With the 2016 American presidential race under way, we read about polling results daily. Polling is now a billion-dollar-a-year industry—mostly focused on politics and religion—with more than 1,200 polling firms extant.
Princeton University sociologist Robert Wuthnow is the author of almost 40 books on religion and culture. His Inventing American Religion is a broadside against how polling is done today. Well-known groups like Gallup, Pew, and Barna through their religion polling, are complicit, he says, in giving birth to a slippery thing called “American religion.”
Whereas the accuracy of political polling is ultimately held accountable by election results, religion is much more problematic to measure. Religion polls today regularly report on the demise of faith in North America, yet nearly a century ago 91 percent of poll respondents said they believed in God, compared to the 92 percent who said the same in a Pew polljust a few years ago.
Wuthnow’s academic study is not an easy read, but it documents how the polling industry has influenced—and distorted—how religion is understood in America, by its leaders and scholars alike. (Oxford)