In an article in yesterday's Washington Post, the sponsor of a survey on American values should have been listed as the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Co.
Much to its own surprise, an insurance company's survey on American values in the 1980s has unearthed an overwhelming new surge of religious feeling and commitment.
One-fourth of the over-14 population, some 45 million people, are identified as "intensely religious": people who vote, who are active in community life -- and who see moral and religious issues as the top-priority political concerns of America.
John C. Pollock, who directed research in the independent survey for the Connecticut Life Insurance Company, said upon release of the report this week that its original purpose was simply to profile the American public's values for comparison with policy-owners' values. But the religious factor dominated all the findings after 2,018 phone interviews plus a mailed survey of 1,762 leaders in various fields.
"We tried washing out the religious factor," he said. "We thought it was masking the age factor [because religious interest increases with age in the samples]. But it didn't wash out. It equaled or exceeded the age factor."
A relatively sophisticated measure of institutional religious commitment was used, with a hierarchy of eight elements, from "feeling that God loves you" to "having a religious experience" to "listening to religious broadcasts."
The religiously committed people are twice as apt to be Southerners as Northeasterners, far more apt to be black than white, women than men, poorer than richer and less, rather than more, educated. The main criterion, however, is age: nearly half of Americans over 64 are counted as religious compared to one-sixth of those from 14 to 34.
Pollock noted that the survey, part of a half-million-dollar public service program by the firm, does not by any means profile the so-called Moral Majority: for instance, the preponderance of black over white among the religious is 42 to 25 percent. And the relation between religious commitment and political conservatism appears slim, he added.
The second surprise was that there are no vast differences between liberals and conservatives, young and old, men and women, blacks and whites, rich and poor or educated and uneducated, on what are conventionally considered major political issues: Vietnam, too much government, nuclear power and so on.
To the contrary, the issues today that divide Americans are moral, the survey asserts: abortion, homosexuality, marijuana, extramarital sex, pornography. For example, 74 percent of the religiously committed people oppose sex between two single people. Only 11 percent of the noncommitted oppose it.
And a third surprise: a great gap on moral perceptions appears between the public leaders chosen from business, government, education, law, the military, the media, religion and other areas. For instance, the survey says 65 percent of the American public believes abortion to be immoral, while only 35 percent of the leaders do.
The questionnaire does not begin to deal with the complexities of the abortion controversy but simply asks for a check mark: "abortion -- morally wrong or not a moral issue."
There are exceptions among the leaders, however: "While the majority of leaders are out of touch with the public, expecially concerning the tremendously important moral issues, religious leaders are the one group most in a position to lead. Clearly, this has important ramifications concerning the kind of leaders Americans are likely to choose in the latter portion of this century."
The report also indicates how out of touch the American political establishment in general was with the realities of the landslide 1980 election, with most analysts and experts insisting it was "too close to call" right up to election day. Ronald Reagan, the survey suggests, "was not elected for his known and admired qualities, but rather, it would appear, because he was successful in sounding a 'call to faith' in traditional American values."
In this vein, "honesty," rather than "intelligence," was the quality most sought in presidents, indicating a wish for moral leadership. Half the surveyed public does not believe major decisions should be left to our national leaders, while half the surveyed leaders do not believe the public can be relied on to elect the ones we need.
Analyzing itself, the report traces America's apparently revived interest in traditional values to its disillusion with leaders who lie, from the Bay of Pigs to Vietnam to Watergate, coupled with the economic troubles of the '80s, and "the uncertainties and dilemmas of modern existence in a society saturated with choices.
"We live in a relentlessly egalitarian society that encourages self-interest and mobility of all types, including geographical and hierarchical. One reason so many people may cling to religion in the United States is that it provides some measure of order in their lives, some restraint on the cultural injunction to pursue happiness, or in some cases hedonism, to its farther limits."