New Study Reveals American Views on Tone, Tolerance, Faith and Freedom in the Public Square
95 percent of Americans agree, “people on opposite sides of an issue demonize each other so severely that finding common ground seems impossible.”
DENVER, COLO. – APRIL 21, 2016 – Amidst one of the most polarizing political seasons in history, a new study of American views explores if common ground, civil dialogue, and an open public square can exist in a 21st century United States. The study, published by nonprofit group Q , will be released today at its national meeting exploring the intersection of faith and culture.
Three years in the making (2014-2016), this first-of-its-kind research project exposes American frustration that the extremist groups on opposite sides of the issues make finding common ground impossible.
Sixty eight percent of those surveyed believe that American society benefits from diversity of opinion, but 53 percent of Americans believe society is less tolerant than in the past. Three-quarters of Americans agree with the proposition that we should give moderate voices more emphasis and “stop letting the people on the extreme ends of the issues dominate the discussion on important issues” (Q Research Brief, pages 12,13)
When it comes to voices of faith, the Q Research Brief states that “...when violent extremists take center stage, they are perceived by many as representing all people of faith.” (Q Research Brief, page 8)
Case in point, 42 percent of those surveyed view people of faith and 46 percent view religion as part of the problem rather than the solution when it comes to what happens in our country today.
“We published this study because we believe Americans are frustrated with our inability to get along,” said Gabe Lyons, founder and director of Q. “A healthy and vibrant democracy requires an engaged public—one that includes people of faith.
But, Lyons continues, “As people of faith, it’s our responsibility to listen well, understand the heart behind opposing views, and engage in respectful, clear conversations about what we and others believe. This new research can be a tool to help people learn how to have faithful dialogue around even the toughest issues to find common ground and advance the common good.”
Dee Alsop, CEO of Heart + Mind Strategies who led the research said, “American attitudes about religion and people of faith have been rapidly changing. What use to be a common element of society has become more controversial and sensitive. To get at the bottom of the issues, we have created new questions and explored new approaches to help us see and understand a new way forward.”
Part of that new way forward will be Lyons’ presentation of the research this afternoon to some 1,300 Christian thought leaders at Q Denver, an annual event presented by Q with the goal of engaging and renewing culture through loving and informed dialogue. The full Q Research Brief is available to the public at qideas.org.
Additionally, the study is the basis for a new book Good Faith: Being Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme (Baker Books, 2016) written by Lyons and researcher David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group. The book utilizes the research to underscore the importance to society for people of faith to participate winsomely in public discourse. Uniquely, it goes on to offer practical, unifying ways for them to do so while “staying friends across differences.”
The research surfaces some of the causes for “disconnect” between culture and the faith community. These include conversational tone and a surprising lack of awareness of the good works the faith community provides in assisting those in need and supporting many facets of society (Q Research Brief, pages 31, 37).
Many people have no idea that some of the essential institutions of our society emerged from the Christian worldview including: schools and universities, hospitals, labor unions, public libraries, voting rights for women and ethnic minorities, endowments for the arts and sciences, and on and on (“Good Faith,” pg. 33).
“Faith is too important to be omitted from the public and private interactions that knit us together as a country,” Lyons said. “While the political climate is tense right now, we believe there isn’t a better time to join the conversation.”
“People of faith have an opportunity to dispel misconceptions and join the conversations that matter in a way that lovingly engages culture. While we may have core beliefs that differ, when engaging on sensitive topics we have an opportunity to find common ground or at a minimum demonstrate a sincere desire to listen and understand. It’s not compromising to put yourself in someone else’s shoe
The study was conducted August 22-29, 2014, with a sample of 2,507 Americans adults 18 years and older. The study was conducted using an online panel of Americans screened to insure representativeness by region, age and gender according to US Census statistics. All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, error associated with nonresponse, question wording and response error. In the