By Ben Richmond
If you’re looking to make some hasty generalizations about Americans, Rice University’s Portraits of American Life survey results just came out. While Americans are becoming more respectful of the diversity of religions overall, Judaism remains the most respected religion, and Islam the least. So Americans might be Islamaphobes, but at least we aren’t raging Anti-Semites.
The 600-question survey is done every six years, with the same 1,300-or-so people. I thought that was a really small sample size, but you'd be surprised how small your sample can be and still give you a fairly small margin of error. The researchers hope to chart changing attitudes in America "in real time" from 2006 to 2012 presumably to show just how lost a timetraveller would be, if she went from 2006 to last year. Just like a bad conversationalist at a dinner party the survey mostly pertains to religion, morality and politics,
For instance, the survey explored "mutual respect of religions." In 2006, one-third of respondents said they respect all religions equally. In 2012 that number rose to 58 percent.
In both surveys, Judaism was the religion that the highest percentage of participants said they most respected—although that number dropped from 24 percent to 15 percent. No other religion broke 10 percent either year.
And while 20 percent of participants in 2012 said that Islam was the religion they least respected, at least that number didn’t change from 2006. Or shamefully, that number didn’t change. Or maybe that number stayed the same because it's already perfect.
There’s a lot of really interesting tidbits in the survey. For instance:
- Jews are the least likely religious group to agree with the statement that marriage should be defined as one man and one woman, and it dropped from 21 percent to just 12 percent agreeing.
- The definition of marriage is getting more starkly divided along economic lines: people without high school diplomas are the most likely to agree that marriage is between one man and one woman at 75 percent, rising from 72 percent in 2006. People with post-college education were the least likely to agree, at 37 percent, down from 44 percent six years ago. Given the big Supreme Court decisions this week, I wonder if people without high school educations feel under-represented on the court. The whole judicial system is run by people with post-college education, isn’t it?
- Political Engagement is down for whites, Asians and Hispanics, but up for black responders. The Rice researchers attribute this to the president and call it the “Obama effect,” which sounds sort of racist to me. It’s also just confusing because the Obama effect already refers to increased test scores observed in African American students after his nomination. I always thought of the "Obama effect" as something that makes Democrats defend something they protested under Bush.
- Black Americans are also twice as likely to use "God's Law" as their moral compass as compared to Hispanics or whites. Few people of any race admit to using "society" as their moral compass, but I suspect they only think that because it's normal to.
- 71 percent of Americans—across gender, race and party lines—favor a “path to citizenship” for immigrants who are already living and working in America, which makes the House GOP seem like even bigger assholes.