. Not just in the two polls but culturally. Belief in monsters is not something someone thinks about or is discussed in terms of evidence or science, it’s emotional and mental. Primal, even. For the demonic possession case, it’s religious-based.

      I feel that the Alternet author went after the sensationalism by comparing it with GW belief. It reads like “Republicans [idiotically] believe in demons than GW that does exist. Silly, aren’t they?” It’s more complicated than that. The correlation is not SHOCKING because of their relationship to reliance on religion and lack of respect for science. I just think it’s more nuanced, based in why people belief weird things in general.

      I’d feel better if the news item was based on a meta analysis instead of just two stand alone polls. But since time has an effect on GW numbers, that’s not really a great idea unless the polls were close in time.

  2. November 4, 2012 at 8:29 AM

    I just see it only as a correlation. And that’s it. I can make a correlation to train whistles and little red wagons. (in many ways actually)… but I’m not really trying to say anything other than wagons and trains have wheels. That being said, GW actually has some argument.. you can do science to find the answers. Beliefs have no basis other than anecdote… unless, well… you can do some science to find the answer. I think the problem is defining terms. What do you MEAN when you say what a zombie is? What is a demon? What is an angel? Is the Angel a cherubum… a cutel little naked a-sexual baby? Or an angry human like monster with lightning-bolt eyes? With Global Warming…. we all know what it means, and the argument shifts to what or who is causing it. The article fails at this disparity. There is no clear definition of what anything is.

  3. Scott
    November 5, 2012 at 12:51 PM

    Public Policy Polling (“PPP”), the company responsible for conducting the poll, is generally considered a Democratic/Liberal leaning organization with a history of publishing pro-Democratic polls/results. PPP’s CEO, Dean Debnam, is a Democratic supporter who admits he creates polls designed to advance and support Democratic issues and candidates (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0311/52249.html). I always question political poll results. I am sure there will be a response to this story from some pro-Republican polling agency conducting a poll that shows 81% of Democrats have been inappropriately touched by a famous Democratic ghost. Political polls, demons and ghosts…it’s all a bunch of scary made up stuff.

    • November 5, 2012 at 2:08 PM

      I don’t think the poll itself was political, it just used this demographic data for cross-tab comparisons.

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