Here's the latest dispatch from the War on Christmas: Americans overwhelmingly prefer artificial Christmas trees to real ones.
Roughly 77 percent of Americans put up a Christmas tree in their home last year, according to a CNN/ORC survey. Two-thirds of those households displayed an artificial tree, while one-third opted for a real one.
This preference for fake trees frankly shocks me. Growing up in upstate New York, my family was always adamant about the importance of getting a real tree. I've carried on the tradition with my own children, dragging two screaming toddlers out to the middle of a muggy Maryland field this November to let them experience the joy of paying too much money to chop down a misshapen conifer and drag it back to our car.
So who are these fake tree aficionados? Fortunately, we can break down the survey results by all sorts of demographic and economic variables to find out.
First, if you feel strongly about politics and Christmas trees, and you've always suspected that people who have bad opinions about politics also have bad opinions about trees, you're in for a disappointment: There's no meaningful difference in Christmas tree preference by political ideology. About 34 percent of liberal tree-displayers choose real trees, as do 32 percent of conservatives. In our hyper-partisan environment, apparently the one thing that unites right and left is a distaste for having to vacuum up dead pine needles come January.
There is, however, a small but interesting split by religion (to the extent that the CNN/ORC survey questioned people on it). People who identify as born-again or evangelical Christians are a bit less likely to opt for a real tree (25 percent) than people who don't (37 percent). Similarly, people who see Christmas primarily as a religious holiday were less likely to choose real trees (27 percent) than those who see it as a family holiday (35 percent).
To get to the real interesting distinctions, you'd need to start looking at things like age: While only 16 percent of seniors chose real trees, 44 percent of Americans age 30 to 49 did. The number might be even higher for the millennial generation, but the survey's sample size doesn't allow breaking out those numbers separately.
And here's the big determinant: geography. Midwesterners and Southerners were the groups least likely to prefer real trees, at 20 percent and 26 percent respectively. Northeasterners (41 percent) and people in the West (46 percent) were most likely to choose real trees.
These last numbers may partly reflect the prevalence of Christmas tree growing operations in those regions: Christmas tree growers are concentrated in the Northeast and the West coast, according to USDA Agricultural Census data. But there are plenty of growers in the Midwest too, so the relatively poor showing for real trees in that region remains something of a mystery.