Monday, March 12, 2012

Republicans in the deep South do not "believe" in evolution.

It is a headline that writes itself.  As David Weigel points out in Slate, the folks at Public Policy Polling have published the results of surveys they did in Mississippi and Alabama.  The press release on the surveys is here

The PPP surveyed 600 likely republican voters in Alabama and 656 likely Republican voters in Mississippi.  The PPP believes that the margins of error on the survey are +/-4.0% and +/-3.8% respectively.  The surveys show that Ron Paul is not going to win either state but that any of the other three GOP candidates could win (although two of them are definitely never going to be president). 

I have no idea whether these surveys are scientifically accurate.  But I did find a couple of results interesting.  Question 19 of the Alabama survey asked the respondents to state whether they were fans of Alabama (the university, not the state or the band) or Auburn.  58% of respondents chose Alabama.  I wonder if the numbers would have been different a year ago when Auburn won the NCAA national championship in Football rather than Alabama.

Question 21 asked people whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Rush Limbaugh.  53% said yes, 33% said no, and 14% are not sure.  In Mississippi, those categories are 51,30, and 20.  At first I thought, those numbers must be lower than normal because of the recent controversy regarding his comments about Sandra Fluke.  However, while I couldn't find a PPP survey on Mr. Limbaugh in Alabama and Mississippi conducted prior to the controversy, I did find a 2009 survey the PPP did on Mr. Limbaugh in another southern state, North Carolina.  It is here and it shows that only 31 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of Mr. Limbaugh.  This suggests that the controversy may actually be helping Mr. Limbaugh.  Victoria Bekiempis at the Village Voice thinks it might be.

Anyway, the PPP also asked respondents whether they thought President Obama was a Christian, a Muslim, or weren't sure.  86% of the people responding in Alabama chose Muslim or not sure (41% weren't sure).  88% of people in Mississippi chose Muslim or not sure (36% chose not sure).  Only 26% of Alabamians said they believed in evolution while 60% believe do not believe in evolution.  In Mississippi, 22% believe in evolution and 66% of the respondents said they did not believe in evolution.

Some people will look at these numbers and use them to suggest that people in Alabama and Mississippi are against science and/or fact-based reality.  However, I don't think it is quite that simple.  I suspect that most respondents are not providing a literal answer to whether they believe in evolution.  Instead, they are answering a question that wasn't asked, "do you believe in God?". Many people think one can only believe science or only religion.  It has been that way since Darwin published "The Origin of Species" if not longer.  Indeed, the conflict between the two has been litigated by, arguably, the most famous lawyer in American history.  This conflict continues through, among other things, attempts to teach creationism and the books of Richard Dawkins.  If we understand the answers to the evolution question as really being the answer to an unasked question about faith, then I don't think the survey results are worthy of the headline given by Slate (and me).  Surveys that show that most people believe in God are not newsworthy.

Finally, to those of you wondering what sports question was asked in Mississippi to replace the Alabama/Auburn question, the answer is none.  Instead, people in Mississippi were asked if they approved of how Haley Barbour issued a lot of pardons during his final days as Governor of Mississippi.  62% of respondents said they disapproved.  The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled last week that there was nothing that it or the Mississippi legislature could do to void the pardons.  So, I guess disapproving of the pardons is all the satisfaction the citizens of Mississippi are going to get on that topic.

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