Survey: White evangelicals say US no longer a Christian nation

This was the headline of the RNS (Religion News Service) article on a recent survey from PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) and Brookings.

The survey covered a wide variety of subjects. When mainstream news media covered the story, they emphasized immigration, especially the finding that most Americans favor reform that includes a path to citizenship.

In this article, I focus on a different issue that has not been picked up elsewhere. I think it helps put things in perspective. I’ll discuss other aspects of the study in later articles.


According to this study, 70% of all Americans believe the country is still in recession. Eighty percent of conservatives believe this. (They didn’t report results for evangelicals, but I assume they are above average in this respect.)

This is an astounding result. NBER, the (private) organization that officially estimates the starting and ending dates of recessions, said the recession ended in June, 2009, seven years before this survey was taken. In fact, this is one of the longest economic expansions in American history.

How do Americans define a recession? I assume they define it in term of the growth of the economy, or GDP. Perhaps they conflate a shrinking economy with a stagnant one, though that is incorrect. GDP estimates are produced quarterly, and are reported on by every significant news outlet. In fact, news channels often speculate about these numbers in advance. GDP estimates are revised after a month, and these revisions are also widely reported. There have been 28 GDP reports since the recession ended, not to mention revisions and advance estimates. In virtually every case, there has been positive growth. How can people confuse all these plus signs with minus signs? This is obviously a subject of great interest to them. How can they be so screwed up?

It is clear that economic growth has been uneven. For decades, a disproportionate share of economic growth has gone to the wealthy, while everyone else has largely stagnated, or even lost ground. Perhaps people simply ignored the facts and only considered their personal financial status. Such egocentrism would be unhealthy, but at least it would be comprehensible. Yet the survey shows that nearly 40% of those who say their finances are in excellent shape believe America is still in recession. There is something far worse than subjectivity and self-centeredness going on.

Obviously the news media are doing an incredibly bad job of conveying the facts. Republicans and “conservative” media are highly motivated to deprecate the state of the economy under Obama. While PRRI/Brookings breaks out results by media source for some questions, they do not in the present case. I think it highly likely that many media outlets disinform people about the state of the economy. But given that they accurately report GDP statistics and employment data, it is still inexcusable for people to be so abysmally misinformed about the basic economic facts of life.

A much better headline for the PRRI/Brookings study would be:

70% of Americans have their Head up their Ass

- and 80% of Conservatives

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