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Health

Is Christine O'Donnell a kook because she's a Creationist?

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanSeptember 26, 2010 9:01 PM

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Christine O'Donnell has said a lot of kooky things. Right now people are focusing on her Creationism. Though I'm obviously not a Creationist I think mocking someone for this belief in a political context is somewhat strange: the survey literature is pretty robust that Americans are split down the middle on opinions about evolution. More specifically most of the polling shows that around ~50% of Americans tend to reject the validity of evolutionary theory when asked. This is what I like to call a broad but shallow belief; for the vast majority of Americans attitudes about evolution are really just cultural markers, not stances of deep feeling or impact. One point of evidence for this conjecture is that polling on evolution is easy to massage through framing. Another is that Republican candidates for the presidency do not invariably hew to a Creationist line despite the likelihood that the majority of primary voters are Creationist. Politicians react to incentives, and my own hunch is that there isn't a strong push from the Christian Right on evolution as there is on abortion or gay marriage. I've posted plenty on how Creationists are more female, less intelligent, more conservative, more likely to be ethnic minorities, less educated, etc. Here I want to put the spotlight parameters which might shed some light on the O'Donnell race. Is her kooky opinion on evolution a particular liability in Mid-Atlantic Delaware? Are Creationists less likely to vote? And what are the regional breakdowns which might explain the bi-coastal shock and amusement at O'Donnell's opinions? First, to gauge a sense of Delaware's religious culture I looked at the Religious Landscape Survey. Because of the small sample size the margin of errors were large, but going through the data I think it is safe to say that Delaware is near the "middle of the road" in reference to the national sample, perhaps just a bit on the more secular and/or religiously liberal end of the spectrum. In the South it seems that Delaware would be very religiously liberal, while in the Northeast it is probably a touch on the more conservative side. Next, I used the GSS data set. There are four variables which address evolution: CREATION: 1. God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years 2. Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. God had no part in this process. 3. Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, including man's creation EVOLVED: Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. Is that true or false? SCITESTY and SCITEST4: Both also ask if human beings developed from earlier species of animals. Answers though are definitely true, probably true, probably not true, and definitely not true. I looked to see who voted in the year 2000, variable VOTE00. Note that the questions were asked between 2000-2008, so the "Not Eligible" category simply points to the individuals in the samples in the mid-to-late 2000s who were not yet 18 and could not vote in the 2000 election.


Voted in 2000 ElectionDid not vote in the 2000Not eligible to vote 2000

God Created Man434432

Man Has Evolved, But God Guided414245

Man Has Evolved131016

Human Beings Developed From Animals (EVOLVED)

True504659

False505441

Human Beings Developed From Animals (SCITESTY)

Definitely True161221

Probably True283138

Probably Not True151515

Definitely Not True414127


It does not seem to me that the electorate is much less Creationist than the non-voters. The bias toward evolution in the not eligible to vote category is because these are younger age cohorts, who are more secular and less Creationist.

censdiv-300x234.png

Next I wanted to do some regional analysis of attitudes toward evolution. The GSS has a variable REGION which is broken down into nine categories. The map to the left shows the divisions, as they're from the Census definitions. 1 = New England, 2 = Mid-Atlantic, 3 = Great Lakes, 4 = Upper Midwest and Plains, 5 = Atlantic South, 6 = Central South, 7 = South Southwest, 8 = Mountain West, and finally, 9 = Pacific West. To increase sample sizes I aggregated some of these together, so 1 + 2 = Northeast, 3 + 4 = Midwest, 5 + 6 + 7 = South, and 8 + 9 = West. Unfortunately the divisions don't always quite map onto real social and geographical divisions. Missouri is in the same class as North Dakota. The Mid-Atlantic border states of Maryland and Delaware are thrown together into the same category as Florida. In contrast, the Mountain, Great Lakes, New England and Pacific regions are coherent. New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey do form a tight unit in the Mid-Atlantic (though I think today Maryland and Delaware should be included in the same class). In any case, I took REGION and recombined it like so: REGION(r:1-2 "Northeast";3-4 "Midwest";5-7 "South";8-9 "West"). Delaware might be in the South in this system, but the Northeast is probably more representative of its values and attitudes. All of the results are for the year 2000 and later.


NortheastMidwestSouthWest

God Created Man31415434

Man Has Evolved, But God Guided50463345

Man Has Evolved1511916

Human Beings Developed From Animals (EVOLVED)

True64524057

False37486043

Human Beings Developed From Animals (SCITESTY)

Definitely True22131121

Probably True40342330

Probably Not True11131520

Definitely Not True27405130

Human Beings Developed From Animals (SCITEST4)

Definitely True2291221

Probably True39342630

Probably Not True16201915

Definitely Not True23384334


Let's limit the sample to non-Hispanic whites:


Non-Hispanic Whites Only

NortheastMidwestSouthWest

God Created Man29405335

Man Has Evolved, But God Guided42463440

Man Has Evolved15121019

Human Beings Developed From Animals (EVOLVED)

True70544155

False30465945

Human Beings Developed From Animals (SCITESTY)

Definitely True24131224

Probably True42352325

Probably Not True11141620

Definitely Not True24394932

Human Beings Developed From Animals (SCITEST4)

Definitely True22101325

Probably True46322532

Probably Not True16222012

Definitely Not True16374332


Observations? First, both the Northeast and West tend to be much more accepting of evolution than other regions of the nation. But the West is more polarized, with a larger Creationist minority. This makes sense, as the American West tends to be more secular than the Northeast, but the religious institutions which do exist are generally more fundamentalist in orientation. In the Northeast Roman Catholicism and mainline Protestantism are much more influential than evangelical Protestantism. In the West the situation is more balanced between Catholics and evangelicals, and includes Mormons who tend to have skeptical attitudes toward evolution. The South is more Creationist than the Midwest, though the Midwest tends toward more fundamentalism in belief than the Northeast and West. This I think aligns with our intuitions, the Midwest tends to be the "swing-vote" in culture and politics, though part of this is because there are more "Southern" regions of the Midwest. The "Butternut" areas of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio were settled from the South, while Missouri is also split between Southern and Midwest leaning areas. In contrast, northern Ohio and Illinois, Michigan, and the Upper Midwest states were part of "Greater New England," and later settled by Scandinavians and Germans who were not congenial toward American Protestant fundamentalism (with the exception of Missouri Synod Lutherans). As for as Christine O'Donnell and her Creationism, I think she would have benefited from running in Alabama or Mississippi. In some ways the coastal elites are out of touch with how common and pervasive Creationism is, but though Delaware may not quite be part of BosNyWash megalopolis, it's on the margin of its sphere of influence.

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