Polls Show Paranormal Beliefs on the Rise, Evolution Belief on the Decline

Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Polls Show Paranormal Beliefs on the Rise, Evolution Belief on the Decline


June 8, 2001. Gallup News Service.

For the full report go to http://www.gallup.com/poll/releases/pr010608.asp.

The Gallup polling service has released its latest audit of what Americans believe about the paranormal and the results show that the Skeptics Society will not soon be going out of business. "The results suggest a significant increase in belief in a number of these experiences over the past decade, including in particular such Halloween-related issues as haunted houses, ghosts and witches. Only one of the experiences tested has seen a drop in belief since 1990: satanic possession. Overall, half or more of Americans believe in two of the issues: psychic or spiritual healing, and extrasensory perception (ESP), and a third or more believe in such things as haunted houses, possession by the devil, ghosts, telepathy, extraterrestrial beings having visited earth, and clairvoyance."

"The results reported here are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,012 adults, 18 years and older, conducted May 10-14, 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls."

There were interesting differences in beliefs by various subpopulations. For example:

Age: Younger Americans--those 18-29--are much more likely than those who are older to believe in haunted houses, witches, ghosts, clairvoyance, and that extraterrestrials have visited earth. There is little significant difference in belief in the other items by age group. Those 30 and older are somewhat more likely to believe in possession by the devil than are the younger group.

Gender: Women are slightly more likely than men to believe in ghosts and that people can communicate with the dead. Men, on the other hand, are more likely than women to believe in only one of the questions asked: have extraterrestrials visited earth at some point in the past?

Education: Americans with the highest levels of education are more likely than others to believe in the power of the mind to heal the body. On the other hand, belief in three of the paranormal phenomena goes up as the educational level of the respondent goes down: possession by the devil, astrology and haunted houses.

Importance of Religion: Not surprisingly, those who say they are religious are more likely to hold devil-related beliefs: 55% of those who say religion is very important in their daily lives say they believe in devil possession, compared to just 14% of those who say religion is "not very" important to them. Religion is also correlated with belief in extraterrestrials: Those for whom religion is very important are less likely to say they believe in beings from other worlds that may have visited this planet than are those who are less religious.

The items were preceded by the following instructions: "For each of the following items I am going to read you, please tell me whether it is something you believe in, something you're not sure about, or something you don't believe in. How about _____?

Psychic or spiritual healing or the power of the human mind to heal the body:

54% Believe

19% Not sure

26% Don't believe

The very first question, however, is fatally flawed and we are surprised that the Gallup polling experts did not see the problem in its wording. There is a clear distinction among psychic healing, spiritual healing, and the effect of mental attitude on health. This question actually involves three different claims, each one of which could be answered independently as yes or no. Most skeptics, for example, would probably say they do not believe in psychic healing; are not sure about spiritual healing (because what does "spiritual" mean? …

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