From early 1980 until September 1981, the Gallup Poll conducted a series of national surveys in the US, probing the attitudes and beliefs that Americans, eighteen and over, held on immortality.
The book, Adventures in Immortality, which documented the findings of this survey, dealt mostly with Near Death Experiences and thoughts of Heaven. Even though the survey is over twenty-five years old and belief systems may have shifted somewhat during this time, the poll still gives an extremely useful look at Western attitudes towards death and Spiritualism.
By Emma-Louise Rhodes
The book contained countless interviews with members of the public who had died for a short space of time before being revived, along with those who had experienced clear visions of the afterlife in dreams. Along with this, Adventures in Immortality dealt with whether people actually believed in life after death and if such a belief changed demographically or remained constant throughout the United States.
67% of the US public said that they believed in life after death – the majority of these being female. Those from rural areas or towns with smaller populations were twice as likely to believe in the afterlife than those from urban areas. 53% of people surveyed said that they believed in Hell, and commonly these were from a lower income bracket with less educational qualifications.
When the question ‘Do you think it possible to have contact with the dead or not?’ was posed, only 24% of those questioned answered in the affirmative, 69% saying no and 7% having no opinion. Those under thirty were more likely to respond ‘yes’, whilst only 12% of those over fifty agreed. On a very similar scale statistically, when asked ‘Will life after death be scientifically proved?’ 20% believed that it would, whilst 68% said ‘no’ and 12 % had no opinion.
Interestingly, when the above statistics were broken down into those who attended church and those who abstained from religious practise, those who believed that contact with the dead was possible and that it would one day be scientifically proven, were not churchgoers. Those who regularly attended church were less likely to believe in the dead returning, as well as human life on other planets and reincarnation.
Another poll conducted as part of the research by Gallop was that on the beliefs of leading scientists about life after death. Only 16% of America’s leading scientists believed in life after death, 5% that contact with the dead was possible and 4% that it would be scientifically proven.
The analysis given to the statistics in Adventures in Immortality relied heavily on the explanations of those who had apparently witnessed things such as NDE, dreams of Heaven and the presence of spirit beings during the passing away of loved ones. There is very little solid evidence given in terms of visits to Spiritualist churches, even though those polled were asked about their thoughts in terms of what was clearly the philosophy of Spiritualism.
OTHER SIGNIFICANT POLLS
In 1998, MORI interviews 721 adults across the UK on their beliefs. It was reported that 45% of those polled believed in life after death, 40% believed in ghosts and 28% thought that psychics and mediums were really contacting the dead.
Asked whether they had ever had any contact with psychics or mediums, 37% replied in the affirmative, the majority of these being from the north of England. 20% said that their personal experience had given them proof that there was life after death and 28% claimed that they had made a decision based on their belief in fortune telling or tarot.
Another poll conducted by Newsweek in the US in 2000 showed that belief in God had dropped by almost 10% from the seventies to the nineties, although the belief in life after death had risen by nearly 10%.
An ongoing poll on the website Bad Psychics (www.badpsychics.com) reveals that 24% of those who voted believe that psychics/mediums talk to the dead. When questioned as to what the punishment should be for fraudulent mediumship, the majority (34%) felt that an unlimited fine depending on the damage done should be implemented, whilst only 5% felt that there should be no punishment.
In 2006 Reader’s Digest conducted a poll concentrating on communication with the dead and psychic powers. It revealed that six out of ten Britons believe in the possibility of psychic abilities such as telepathy, clairvoyance and precognition. Unlike the Gallup poll, the Reader’s Digest survey claimed that older people were more likely to believe in the paranormal, with 74% of 44 to 64 year olds stating that they thought ESP was possible.
Such polls are interesting in terms when and where they are taken. The Bad Psychics poll is, undoubtedly, voted for by sceptics who visit the site (judging on the fact that 8% of voters wanted to see the death penalty implemented on those who were proven to be fraudulent). The Reader’s Digest poll is the only complete survey taken post 9/11 and 7/ 7 and shows a possible shift in attitudes towards death in a world that is more uncertain than ever. The MORI poll is interesting due to the fact that it purports to have surveyed a wide range of people, yet the results show that nearly half interviewed believed in life after death. What is not shown is the religious beliefs of those surveyed (Christians, Muslims, Buddhists) and, due to this, such a statistic is very general and cannot be commented on in any depth in terms of beliefs on Spiritualism.
WHAT WE REALLY THINK
Are such surveys representative of what the general public really think or are they merely focused on a minority questioned at a certain time? None of the surveys (regardless of the twenty-five years that separates them) present anything near the same results. Is this due to the fact that the polls were taken at different times in different countries, or is it simply because thoughts on life after death are ever changing, depending on what they have been influenced by in the media, their own personal experiences and what is happening in the world around them?
If someone has received a particularly positive psychic reading before being surveyed, then their responses will be optimistic towards the psychic world. If, however, the interviewee has received negative information regarding the spirit world or been disappointed in what they have experienced spiritually, then the answers might well be unenthusiastic.
Although such polls are interesting in terms of public opinion at any given time, exactly what the general public think of paranormal phenomena cannot be ascertained through such surveys.
Nevertheless, all statistics undoubtedly show that women predominantly believe in the supernatural above men. This goes hand in hand with the fact that women’s magazines, along with TV programmes aimed at the female faction are peppered with psychic readings and reports about the paranormal.
What all the polls do show, though, is that belief in the afterlife (be it in a traditional religious sense or in the capacity of Spiritualism) is predominant in Western culture along with the need to believe in Heaven and that those who have died are ‘safe’. Belief in ghosts and contact with the dead is, however, less prevalent, unless the person in question has had an experience of this, or are a believer in the Spiritualist faith.
Adventures in Immortality: A Look Beyond the Threshold of Death, George Gallup Jr. with William Proctor, Souvenir Press, 1983.
Copyright © Emma-Louise Rhodes 2007. All rights reserved. No reproduction in any form, permitted without prior permission