Aug 3, 2018 9:01 am

When writing about survey data, 51% might not mean a ‘majority’

Mark Twain once said that “the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – ’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.” That advice is especially apt when writing about survey data.

For many people, “majority” is a word so common that they rarely have to think twice about what it means. But it’s a different matter for polling organizations like Pew Research Center. By their nature, polls provide an estimate of what a large group of people say, since they’re based on a sample rather than the entire population. This basic reality can create challenges for writers who want to summarize poll findings in a precise way.

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Topics: Polling, Research Methods

Aug 2, 2018 1:30 pm

5 facts about the death penalty

The Vatican announced in August that Pope Francis has changed the Catholic Church’s teaching to fully oppose the death penalty. The announcement comes after a Pew Research Center survey showed an uptick in the share of Americans who favor capital punishment for those convicted of murder. Over the long term, however, public support for the death penalty has declined significantly, as has the number of executions in the United States.

As the debate over the death penalty continues in the U.S. and worldwide, here are five facts about the issue:

1The annual number of U.S. executions peaked at 98 in 1999 and has fallen sharply in the years since. In 2017, 23 inmates were executed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. That’s slightly higher than the year before, when 20 people were executed, but still well below the number of inmates annually put to death in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Just eight states – Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Texas and Virginia – accounted for all executions in 2017, compared with 20 states in 1999.

Annual number of U.S. executions in 2017 is far below 1999 peak

2In 2017, for the second year in a row, the U.S. was not among the world’s top five countries in executionsaccording to Amnesty International, a human rights organization that opposes the practice. The U.S. ranked eighth internationally, behind China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan, Egypt and Somalia. Overall, there were at least 993 executions in 23 nations in 2017, down slightly from 1,032 in 2016. The international total includes only cases Amnesty was able to confirm – the report notes that some countries intentionally conceal death penalty proceedings. In the case of China, for example, the state may well carry out more executions than all other countries combined. Indeed, Cornell University Law School estimates that the Chinese government executed about 2,400 people in 2015, and has carried out thousands of additional executions in the years since.

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Category: 5 Facts

Topics: Death Penalty, Criminal Justice, Social Values, Religion and U.S. Politics

Aug 2, 2018 7:00 am

Even before recent revelations, U.S. Catholics gave Pope Francis declining ratings on sex abuse scandal

Pope Francis meets with bishops in Krakow in 2016. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images)

The long-simmering Catholic Church sex abuse scandal has been back in the headlines following new allegations against Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., who resigned from the College of Cardinals last weekend. Pope Francis accepted the resignation — reportedly making McCarrick the first cardinal in church history to resign over allegations of sexual abuse. In addition, some church officials have been accused of having long known about at least some of the allegations against McCarrick.

Even before news stories about McCarrick came to light in recent weeks, U.S. Catholics were increasingly unhappy with the church’s handling of the sex abuse scandal. A January 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that just 45% of U.S. Catholics said Pope Francis is doing an “excellent” (13%) or “good” (33%) job addressing the crisis, down from 55% who said this in 2015, the last time the question was asked. The same recent survey also found that 46% of American Catholics said he is doing only a “fair” (27%) or “poor” (19%) job handling the sex abuse scandal, up from 34% three years prior.

U.S. Catholics less positive about Pope Francis' handling of specific issuesThe 2018 survey was conducted just days before Pope Francis’ January trip to South America, which included a stop in Chile, where questions also have been raised about the church’s handling of widespread sex abuse allegations there.

The survey also found that U.S. Catholics’ ratings of Pope Francis had become less positive on some other issues, including spreading the Catholic faith and standing up for traditional morals. But seven-in-ten still said he was doing an excellent or good job in these areas. And an overwhelming majority (84%) expressed a favorable opinion of the pope overall, roughly unchanged in recent years.

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Topics: Religious Beliefs and Practices, Religious Leaders

Aug 1, 2018 12:01 pm

Trump’s approval ratings so far are unusually stable – and deeply partisan

President Trump during his speech at the “Make America Great Again Rally” at the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall in Tampa on July 31. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Over the course of an eventful first 18 months in office, President Donald Trump’s approval ratings have remained remarkably stable. There has also been a wider gap between Republicans’ and Democrats’ views of Trump than for any other U.S. president in the modern era of polling.

Four-in-ten Americans approve of Trump’s job performance while 54% say they disapprove, according to a Pew Research Center survey in June. Trump’s approval ratings have hardly moved in surveys conducted by the Center this year, and his current rating is nearly identical to the 39% who said they approved of his performance in February 2017, shortly after his inauguration.

Trump’s steady ratings early in his tenure are unique among recent presidents. And while his ratings are also the most polarized along party lines, this divide represents a continuation of a trend seen in assessments of recent presidents, including Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

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Topics: Federal Government, Presidential Approval, Political Polarization, U.S. Political Figures, Donald Trump

Jul 31, 2018 1:03 pm

Younger adults, independents more critical of their district’s past congressional candidate fields

About two-thirds (64%) of Americans offer positive evaluations of the quality of candidates who have run for Congress in their district in recent years. But younger adults were less likely than older Americans – and partisans were more likely than independents – to say this, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted earlier this year.

Most adults rate the quality of past congressional candidates positively; young people are divided

Overall, Republicans and Democrats were about equally likely to say their district’s past congressional candidate pool has been good, but there were substantial differences in these views between those who identify with the parties and those who lean toward a party. While 74% of Democrats said recent candidate pools were of high quality, just 48% of Democratic-leaning independents said the same, with a similar gap between the views of Republicans and GOP leaners.

There was also a substantial age gap in these views: Just 45% of adults younger than 30 said the quality of congressional candidates in their district’s last several elections was good. By contrast, more than six-in-ten of those in older age groups said this, including about three-quarters of those 65 and older (77%). Younger people also tended to offer more negative evaluations of past candidate pools for other levels of office. (The age gap is partly the result of younger people being less likely to identify as partisans, but a gap remains even when that is taken into account.)

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Topics: Congress, Federal Government, Political Polarization, U.S. Political Parties

Jul 31, 2018 10:00 am

Americans are far more religious than adults in other wealthy nations

Members of a New York Pentecostal church. (Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

In 1966, Time magazine famously examined whether the United States was on a path to secularization when it published its now-iconic “Is God Dead?” cover. However, the question proved premature: The U.S. remains a robustly religious country and the most devout of all the rich Western democracies.

In fact, Americans pray more often, are more likely to attend weekly religious services and ascribe higher importance to faith in their lives than adults in other wealthy, Western democracies, such as Canada, Australia and most European states, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.

For instance, more than half of American adults (55%) say they pray daily, compared with 25% in Canada, 18% in Australia and 6% in Great Britain. (The average European country stands at 22%.) Actually, when it comes to their prayer habits, Americans are more like people in many poorer, developing nations – including South Africa (52%), Bangladesh (57%) and Bolivia (56%) – than people in richer countries.

As it turns out, the U.S. is the only country out of 102 examined in the study that has higher-than-average levels of both prayer and wealth. In every other country surveyed with a gross domestic product of more than $30,000 per person, fewer than 40% of adults say they pray every day.  Read More

Topics: Religion and Society, Religious Beliefs and Practices

Jul 30, 2018 1:30 pm

Newsroom employment dropped nearly a quarter in less than 10 years, with greatest decline at newspapers

Newsroom employment declined 23% between 2008 and 2017Newsroom employment across the United States continues to decline, driven primarily by job losses at newspapers. And even though digital-native news outlets have experienced some recent growth in employment, too few newsroom positions were added to make up for recent losses in the broader industry, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics survey data.

From 2008 to 2017, newsroom employment in the U.S. dropped by 23%. In 2008, about 114,000 newsroom employees – reporters, editors, photographers and videographers – worked in five industries that produce news: newspaper, radio, broadcast television, cable and “other information services” (the best match for digital-native news publishers). By 2017, that number declined to about 88,000, a loss of about 27,000 jobs.

Newspaper newsroom employees declined by 45% between 2008 and 2017This decline in overall newsroom employment was driven primarily by one sector: newspapers. Newspaper newsroom employees dropped by 45% over the period, from about 71,000 workers in 2008 to 39,000 in 2017.

Of the five industries studied, notable job growth occurred only in the digital-native news sector. Since 2008, the number of digital-native newsroom employees increased by 79%, from about 7,400 workers to about 13,000 in 2017. This increase of about 6,000 total jobs, however, fell far short of offsetting the loss of about 32,000 newspaper newsroom jobs during the same period. (A separate Pew Research Center analysis of reported layoffs at newspapers and digital-native news outlets found that nearly a quarter of the digital outlets examined experienced layoffs between January 2017 and April 2018, despite the overall increase in employment in this sector.)

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Topics: Newspapers, State of the News Media, Work and Employment, News Media Sectors

Jul 27, 2018 10:02 am

Turnout in this year’s U.S. House primaries is up, especially on the Democratic side

Voters at a polling station in Los Angeles for California’s primary election on June 5. (Xinhua/Zhao Hanrong via Getty Images)

Americans appear to be more engaged with this year’s midterm elections than they typically are. Not only do about half of registered voters report being more enthusiastic than usual about voting, up from 40% in 2014, but turnout has surged in the 31 states that already have held their congressional primaries – particularly among Democrats.

In those states, nearly 13.6 million people – or 10.1% of registered voters – have voted in Democratic primaries for the U.S. House of Representatives, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of state election returns. By this point in the 2014 midterm election cycle, fewer than 7.4 million people – or 6% of registered voters – had cast ballots in Democratic House primaries. (The same 31 states have held primaries as by this date in 2014.)

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Topics: Congress, Voter Participation, Federal Government, 2018 Election

Jul 26, 2018 12:02 pm

Most Americans say higher ed is heading in wrong direction, but partisans disagree on why

Tracy Camp teaches a class related to systems, networks and security at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. Camp is trying to raise awareness of problems facing universities as they deal with shortages in staffing, classrooms and office space due to increased enrollment in computer science courses. (Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

About six-in-ten Americans (61%) say the higher education system in the United States is going in the wrong direction, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. But Republicans and Democrats differ over why they think this is the case.

Majority of Americans say higher education is going in wrong directionAbout three-quarters (73%) of Republicans and those who lean to the Republican Party say higher education is headed in the wrong direction. Democrats and Democratic leaners are more evenly split – 52% say higher education is going in the wrong direction and 46% say it’s going in the right direction. Among Democrats, younger adults are the most likely to offer a negative opinion: For example, 61% of Democrats ages 18 to 34 say the higher education system is going in the wrong direction, compared with 48% of Democrats ages 50 to 64 and 40% of those 65 and older. Meanwhile, 54% of Democrats ages 35 to 49 say the same.

Partisan differences in attitudes about the direction of the higher education system are consistent with findings from 2017 Pew Research Center surveys, which found that Republicans feel colder toward college professors than Democrats do and that Republicans have grown increasingly negative about the impact of colleges and universities on the direction of the country.

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Topics: Educational Attainment, College, Political Polarization, Education, U.S. Political Parties

Jul 26, 2018 10:04 am

More Americans anticipate downsides than upsides from gene editing for babies

(Andrew Brookes/Getty Images)

About half of Americans (52%) believe that within the next 50 years science will find a way to eliminate virtually all birth defects through gene editing. But majorities of Americans harbor at least some reservations about the impact on society of more widespread use of gene editing, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Larger shares of Americans believe negative effects of widespread use of gene editing are very likelyRoughly six-in-ten Americans (58%) say one very likely negative effect that will result from gene editing is that it will increase inequality because it will only be available for the wealthy. Another 54% express concern that, even if gene editing is appropriate for certain purposes, it will lead to a slippery slope, with some using it in morally unacceptable ways.

Far fewer Americans see upsides if gene editing for babies were to become widely available. About one-in-five (18%) consider it very likely that gene editing would pave the way for new medical advances that benefit society, and 16% have a similar degree of confidence that it would help people live longer and better quality lives. Roughly a third or more consider each of these as not too or not at all likely to transpire.

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Topics: Health, Science and Innovation, Technology Adoption, Parenthood