Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Yeah, i’m a social stats geek—so?

Thanks to Dave Sundwall at A Soft Answer, who turned me on a few weeks ago* to the Pew Center’s study of sociopolitical views held by Mormons in the US. It took me a while to get through it properly, but it was worth it. There’s some interesting stuff in there, but unfortunately a lot of what people seem to be taking away from it a simple comparison of percentages, concluding that all it says is that Mormons are all hyperconservative (but with an intriguingly nuanced view of abortion). This isn’t what the report says, though.

Well, that is, it does say that Mormons are generally more sociopolitically conservative than the US population overall. It’s the details that make that the wrong conclusion to draw.

First of all, there are some interesting regional differences. Unfortunately, the study didn’t appear to separate people out by where they grew up, but rather only by where they live. Given that lots of wards and branches across the US are populated by Mormons who grew up in the jello belt, i suspect that the findings mask what i believe is a truth about Mormonism and sociopolitical leanings: It isn’t that Mormons are generally conservative, it’s that Mormons generally hold sociopolitical views that more or less match the population they grew up with—but most US Mormons are from sociopolitically conservative parts of the country, and that skews the overall results. The Pew Center’s results give us no way of actually determining whether my expectation is true, but it hints that it may be more true than false.

Another interesting finding: Converts really are different than lifelong Mormons. This may be a regional effect, as well, of course—there are likely to be more lifelong Mormons from areas that have a large number of Mormons. I really wish the Pew Center had reported the results of multivariate (and nonlinear!) regression analyses—i know they have the ability to do so, given the people they have on staff, so why they don’t release that sort of thing i don’t know.

One really interesting thing is the age difference—younger Mormons are more likely to have religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices that are associated with higher degrees of religious devoutness. I don’t know if this stems from younger Mormons being actually more devout in general or younger non-devout nominal Mormons being more likely to self-identify as non-Mormon (and therefore not part of this survey)—it’d be interesting to know.

And finally, the last thing i’d like to point out is that a clear majority of Mormons polled state that there is one true way to interpret Mormon teachings. To be honest, this amused me—i mean, i suspect that what people were saying was one of two things: either “i know how to interpret Mormon teachings, and i’m right” (yeah, and every Mormon who disagrees with you on stuff like caffeinated beverages feels the same way), or “our prophet has the correct interpretation” (which is more interesting, since the respondent wouldn’t necessarily know what the one true interpretation might be).

Yeah, it may well be true that there is one correct interpretation of Mormon teachings—i suspect there is, though i don’t know that i’d give a firm “yes” in answer to that question, maybe a “if you mean does God know, then yes; if you mean does any mortal know all truth, then no”, but I doubt that would fit on the form—but i still haven’t seen a comprehensive Mormon catechism,** you know?

* If you follow this link, ignore the comments—somehow, it devolved instantly into namecalling and ax-grinding over immigration issues.

** I own a copy of the most recent Roman Catholic catechism. It’s a fascinating reference work, really—i’m kind of jealous. Yeah, we’ve got the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, but it’s just not the same.

1 comment:

Heather the Mama Duk said...

It would be very interesting to know the difference between "us" (the normal people) and "them" (UT Mormons).