It is perhaps inevitable that clerics and pastors who push hard against the idea of receiving COVID vaccinations get lots of media attention. This might create a general impression that the religious are now both anti-science and anti-vaccine. However, we now have a far better insight in this. Pew released the results of a new poll on Oct 15, 2021 that gives us data that we can chew over.
I’ll take you now on a brief dip into that and will pull out a few of the not so obvious insights, to be specific just three weird quirks.
Distilling the results – the headline statement
…most U.S. adults who regularly attend religious services voice confidence in their clergy to provide guidance on the coronavirus vaccines – and far more say they have heard their pastor, priest, rabbi or imam encourage people to get vaccinated than have heard their clergy raise doubts about COVID-19 vaccines. But a slim majority of regular worshippers say they have not heard their religious leaders say much about vaccinations either way …
That is quite encouraging and reassuring.
Oh come now, you had to know that a “But” was coming. I really don’t do “here are some survey results” and then just leave it at that.
Survey results such as this are interesting because they do give you a feel for the bigger social picture. Often you will find buried within are nuggets of insight that leave you yelling something along the lines of FFS or similar, or perhaps it is a positive and so we sit back and think “Wow”. My real interest in throwing a spotlight upon this stuff is insight mining.
Insight 1 of 3 – How did this poll play out for Evangelicals?
To be honest, not as expected. I would have anticipated a strong anti-vaccine stance, but what we got here is different. Only 4% of the evangelicals surveyed reported that their pastors had openly discouraged them from being vaccinated. If asked to guess, I would have picked a far larger number.
So the rest were OK with it and their pastors encouraged vaccinations?
Nope, only 21% did this.
The weird twist, and it is a contrast to all the other religious demographics, is that 73% reported that their pastors said more or less nothing about getting or refusing vaccinations.
Give it a bit of thought and this perhaps makes some sense. We know that vast numbers of evangelicals are not simply sipping, but instead are gulping down gallons of the MAGA cool aid, and so they continue to back Mr Two Corinthians.
I suspect, and this is just a guess, that the 73% of pastors are to some degree horrified about all of this politicalisation and polarisation, and that they really don’t go along with it. I also suspect that they rather like the idea of keeping their job, so have opted to keep clear of the topic. I may of course be wrong. Please do drop a comment if you have any alternative thoughts or insights on this 73%.
For the wider context, here is the results chart for this question …
Insight 2 of 3 – Low Trust in the News Media for COVID Guidance – Surprise
Well, OK, not a surprise, but there is an interesting insight buried in the details.
Here are the numbers …
In the above, right across the board, we have very high numbers in the first column – the one person they all trust as the best possible source of information on vaccines is their primary care doctor. That quite frankly is very very reassuring. No matter how Pew sliced or diced the data, their primary care doctor is far more trusted for medical advice than any religious leader, and that was universally true.
That really is how it should be. Going to your religious leader for medical advice is more or less on par with contacting your local bakery and asking them to change the tyre on your car because you have a flat. If you asked nicely and promised to buy lots of donuts then they might indeed give it a go, but it’s really not in their wheelhouse.
You will also notice that I’ve flagged up the political split with a red box and a red arrow. It confirms what we do all know and are familiar with. If you identify as Republican or lean that way, then many have lost confidence in public health officials, elected officials, and especially the news media.
We also know why.
“Fake News” became the idiot-in-chiefs mantra as he pointed the finger at those that refused to pander to his ego. Beyond just that we have also had millions living on a diet of disinformation churned out by Fox News and other similar broadcasters of fiction. Looking above you can see that it has indeed had measurable consequences.
The polarisation is not simply a feeling. Actual data reveals a measurable difference. This is also not about “both sides”, but rather is about just Republicans being radicalised. The Democrat numbers are what you might expect and have not really changed all that much over the years, the Republican numbers have dropped off a cliff – 77% of them do not trust the media.
Insight 3 of 3 – Buried towards the bottom of the survey is one profoundly encouraging set of numbers
About two thirds of the way into the survey, and not mentioned in the highlights is something that I would argue is the most important social insight, something that has deeply profound social implications for the future of US politics.
They asked people how they felt about politics and religion being blended. The majority very clearly said that houses of worship should be politically neutral and stay out of politics.
Here are the numbers …
You know, without even looking, that the one group with the biggest percentage (47%) of people saying, “Yes please, we want lots more politics mixed in with our religious services”, is the evangelicals.
What is encouraging is that a majority of them (51%) said “no” to that, and across almost all other groups, the percentages saying “no” are large.
There is one thing there that I honestly I don’t understand. 16% of atheists said “Yes” to lots more politics in houses of worship. I’m also not religious, and I have honestly no idea what is going on with that 16%.
Another large chunk is that 45% of historically black ticked “yes” to politics. Racial discrimination and oppression is not something they are prepared to remain silent about, so this one I do get.
As I said above, what is rather clear and very encouraging is that majorities right across the board are all saying “Leave your politics at the church door before you step inside”.
Now all we need is to see that translate into politicians keeping Jeffersons wall of separation intact.
The full Pew report is here. (that’s a link to a PDF that runs to 35 pages)