A new survey on religious beliefs found half of all American adults believe in ghosts, almost a third believe in astrology and more than a quarter believe in reincarnation.
Fifty-one percent of the public, including 58 percent of women, believe in ghosts, according to a Harris Poll of a cross section of 2,201 adults surveyed online between Jan. 21 and 27. Thirty-one percent of the public believe in astrology, including 36 percent of women, and 27 percent believe in reincarnation – that they were once another person.
The poll showed a significant difference between Americans aged 25 to 29 and those over 65. Among the younger group, 65 percent believe in ghosts, while just 27 percent of the seniors hold that belief.
Forty-three percent of those aged 25 to 29 believe in astrology, but only 17 percent of people aged 65 and over, and 25 percent of men.
Belief in reincarnation is held by 40 percent of people aged 25 to 29 but only 14 percent of people aged 65 and over.
The poll reflected past surveys that show large majorities of the American public believe in God, the survival of the soul after death, miracles, heaven, the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Virgin birth. Majorities of about two-thirds of all adults believe in hell and the devil, but few expect that they will go to hell themselves, Harris said.
The survey also indicated that women are more likely than men to hold both Christian and non-Christian beliefs. Blacks are more likely than whites and Hispanics to hold Christian beliefs, as are Republicans. The level of belief generally is highest among people without a college education and lowest among those with postgraduate degrees.
The 90 percent of adults who believe in God include 93 percent of women, 96 percent of blacks and 93 percent of Republicans but only 86 percent of men, 85 percent of those with postgraduate degrees, and 87 percent of political independents.
The 84 percent of those who believe in the survival of the soul after death include 89 percent of women but only 78 percent of men, 86 percent of those without a college degree but only 78 percent of those with postgraduate degrees.
The 84 percent of the public who believe in miracles falls to 72 percent among those with postgraduate degrees and rises to 90 percent among women and 90 percent among blacks.
The 82 percent who believe in heaven includes 89 percent of women but only 75 percent of men and falls to 71 percent among people aged 25 to 29 and those with postgraduate degrees.
On almost all the beliefs that are central to Christianity, there is a general pattern that indicates higher levels of belief among women than among men; lower level of belief among people aged 25 to 29; higher levels of belief among people with no college education and lower levels of belief among those with postgraduate education; and higher levels of belief among African-Americans than among whites and Hispanics.
The survey also found that 68 percent of the public believes in the devil, and 69 percent believe in hell.
Harris said that one of its more intriguing findings is that not all people who call themselves Christians believe all the conventional Christian beliefs. For example, 1 percent of Christians do not believe in God, 8 percent do not believe in the survival of the soul after death, 7 percent do not believe in miracles, 5 percent do not believe in heaven, 7 percent do not believe in the Virgin birth and 18 percent do not believe in hell.
Even more surprising, according to Harris, is that some people who say they are not Christian believe in the resurrection of Christ, 26 percent, and the Virgin birth, 27 percent.
Most of the 84 percent of the public who believe in the survival of the soul after death expect to go to heaven. Sixty-three percent, including 75 percent of people who identify as Christians, believe that is their destiny. Only 1 percent expect to go to hell. Six percent expect to go to purgatory while 11 percent expect to go somewhere else and 18 percent don’t know.
Harris disclosed the following about its survey: “Figures for age, sex, race, education and number of adults in the household were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. ‘Propensity score’ weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.”
The polling agency qualified its findings, stating that “in theory, with a probability sample of this size, one can say with 95 percent certainty that the results have a statistical precision of plus or minus two percentage points of what they would be if the entire adult population had been polled with complete accuracy. Unfortunately, there are several other possible sources of error in all polls or surveys that are probably more serious than theoretical calculations of sampling error. They include refusals to be interviewed (non-response), question wording and question order, interviewer bias, weighting by demographic control data and screening (e.g., for likely voters). It is impossible to quantify the errors that may result from these factors. This online survey is not a probability sample.”