How the Social Values of Americans Have Changed

In the years following 9/11 and the Hurricane Katrina tragedy, you might expect that Americans’ desire for security and a sense of belonging has gone up. But not so, discovered a team of marketing researchers from the University of Oregon. They asked people to pick their top social value and found that the craving for security has gone down. While 20.6 percent of people chose security as their most important social value in 1976, only 12.4 percent chose it in 2007 (though it is possible, the researchers admit, that the recent financial crisis has raised concerns about security once again).
The desire for self-respect, on the other hand, has become even more important to Americans, picked as the top social value by 21.1 percent of people in 1976 and 28.8 percent of people in 2007. To marketing professor Lynn Kahle, this suggests that, more than before, people are relying on themselves to solve their problems. Other values going up: “warm relationships with others” (from 16.2 percent to 20.9 percent) and “fun-enjoyment-excitement” (4.5 percent to 9.3 percent.)
What accounts for the shift? The researchers aren’t sure, but Eda Gurel-Atay, the doctoral student who led the study, thinks social networking sites may have something to do with it:

Without Facebook, for instance, we might not contact our friends from primary school or others from years ago, but now we can connect with them, talk to them, share our experiences, tell them what we have done. That phenomenon may help a lot in explaining the increase in the importance of “warm relationships with others,” but this study did not look directly at such influences.

Who Rejects Basic Big Bang Science?

In a national poll last week, Daily Kos asked 1,200 voters:

Most astronomers believe the universe formed about 13.7 billion years ago in a massive event called the big bang. Do you think that’s about right or do think the universe was created much more recently?

The results:

As Joshua Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education points out:

The South and the Republicans are the only groups in the same neighborhood in terms of rejecting basic knowledge about the universe. Disappointing, but not entirely surprising.

Beliefs About Evolution, Stem Cells, and Cloning

The latest poll on these topics comes from the 2010 Virginia Commonwealth University Life Sciences Survey, which asked more than 1,000 people which of three statements is closest to their views on the origin of biological life (as the National Center for Science Education points out, the wording of the statements is similar but not identical to the standard Gallup choices). The results show that 43 percent of respondents believe “God directly created biological life in its present form at one point in time,” 24 percent think “biological life developed over time from simple substances, but God guided this process,” and 18 percent think “biological life developed over time from simple substances, but God did not guide this process.”
It should come as no shock that:

Those who say the Bible is the actual word of God are more likely than others to adopt a creation perspective about the origins of life and report that the theory of evolution conflicts with their religious beliefs. For example, 69 percent of those who believe that the Bible is the actual word of God hold a creation perspective on the origins of life. Among those who believe that the Bible is God’s word but not everything in it should be interpreted literally, 35 percent hold a creation perspective, 42 percent say life evolved with God’s guidance during the process, and 11 percent hold a natural selection perspective. A majority (56 percent) of those who believe the Bible is written by men adopt a natural selection perspective, 18 percent say life evolved with God’s guidance during the process, and 12 percent say God directly created life in its present form.

When asked how much they’ve heard about evolution, 76 percent of respondents said “a lot” or “some,” while 23 percent said “not too much” or “nothing.” More than half—53 percent—said they thought the evidence on evolution is widely accepted within the scientific community, while 31 percent said they thought many scientists have serious doubts about it—and their view on this matter appears to be connected to their personal views on evolution.

Overall, 42 percent said the theory of evolution conflicted with their own religious beliefs, while 43 percent said evolution and their religious beliefs are mostly compatible.
The majority of respondents—71 percent—still favor stem cell research that doesn’t involve human embryos, though 62 percent are either strongly or somewhat in favor of embryonic stem cell research (a number that’s gone up a bit in the last couple of years)—and those who say they’re clear on the differences between the types of stem cells are more likely to favor this kind of research.

And a majority—58 percent—strongly oppose human cloning, yet 55 percent favor therapeutic cloning (a number that has slowly been on the rise).
When it comes to science more generally, 83 percent think new developments have helped make society better, while just 8 percent think scientific developments haven’t helped society; yet 58 percent still believe that “scientific research these days doesn’t pay enough attention to the moral values of society.”

Americans’ Views on Prayer

According to a new USA Today/Gallup poll, 83 percent of Americans believe there is a God who answers prayers. Of the rest, 9 percent say there is a God who doesn’t answer prayers, while 5 percent believe there is no God.
Overall, a large majority—75 percent—reject the idea that prayer is effective only if it’s done regularly, and 80 percent reject the notion that prayer is effective only for people who hold certain religious beliefs. (Click on images for larger view.)

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