A recent survey was performed by the Barna group on questions about American attitude toward homsexuality and the broader questions of LGBTQ ‘rights’ (I choose to place rights in inverted commas because I believe the word to be seriously over- and misused. Today people claim ‘rights’ to almost anything without any grasp of what a ‘right’ may be. But this is fodder for another post). It makes various observations about the increasing support for various LGBTQ positions among most people, with some exceptions for ‘practicing Protestant.’
I do not wish to question the results or to ask why the change has happened. Rather, I am interested in a specific methodology they used. For those unaware, the Barna group is an explicitly evangelical polling firm. They do polling for specifically “Christian” questions while (as far as I am aware) doing a good job of not becoming too partisan (all polling groups will be partisan; it is part of the human condition).
But while their questions tend to be unbiased, their final survey answers have a gaping flaw. One article I read which linked me to this survey pointed out that roughly a third of ‘practicing Catholics’ support Same-Sex marriage (I number I don’t find unbelievable) while only two percent of ‘practicing Evangelicals’ do (I number I find absurd). But digging into the data provided me with a clear reason to accept their numbers while still finding a huge flaw.
To define ‘Evangelical’ Barna has a nine-point questionnaire that vastly limits the number of people who can be defined as Evangelical. One cannot simply self-identify as Evangelical to receive this title, but must pass Barna’s test. Having once been Evangelical, I do not disapprove of this limitation, but now being Catholic I do disapprove of their choosing to compare the strict-criteria Evangelical with the broad-category Catholic. I suspect if you added a Catholic questionnaire (“Do you believe and profess all the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God?” “Do you accept the authority of the ordinary Magisterium of the Church, that is, the teaching authority of the Bishops?”) the numbers would more closely resemble the Evangelical percentages.
I would not say thus that any of the numbers provided by the Barna group are per-se wrong, but that they cannot be compared. The trends in these groups are valid, but looking from Evangelical to Catholic and vice-versa will, frankly, lead you to substantially incorrect conclusions.