Polls Could be Wrong on How Many Atheists are Actually in America

Study by psychologists suggest the number of atheists may actually be twice as much as reported in major polls.

New research suggests the number of American atheists may be larger than otherwise projected in past studies.[/tweetit] Although atheism is showing a growing trend in the U.S., Pew and Gallup both have fixed this number at 10 percent in their latest surveys. However, there may be many more atheists who simply don't want to publicly accept their non-belief and prefer to lie on the survey.

Polls Could be Wrong on How Many Atheists are Actually in America[/tweetthis]

Will Gervais and Maxine Najle, psychologists at the University of Kentucky, suggest a lot of atheists simply don't reveal their true beliefs in the tests. They insist that there is still a lot of social stigma attached to being atheist, which discourages them from revealing the truth in the surveys. It's common for respondents to lie on surveys, giving responses they may feel are more “socially desirable.” Social desirability is the most common problem in all kinds of surveys, and both psychologists see no reason why the same will not be true of this kind of survey as well. Thanks to the fear of social stigma, respondents may have given misleading responses that have resulted in biased results.

The scholars have come out with a report that suggests the number of atheists in America may actually be double what surveys show. Gervais hints at 26 percent, insisting that if atheists knew there are many more people like them, they would feel more encouraged to respond more honestly to the surveys.

The observations by the two scholars come from an experiment they conducted. They polled two groups of people, one with 2,000 people and the other with 1,000 people. The former group were given a questionnaire without any reference to God with it. The latter was given a questionnaire that had questions pertaining to faith in God. the experiment showed that when confronted with questions about God, people are more likely to give wrong information. Najle says according to their studies, 1 in 3 Americans could possibly be atheists.

The report will be published in the next journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science.


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