I was disturbed by the findings, namely, that 6 out of 10 evangelicals thought that torture is acceptable under the right circumstances.
Well, not so fast.
Let’s read together (as my new blogging acquaintance Brittany Farmer suggested):
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey.
The Washington Region Religious Campaign Against Torture rallied on Capitol Hill in March 2008. More than half of people who attend services at least once a week — 54 percent — said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is “often” or “sometimes” justified. Only 42 percent of people who “seldom or never” go to services agreed, according to the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified — more than six in 10 supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were least likely to back it. Only four in 10 of them did.
The analysis is based on a Pew Research Center survey of 742 American adults conducted April 14-21. It did not include analysis of groups other than white evangelicals, white non-Hispanic Catholics, white mainline Protestants and the religiously unaffiliated, because the sample size was too small.
The president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Leith Anderson, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The survey asked: “Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?” Roughly half of all respondents — 49 percent — said it is often or sometimes justified. A quarter said it never is.
The religious group most likely to say torture is never justified was Protestant denominations — such as Episcopalians, Lutherans and Presbyterians — categorized as “mainline” Protestants, in contrast to evangelicals. Just over three in 10 of them said torture is never justified. A quarter of the religiously unaffiliated said the same, compared with two in 10 white non-Hispanic Catholics and one in eight evangelicals.
Brittany rightly points out there are a whole lot of problems with this study. First, they administered the poll after a week-long ‘debate’ about the topic. Good time, people. Second, this poll simply reinforces the notion that when it comes to politics, minorities don’t matter. Again, good job, people. Third, what about non-Christian religious people? Let’s at least be fair if we’re going to start comparing.
I agree with Brittany. Those are all big, big problems.
But there’s an even bigger problem staring us right in the face. It’s so obvious that you might miss it — so I bolded and italicized it for you above.
Anyone who’s taken one course in statistics or any of the social sciences (which give you a crash course in studies like this) will know that the first thing to think about when it comes to surveys and/or polls is sample size. If you don’t have a big enough sample size, your results will inevitably be skewed.
So I ask you, CNN and Pew Research Center, do you think 742 white Evangelical men is a big enough sample size?
To put this in perspective, I attend a church called Riverview. They have roughly 3,000 in attendance each week. So let’s just say that one fifth of those attendees are adult male (which is a lowball, if anything). That means Riverview, which is one church in one city in one state, has 600 white adult Evangelical males in attendance each week. And we all know that not every member of a church attends each week, which means it’s more likely than not that more than 742 white adult Evangelical males attend Riverview regularly.
So, CNN is claiming that the religious group most likely to support torture is white adult Evangelical males, and they have concluded this by surveying 742 men, which is fewer than regularly attend my own church.
That, my friends, is the definition of irresponsible statistics and irresponsible journalism.