Dec 23, 2009

Politics and Faith – a Nielsen Poll

It’s often said that the two things that ought not to be talked about in polite company over the dinner table are politics and religion. With impeccable timing, Nielsen delivers us a

Possum Comitatus — Editor of Pollytics

Possum Comitatus

Editor of Pollytics

It’s often said that the two things that ought not to be talked about in polite company over the dinner table are politics and religion. With impeccable timing, Nielsen delivers us a poll about both that you can wave around at friends and family that deserve a good snarking over the next few days 😛

Parts of this poll were published around the traps in Fairfax media last week – but we’ll take a closer look at it, including the cross-tabs that weren’t reported. It carries a sample size of 1000, giving us an MoE that maxes out around the 3.1% mark – although we’ll be dealing with subsamples here that will generally have margins of error around the 4-5% mark unless stated otherwise.

To get the raw data, Nielsen asked the following questions:

Nielsen questions:
1. I’d like to start by asking you whether you believe in God or a universal spirit?
[If yes] Is that God or a universal spirit?

2. And how certain are you about this belief? Are you: Absolutely certain, Fairly certain, Not too certain, Not at all certain?

3. Which religion do you belong to or most closely identify with…?

4. How important is religion in your life? Is it: Very important, Somewhat important, Not too important, Not at all important?

5. I would like to ask you about some things that some people believe. For each one I read out can you tell me whether you believe it or not: Jesus Christ was a real person who lived 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ was the Son of God, The mother of Jesus Christ was a virgin,  Jesus rose from the dead, Life after death, Heaven, Hell, Miracles, Angels, Astrology, Witches, The devil, UFOs, Psychic powers such as ESP

6. Which of the following statements best describes your view on the origin and development of human beings?
-Human beings developed from earlier forms of life over millions of years in a process guided by God
-Human beings developed from earlier forms of life over millions of years and God played no part in this process
-God created human beings, largely in their present form, at one time in the last 10,000 years or so

7. Which comes closest to your view: [Relevant religious text] is the word of God,
[Relevant religious text] is a book written by men and is not the word of God?

And would you say that: [Relevant religious text] is to be taken literally, word for word or Not everything in [Relevant religious text] should be taken literally, word for word?

8. Which of the following statements best describes your view: There is only one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion or There is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion?

9. If a political candidate in your area actively promoted themselves as a ‘Christian candidate’ would that make you more likely to vote for them, less likely to vote for them or would it make no difference?

10. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “religion and politics should be separate”?

First up – one of the more interesting things in the results was the way respondents who believe in God or a Universal Spirit (“Believers” in the tables and charts below) were also more likely to believe in other meta-phenomena like astrology and UFOs compared to those “Non-Believers” that did not believe in God.

The other interesting cross-tab here is the significant difference between Male and Female respondents.

We’ll run the tables for the two cross-tabs, as well as a scatter diagram to make it visually stand out. Everything is in percentages.

belieftable1 belieftable2

beliefchart1 beliefchart2

Throughout this entire poll, males were far more sceptical than females on just about every topic. I fact, only on the topic of “Miracles” did both male and female levels of belief surpass 50%, and only on the topic of ‘UFO’s” did male belief in the subject matter (38%) exceed female belief (30%). All the other issues named had larger proportions of female believers than male.

On the other chart, it measures the proportion of believers in God or a universal spirit that also believe in a number of selected issues, as well as the proportion of non-believers in God on those same selected issues. If a person believes in God or some Universal Spirit, they are more likely to also believe in astrology, UFOs, miracles etc than atheists or agnostics.

Next up, the evolution, intelligent design, creationism data.

evolutiondemo evolutionstate

Those state estimates can have very small sub sample sizes, so treat them as only broadly indicative rather than statistically rock solid. All states apart from Tasmania are roughly consistent with each other, suggesting that one state is pretty much akin to another on the issues.

The demographic breakdowns though were a bit more interesting. Although evolution had a plurality of support in every demographic except females (perhaps a tidbit worth saving for any snarky, rationalist female friends or relatives you might come across at Christmas! 😛 ) , it only achieved a majority support among Males (50%), 18-24s (50% – but very small sample) and atheists/agnostics at 86% (which is to be expected).

Next up – and really an exercise in stating the obvious – if we take Question 7 on religious texts and break the results down by the responses to questions 2 and 4 on religious certainty and religious importance, we get:

religtext1 religtext2

What we find is that the more certain is a persons belief and the more important religion is to their lives, the more likely it is that they will believe that their religious text is actually the word of God rather than the interpretation of humans. What did surprise me though is the gradual increase between each cohort here. Literal interpretations of religious text aren’t just something that happens when a person becomes a religious fundamentalist – it increases consistently as religion becomes more important to people and they become more certain in their beliefs.

Finally, questions 9 and 10 – whether a political candidate actively promoting themselves as Christian gets an electoral benefit, and the big question of religion and politics being or not being separate.


Among every cohort except women (again!) and believers in God or a Universal Spirit, a candidate promoting themselves as the Christian candidate would be worse off in net term. With “Believers” it’s only a +3 gain, yet among atheists and agnostics it’s a whopping -19!

On the question of whether religion and politics should be separate, it’s an absolutely rock solid conclusion in every cohort – even among believers.


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74 thoughts on “Politics and Faith – a Nielsen Poll

  1. Mailbag | Johnsblog - I Know I'm Right...

    […] Politics and Faith – a Nielsen Poll It’s often said that the two things that ought not to be talked about in polite company over the dinner table are politics and religion. With impeccable timing, Nielsen delivers us a poll about both that you can wave around at friends and family that deserve a good snarking over the next few days Read more on Crikey […]

  2. Politics and Faith – a Nielsen Poll « Guide Weblog

    […] that you can wave around at friends and family that deserve a good snarking over the next few days original. plume432qops […]

  3. ShowsOn

    [Einstein said that energy never dies it just transforms. I believe that the lifeforce or “soul” is a form of energy, though one we can’t comprehend.]
    Einstein didn’t say that energy doesn’t die. One of Einstein’s great insights was that energy and matter are different versions of the same thing, related by the formula E = mc2. It is wrong to quote Einstein as some how supporting a metaphysical belief that he never endorsed.

    Also, there is no evidence that humans, or any other living thing, has a soul. Belief in souls is purely a matter of faith.

  4. David Richards

    The problem is man’s relatively brief lifespan. Not that a sentient Sequoia would fare any better in observing changes on the timescale you would need to to see how life arises.

    Our short lifespans and rather rapid generational shifts also tend to make man very short-sighted temporally speaking, and not think of the consequences of their actions as much as they should. Paradoxically, the short lifespan/rapid generational shift should have resulted in far more social development and progression than has occured. A few 100,000 years, for most of which progress was almost indescernible. A bronze age person would not notice much difference from their time until the 1500s.

  5. BJ

    That was Stanley’s experiment, the first of its kind that produced such remarkable results.
    In the last few years Stanley’s mixture was looked at again with modern methods & technology & amino acids were found, adding more weight to the theory.

    This energy cycle everyone is attempting to describe is the second law of thermodynamics, you should have all learned that one in high school, but it seems that nobody remembers what it is called or from where it came.

  6. Alphonse

    Any bloke knows that you can’t admire the female form for long without its owner using her ESP to spring you. Presumably said owners are aware of their powers.

  7. David Richards

    true Bill

    like a cosmic lotto game

    If you wait long enough, given the billions upon billions of molecular interactions in a dynamic system overflowing with elements, somewhere along the line you get something that can recreate itself. Once you have that, the possibilities really open up.

    Mind you, you do have to wait until a few stars go nova to generate the heavy elements, although it is just possible that life may have developed in a totally different form at an earlier point on elsewhere (a form of life not reliant on the heavier elements).

    The puzzling things are virii. As they require a self-replicating form of life in order to reproduce they could be an indicator of what preceded the ability to replicate, like Da Vinci’s aircraft designs needed a motive power source that didn’t exist in his time, therefore flying machines had to wait 500 years until a lightweight petrol engine was devoloped in the early 20th Century. How long did a virus-like non-reproductive precursor to life hang around gradually modifying until it got things right and was able to reproduce?

    There was a famous serious of experiments where the various elements of the likely early atmosphere and oceans of the Earth were used to fill a glass reaction vessel, and then subjected to inputs of high energy that produced simple amino acids. Now if that could happen in a short time on a small scale, scale that up to planet size and give it a few billion years – voila!

    Of course, if you had an immensely large number of near identical planetary laboratories with slight variations in conditions, you can then observe what variety random chance can produce.

  8. Bushfire Bill

    To get an idea of geological time scales consider 0.1835 millimetres. A very small distance. This is how far the Australian tectonic plate moves north in one day.

    In one year it moves 67mm, or 6.7cm.

    In ten years it move 67cm.

    In a thousand years it moves 67 metres.

    In 100,000 years the figure is 6.7 kilometres

    In 10,000,000 years it has moved 670 kilometres.

    In 50,000,000 years (which is about how long it has been moving) it’s 3,350 kilometres away from where it started.

    And all from just under 0.2mm per day.

    That’s geological time.

    Here’s another example:

    If a middling mountain in the Himalayas weathers by 1/100th of a millimetre per year, due to natural erosion, in 50,000,000 years it will be a flat flood plain. Completely level.

    Now that we have geological time in context, one would think that in 4 billion years, just about anything can happen in the evolutionary stakes. We don’t need God, or a Great Spirit, or a Life Force.

    We just need time.

    And when we think, given all the exigencies of life and all the threats to our existence in the past, that’s it must be a miracle we as a species survived at all, the answer should be: “Yes, it is! An incredibly long series of lucky breaks.”

    The difference between our ancestors (whose descendants survived) and the protoplasmic, jelly-like life form in the next rock pool to them (whose ancestors didn’t survive) is that we’re around to marvel that we’re still here.

    If we take our existence as predetermined by a God or a Life Force, then yes, it’s a genuine miracle we survived. If we take into account all the uncountable others who didn’t survive, it just boils down to a matter of time… and luck… molecule upon molecule, experiment upon experiment, chance upon chance. Faith versus Time.

  9. David Richards

    That’s the problem with the whole alien visitor thing – it’s just not credible, unless they have lifespans as long as sequoias, or they found some physics “cheat”, which severely reduces the chances. The chances of such things are not 0, but they’re as close as makes no difference.

    A pity. It kinda spoils SF for me. But then so do nearby explosions in space damaging spacecraft when there is no shockwave transmission medium, or the same spacecraft doing aerobatics with no “aero”, or suddenly stopping in violation of laws of inertia. The worst thing though about most SF is it is highly militarised.. why not some civilian spacefarers? Doctor Who is the only one I can think of off the top of my head.

  10. zoomster

    Except, zaphodity, Babel fish don’t exist, so your quote from Hitchhikers doesn’t sum anything up at all.

    Don, yes, you’re correct. And the basic argument against UFOs being alien spaceships is that of physics – it would take tens of thousands of years for anyone to get to us, so why would they bother?

  11. Andrew Norton » Blog Archive » The public’s view of religion and politics

    […] Nielsen poll had however been scooped by Pollytics blog, which reported during the week that most Australians think that religion and politics should be […]

  12. zaphodity

    Hranf : “Would you agree that the body has its own form of electrical current ?” Not in any meaningful sense.

    Dude…If it didn’t…You would be dead.

  13. zaphodity

    Discussing something with you is in itself a “delusional metaphor”…Happy boxing day.

  14. zaphodity


    Intresting you say that…Ever heard of the Flying Spaghetti Monster…Well he created the universe !…The arguement is basically “Well can you PROVE he did or didn’t” ?..The response is usually “no”..To which you say “Well then, how can I believe a God created the universe”….”If I can’t prove THAT as well” ?…You can’t..Same goes for UFO’s I suppose.

    A line from Hitch hikers guide to the galaxy pretty much sums it up:

    “I refuse to prove that I exist” says god. “For proof denies faith and without faith I am nothing”, “But” says man “The babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it”?. “It proves you exist so therefore you don’t” QED. “Oh dear” says god “I hadn’t thought of that” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic. “Oh, that was easy” says man.

  15. zaphodity


    Body doesn’t have an electrical field huh?


  16. don

    I would have had trouble with the question “do you believe in UFOs?”

    UFO = Unidentified Flying Object.

    Of course there are UFOs – whenever a bird flies past that I cannot identify, it is a UFO – or in birdoes speak, LQBB – Little quick brown bird.

    Sometimes UFOs are subsequently identified as high flying aircraft, meteors, auroras, whatever.

    Sometimes no positive identification can be found. It remains a UFO.

    The question should, I think, have been “do you think some UFOs are aliens from another planet or outer space?” which I suspect is what they meant.

    In which case I would have been able to answer in the negative.

  17. TOPEC

    It is evident that religious beliefs and affiliations of politicians have influenced decisions of Australian parliaments and governments.

    An egregious example was the repeal by the Commonwealth Parliament in March 1998, of the democratically elected Northern Territory Assembly’s legislation which permitted strictly regulated voluntary euthanasia in that jurisdiction. A large majority of the population supported the measures, which, briefly, had allowed people the freedom, to make decisions about ending their own lives, and within reasonable constraints, to render medical assistance to carry out their wishes, without threat of criminal prosecution and imprisonment. The two most prominent supporters in our National Parliament of the Bill to repeal the Voluntary Euthanasia Act were Kevin Andrews, now again a shadow minister in the Tony Abbott Opposition; and the then leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley – both of them reportedly devoted members of the Roman Catholic Church. The criminal law is still being hijacked by religious people and their institutions, such as churches, to prohibit recourse to voluntary euthanasia by the far greater number of citizens who do not follow their religions, at least in this respect.

    Another example of political influence by religion has been discrimination by Australia’s overseas aid program against health and social development organisations, under pressure on the Howard Government from the Catholic Senator Brian Harradine, if they advocated contraception or supported abortion.

    More recently, the government of Kevin Rudd, himself a conspicuous religious conservative, has denied same sex couples the freedom to marry.

    Candidates for election and members of parliament should be obliged to declare their religious interests and commitments, so that voters can predict the likely influence of their beliefs and the institutions they represent, on political decisions and actions which will affect all citizens. It is nonsense to claim that these interests and commitments should be protected from disclosure and public scrutiny because they are ‘private matters’.

    After all, we are now possibly within an election of having a Liberal National Party government which would be powerfully influenced by religious and social control commitments of devotees of the Roman Catholic radical right. Shades of The Movement of the 1950s? Without the communists; and, more regrettably, albeit rather sentimentally, without the redoubtable Archbishop Mannix! And on the other side too, bi’god!

  18. Hrafn

    “By ‘never dies’ I mean it doesn’t stop…Just transforms” = using death as a (not particularly insightful) metaphor.

    “Would you agree that the body has its own form of electrical current ?” Not in any meaningful sense.

    A defibrillator does not mean “that the body has its OWN form of electrical current” — merely that an electrical current can be EXTERNALLY induced through it (as can be done to pretty much anything, given a sufficiently high voltage). This is exactly the sort of wooly thinking that renders your “point” meaningless.

  19. zaphodity


    Never said it was “ALIVE” mate…By “never dies” I mean it doesn’t stop…Just transforms…And exactly what “metaphor” did I use anyways?…lol…Would you agree that the body has its own form of electrical current ?…Well it does…But I guess that’s “scientifically meaningless”…You totally missed my point…Next time you mortally injure yourself performing a jackass routine for Youtube and they re-start your heart with a defibrulator maybe you will kind of understand what I meant….lol..Merry xmas !

  20. Musrum

    [How can you be a “fundamentalist Atheist”. This is the most patently absurd statement; give an atheist, any atheist, Gods address and they will change their belief.]

    You can call be a fundy atheist. Give me gods address and I will go rock his* roof.

  21. Hrafn


    Energy is ALIVE? (It would have to be for the statement “energy never dies” to make sense.) Does that mean that when we turn on a light we’re actually enslaving the electrical energy? (Cute little electrons in slave-shackles anybody?) Overuse/loose-use of metaphors tend to yield silly and scientifically meaningless conversations.

  22. zaphodity

    This is for David Richards:

    David ?….Many many many moons ago when Sarah Palin used to read the bible while astride her trusty dinosaur “Trigger”, there lived multiple species of “humans”. Those different species screwed each other and eventually created the “V” series we now know as Homo sapiens. Basically the human race is the end result of thousands of years of planet-wide inbreedig. So its safe to assume that if a E.T. did land there would be someone out there willing to screw it. Life ALWAYS finds a way.

  23. David Richards

    proves nothing Trubbs – plenty of people’s members get rigid thinking of other species (no kiwi jokes) and others fail to launch when faced with their own.

    The acid test is mixing the respective packets of genetic material, and see if a sprog starts to grow.

    Now this would entail a willing human female to participate for the sake of science.

    I believe this is one scientific experiment that breaches all ethical and moral guidelines.

    Even an attempt at in vitro fertilisation would be unthinkable, particularly if some half-human/half-Andrews embryo was created as in the original series of ‘V’.

  24. zaphodity

    Einstein said that energy never dies it just transforms. I believe that the lifeforce or “soul” is a form of energy, though one we can’t comprehend. By saying that energy doesn’t die, just “transforms”…here’s an example. You place a very light paper windmill
    over the naked flame from a candle, not so it burns but it just spins. Originally the windmill was inert and not moving, one form of energy transforms into another…Causing the windmill to spin and in turn generating another form of energy. Thats kinda what I believe happens to your “spirit” after you die…One form of energy transforms into another and so on forever…By the way…Sorry if I gave you a headache…lol… and merry xmas !

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