YouGov Poll Says Nearly 60% of Americans Believe the Devil is Real

Almost six in ten Americans believe the devil is real, and more than half think that people can be possessed by demons.

Those results are from a recent YouGov poll of 1,000 respondents, though it’s not clear how reliable the numbers are — I couldn’t find an explanation of the methodology. YouGov says its poll has a margin of error of three percent.

When you drill down past the headline and summary, you can see which religious adherents are most likely to believe that Satan exists. To no one’s surprise, “born-again” Christians top the list at 86%. The Lord of Darkness is met with a lot more skepticism in non-Christian circles: only 17% of Jews and 25% of Muslims believe that he’s real, as do 20 percent of Nones.

One odd poll result is that education level appears to be a bad predictor for devil-belief. YouGov tells us that 39% of high school dropouts think that exorcism is an effective way to deal with demonic possession. That number climbs to 49% for respondents who have “some college, and it’s still a fairly staggering 44% among post-grads. I’m not sure that makes sense: almost every other study I’ve seen, foreign and domestic, indicates that more education drives down superstition.

There are internal anomalies, too. When asked Do you believe someone can be possessed by the devil?, only 11 percent of Jewish respondents answered “Yes”; but when the question was Do you believe in the power of exorcism?, 37% of Jews answered in the affirmative. I don’t think that computes.

One thing to keep in mind is that Jews form only about two percent of the U.S. population, and Muslims less than one percent. If YouGov managed to find a representative sample of 1,000 people living in the United States, only 20 respondents would have been Jewish, and only eight or nine would have been Muslim.

Indeed, in this survey, the 11% of Jews who believe someone can be possessed by the devil came from a sample with only 23 Jews. The 37% of Jews who believe in exorcism came from a sample size that’s in the single digits. Those sub-samples are way too small to accurately represent the larger Jewish or Muslim population. As always, the devil is in the details.

(image via WallpaperTube)

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • Mick

    I wouldn’t be surprised if none of the silly buggers believe in the devil; they just say they do, because they think that’s what they are supposed to say.

  • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

    What I’m wondering about is that only 86% of “born again” christians believe in the devil, instead of 100%. That means there are 14% of “born agains” that don’t believe everything that their church tells them. Interesting.

    • C Peterson

      Doesn’t sound unreasonable. “Born again” Christians aren’t generally fundamentalists (at least, outside the Bible Belt).

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      That doesn’t surprise me at all. Also remember that just because someone checks a box for a survey indicating the tradition in which they were raised doesn’t mean that they buy everything that church told them. That would go for all religions.

  • LesterBallard

    Well, there’s just so much evidence.

    • C Peterson

      Of course, any evidence is purely circumstantial, but such as it is, we can make a better case for a deity that creates chaos and sows discord than we can for an all-powerful, all-benevolent one.

      It seems to me somewhat less crazy to believe in the devil than to believe in god.

      • JohnnieCanuck

        The existence of an evil supernatural entity like a devil would be proof that an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent god doesn’t exist. The devil can’t do anything without at least passive permission from its all-powerful creator.

        • trj

          There’s a perfectly good explanation for why God is not complicit in the evil he permits Satan to do. Unfortunately the explanation is so complicated it would make our heads explode. Best to just ignore the problem, along with all the other paradoxes an omni-God leads to.

        • http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/unique-everybody-else Scott McGreal

          In the Book of Job, Satan acts only with the express permission of Yahweh. Christians seem to conveniently overlook this though.

          • Kingasaurus

            They don’t overlook it, but they do rationalize it. God has his reasons, so shut up. :)

            Any honest study of the Bible would show you that both God and Satan are evolving characters. The Satan in Job is a very different animal than the modern fundamentalist idea of Satan. Which is precisely what you would expect if these are fictional characters.

            There’s a reason a lot of people (including some seminary students) tend to lose their faith when they get themselves educated outside of evangelical circles about when the Bible was written, what influenced its construction and how things change over time.

            Exposure to critical scholarship outside of the evangelical bubble makes it plainly obvious that “Satan” is fictitious. There’s no good reason to think otherwise.

  • Cat’s Staff

    17% of Jews… I thought Jews didn’t believe in Satan… http://judaism.about.com/od/judaismbasics/a/jewishbeliefsatan.htm

    If only 86% of born-agains believe in Satan, I’d say there is a problem with the poll.

  • viaten

    I wonder how many people believe in Satan just so evil, natural disasters, or anything that goes wrong, doesn’t all have to be attributed to God or random chance.

  • yellow5

    What a shitty poll and shittier write up.

    “There are internal anomalies, too. When asked Do you believe someone
    can be possessed by the devil?, only 11 percent of Jewish respondents
    answered “Yes”; but when the question was Do you believe in the power of
    exorcism?, 37% of Jews answered in the affirmative. I don’t think that
    computes.”

    No shit, because mainstream Judaism has no concept of Satan or the Devil. Many Jews DO believe in evil spirits though.

    It was clearly a Western Christian biased poll then, if the questions
    are asking about Satan and Devil – they are hardly universal figures in
    theology.

    Edit: For fuck’s sake, YouGov is a VOLUNTARY internet poll machine,
    any results it generates are statistically irrelevant. You’re smarter
    than this, at least I thought you were.

    • Anat

      Exactly. People interpret the questions in the terms of their beliefs. So a person who does not believe in Satan, but may believe in other entities that may possess one may believe in exorcism from the latter rather than the former.

      I wonder how many people said they believe in Satan because they use it as a term for ‘bad stuff I can’t control happening’.

      • smrnda

        This is always a problem – survey questions are often ambiguous, and sometimes they’re ambiguous to different groups of people in different ways. A problem with religious questions is that the words don’t mean the same thing to all groups.

    • Ewan

      “Edit: For fuck’s sake, YouGov is a VOLUNTARY internet poll machine,
      any results it generates are statistically irrelevant.”

      Um, no. YouGov are as reputable a polling firm as you’ll find; their methodology is nothing like the typical ‘self selected internet polls’ that we hear about, and indeed, is a lot better than typical random phone polling.

      YouGov have a large panel of would be respondents – they are volunteers, but they volunteer for the system, not for specific polls. YouGov then collects basic information about them (age, sex, location etc.) and then YouGov chooses a suitable subset for each poll. The statistical power of a group that’s been picked to be suitably representative (for whatever population you’re looking at) is considerably higher than an equally sized random sample of people that happened to answer the phone.

      • yellow5

        >and indeed, is a lot better than typical random phone polling.

        But the internet is ALL they rely upon. The EXTREMELY small sample size in this particular poll, wherein one or two votes significantly effect the numbers is NOT a statistically valid poll.

        YouGov has no statistical methodology at all that I’m aware of, it’s just whoever decides to show up or is registered with them – do you think, just maybe, that’s leaving out a shitload of the population?

        And this is completely ignoring the biased nature of the poll and questions that were asked.

        Frankly, I find it upsetting that you and the blogger here are so gullible.

        • Ewan

          “YouGov has no statistical methodology at all that I’m aware of”

          Your lack of awareness is entirely your problem. YouGov are both very good at and very open about what they do, and no amount of ignorant whining that “it’s an internet poll” will do anything beyond making you look silly.

    • Terry Firma

      You’re wrong about the supposedly non-representative nature of YouGov, as Ewan explained. Even if you’d been correct, there are many ways to get a point across without throwing shits and fucks and cheap insults into the mix. Try it sometime.

      • yellow5

        Sorry, Terry, but you missed some pretty obvious things in your write up.

        I could have been more polite, but I’m not really concerned with being polite.

        Even YOU wrote this article from a Western Christian POV, because if you knew the first thing about the Judaism, you’d have made the some of the same points I did.

        I’m sorry you were offended by the criticism

        It’s nothing personal, I simply ask you to do better in the future.

  • C Peterson

    Well, how else can you explain the Tea Party without invoking possession by demons?

  • Bruce Martin

    The correlation with education fits other trends. The biggest effect is that education promotes conformity to the conventional wisdom. It’s not until people are in graduate school that we see a trend to break from conformity. So education promotes progressive thought easily ONLY where mainstream thought is already progressive. This was seen even in the late 1960s on the Vietnam war. And it fits with many scientists clinging to the religion of their childhood as long as they can compartmentalize away from their research. So top cosmologists and biologists are more likely atheists than are equally prominent engineers.
    Mainstream thought has gradually opened to LGBT issues. Eventually it will to atheism too. After that becomes a more mainstream view, only then will getting a bachelors degree increase the chance of not believing in devils. US mainstream culture is still too immersed in Christianity at present.

  • advancedatheist

    Ironically people have to hear about the devil first before they can form beliefs about him. And who has talked up Satan these nearly 2,000 years? Certainly not a few self-styled “Satanists” you hear about every so often. No, christians deserve the credit by teaching, preaching and theologizing about Satan for generations.

    Satan never needed his own publicists, in other words, because christians have done the job all too well. Satan even shows up as a character in several major works of Western literature, notably Milton’s Paradise Lost, where Satan has the best lines.

    So why do some christians act surprised when people exposed to all their propaganda about Satan’s awesomeness begin to wonder if Satan can successfully defy god because he has an independent base of power? Indeed, the propaganda raises the possibility that Satan just might represent an alternative point of view which deserves consideration, or even legitimacy.

    • katiehippie

      Ah, sneaky old Satan getting Christians to promote him while he lies back and eats bon bons.

  • busterggi

    A symptom of how sections of the US are dragging the whole country down to 3rd world status.

  • Jim Tarvin

    My sister believes that I am possessed by a demon that makes me gay…..She wants to take me to her church where they will lay hands on me and pray that big gay demon away!!! I might consider it if the guy laying his hands all over me is hot enough…:)

    • mdoc

      I think that you should let them and when it is over say: “Ooops, still gay!”

    • JohnnieCanuck

      Maybe you could convince her to stop bugging you by telling her that the demon is the only thing keeping you from becoming transexual or Catholic or something like that.

      I would be tempted to occasionally say something in a deep hoarse voice when she wasn’t looking. A cliché like ‘Fabulous’ or perhaps something in pseudo-Latin.

      I once read that somewhere in Southeast Asia many people believe that something like a bit of bad luck means they have become possessed. Since the demon purportedly has to overlap its invisible body with that of its victim and react to every movement by duplicating it, this makes it possible to perform an auto-exorcism.

      All that is necessary is to wait until a vehicle comes along and then dash out into the road, stopping just short of getting hit. The demon’s won’t be able to react in time and will be killed or perhaps just seriously damaged and thus the possession will be ended.

      Tourists of course find this behaviour quite unnerving and tend to brake in panic. This can make it harder to kill the demon.

    • God’s Starship

      On the bright side, she’s not convinced your homosexuality is contagious…. like SpongeBob.

    • Tainda

      If it’s the Jesus in that picture above, I would let him lol

      • sam

        That Jesus-mullet is super-fucking-natural.

        • Tainda

          Oh my achy-breaky heart!

      • C Peterson

        Looks like Cat Stevens. You know, the guy who became a Muslim…

      • Sue Blue

        Let JC come into your (cough) heart and fill you to the brim with the “holy spirit”! Feel his love at work inside you! Get on your knees today and let him know you love him too!

        Yeah! Spread that gospel, baby!

        • Tainda

          I’ll be in my bunk

    • Timothy R Alexander

      tell her they have to lay hands on your junk, as thats where the demon is, and the white stuff that comes out most be the demon.

    • Kevin_Of_Bangor

      Make sure you hand this out after, to be safe.

  • David

    I just laugh when people tell me I don’t believe in god because I don’t want responsibility. Why do they think the devil was created for the Bible?

  • MercuryShadow

    Why do these polls keep getting posted here as if they actually mean anything?

  • TheG

    That picture is such a misrepresentation of the truth of Our Lord and Savior Jesus. You atheists can’t get anything correct, can you?

    Jesus came to save our eternal souls from torture and sin.

    Not to be a lefty.

    So say we all.

    • trj

      Well, at least they got his perfectly white skin and Nordic features right.

    • Lyra Belaqua

      What makes you think an atheist made this?

      And did you seriously end that with quoting BattleStar Galactica?

  • Ewan

    “There are internal anomalies, too. When asked Do you believe someone can be possessed by the devil?, only 11 percent of Jewish respondents answered “Yes”; but when the question was Do you believe in the power of exorcism?, 37% of Jews answered in the affirmative. I don’t think that computes.”

    Really? You’ve never heard of a haunted house then? People aren’t the only things that get exorcised.

  • Chakolate

    I don’t believe in the devil, but I might answer yes to believing in exorcism. Performing hocus-pocus often convinces the gullible, and it could definitely work to persuade an hysterical sufferer that he/she’s been cured.

    • Mara

      Definitely. There’s psychological power in ritual.

  • Aspieguy

    How did a nation become so rich and powerful when a significant percentage of its population believes in mythical beings and supernatural powers?

    • http://lady-die.deviantart.com/ LizzyJessie

      The other nation states savaged themselves in two global wars, destroying their infrastructure, sending their best and brightest off to war, and leaving the Western Hemisphere largely untouched. While that was going on, the United States was building up its infrastructure, cultivating science and education, and celebrating intelligent discourse in regards to discovery and literature.

      The turnabout seems to have started in the 1960s when the Silent Majority became the Moral Majority. Sex, drugs, Rock & Roll, Equal Rights, Women’s Lib., the foundation of the GLBT movement, 50% divorce rates, etc. Surely a sign of the End Times for the religious.

    • Joseph O Polanco

      Prove God is a myth and doesn’t exist.

      • allein

        Why?

        • Joseph O Polanco

          Because “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” Either he has evidence God doesn’t exist or he’s lying.

          • allein

            You can’t prove something doesn’t exist (especially something to poorly defined as the Christian god). The burden of proof is on the person claiming it does. I’ve seen no evidence that an all-powerful, all-knowing God exists, therefore I conclude he is a myth until proven otherwise.

            • Joseph O Polanco

              Are you insinuating an unrestricted negative can’t be proven?

              But wouldn’t that make your own claim an unrestricted negative?

              Accordingly, if unrestricted negatives cannot be proven, then no one can prove that no one can prove an unrestricted negative. And if no one can prove that no one can prove an unrestricted negative, then it must be logically possible to prove an unrestricted negative.

              So the claim that no one can prove a universal negative is self-refuting – if it’s true, it’s false!

              Ex: Proof Santa Claus does not exist in reality: http://bit.ly/185Tf1D

              Now you go and try to do the same for God.

              • allein

                My claim is, “I don’t believe your claim.” There’s really nothing to prove unless you know of some way of reading my mind.

                • Joseph O Polanco

                  You’re Agnostic, I get it. Aspieguy, on the other hand, made the claim that God does not he exist. He derides it as belief “in mythical beings and supernatural powers.”

                  With such an outrageous claim, he assumed an impossible burden, to wit, proving God does not nor cannot exist. If he can’t (and he’s a rational person) then he either has to admit he’s Agnostic or accept the evidence for God’s necessary existence and adopt Theism.

                • C.L. Honeycutt

                  You don’t actually know what “agnostic” means in common parlance if you’re using it that way.

                  Your argument is a sham. The neutral position is that there is a lack of evidence for God, and there is no reason to accept an unsupported claim. YOU are the one asserting that YOU have to believe in Santa unless you can prove he doesn’t exist.

                  With such an outrageous claim, he assumed an impossible burden, to wit, proving God does not nor cannot exist

                  Lying about Aspieguy’s words, which is what you’re doing, is a demonstration of insecurity and projection.

                  accept the evidence for God’s necessary existence and adopt Theism.

                  Presuppositionalism. You don’t seem to be familiar with your arguments.

                • allein

                  Yes; I am also an atheist. (It helps when you know what the words actually mean.)

                  Presumably, you think that, for example, the Hindu gods are mythical. What is so “outrageous” about saying the same about the Christian god? Both are things that billions of people currently believe, and both are things that have no concrete evidence for their existence.

                • Joseph O Polanco

                  So you’re claiming God does not nor cannot exist?

                • allein

                  I am saying I can’t know for certain if some entity that could be called a god exists, but based on what evidence I have available to me I do not believe that one does. Agnosticism is about knowledge; atheism is about belief. They are not the same thing.

                • Joseph O Polanco

                  So are you a six or a seven? http://bit.ly/19nktlO

                • allein

                  I suppose I would say I’m a 6 (point-something?)…I don’t see how it makes any practical difference, though.

                  For the record, I’m referring to a fairly generic concept of “god” when I say 6; as for the Christian Omni-max God-with-a-capital-G, I would say I’m a 7 (as someone in the comments on your link said, “If we can be a 7 when it comes to Zeus or the FSM, we can be a 7 when it comes to God”). Does something else exist somewhere that we might call a “god”? I don’t know and probably never will. But I doubt it.

                • Joseph O Polanco

                  Alright then, prove your claim. Prove Jehovah God does not exist.

                • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

                  I already used the ontological argument to disprove your god. In case you forgot:

                  1. If God is the greatest conceivable being.

                  2. I can conceive of a greater being than Jehovah.

                  3. Therefore, Jehovah is not God.

                  The only way you can disprove this argument, is to undermine the very logic underpinning the ontological argument. But then you undermine your “proof” of god’s “necessary” existence. So you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.

                • Joseph O Polanco

                  Proverbs 9:7

                • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

                  Psalm 137:9

                  Coward.

                • Joseph O Polanco

                  Acts 18:6

                • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

                  2 Chronicles 15:12-13

                • http://ourgirlsclub.blogspot.com/ Ginny Bain Allen

                  We better go take a bath and get an exorcism after spending time in this filthy place, Joseph.

                • Joseph O Polanco

                  ROFLOL! :D

                • allein

                  Oh, I see, you were just trying to trap me with that question. I guess I fell for it. I’m still not making any claim other than “I don’t believe your claim, and I am certain enough to say I don’t think that the Christian God, specifically, exists.” I already said I can’t prove a negative. But here’s the thing: I don’t have to. I’m not trying to convince you of anything. You asked what I believe and I answered (sorry for thinking you were asking an honest question; I’ll know better for next time). The ominmax Christian god doesn’t make logical sense. But I don’t care if you believe in God. Worship whatever you like. Live your life accordingly. Don’t try to tell me I have to live by your God’s rules, and we’ll get along just fine.

                • Joseph O Polanco

                  Sure, you live your reality and I’ll in reality.

                • allein

                  You do that.

                • fiona64

                  As has already been explained to you with excruciating politeness. it is not possible to prove a negative. It is incumbent upon the person making the positive assertion to prove their position — something which you have, quite notably, failed to do.

                • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

                  Prove it’s not a myth. And here’s a challenge, refrain from copying and pasting while trying to do so.

                • Joseph O Polanco

                  Round and round you go .. time for me to make better use of my time and get off this merry-go-round.

                  You can stick around and perlustrate those rejoinders I’ve already provided in response to your inquiries.

                  Ta, ta …

                • allein

                  Was “perlustrate” your word of the day?

                • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

                  Wow the first time you didn’t cut and paste your response from William Lane Craig!!! I feel like a parent watching their child learn to walk. You make me proud.

                  P.S. You’ve failed to respond to my rebuttal of your false “indisputable” so-called “proofs” of god’s existence.

                • Joseph O Polanco

                  Matthew 10:14,15.

                • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

                  Coward.

                • Joseph O Polanco

                  Matthew 10:14,15.

                • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

                  Jesus cannot save you from your bad arguments and logical ineptitude.

                • Joseph O Polanco

                  Proverbs 26:4

                • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

                  What’s the matter? Have you run out of bad arguments to copy and past from other people? Wahhh :((((

                • fiona64

                  Is he posting plagiarized material here, too?

                  Pitiful.

              • Msironen

                This is asinine. It’s like arguing that Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem can’t be proven due to Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem.

                • Joseph O Polanco

                  Instead of laughing at something you don’t understand why not perlustrate it?

  • Green_Sapphire

    If YouGov managed to find a representative sample of 1,000 people living in the United States, only 20 respondents would have been Jewish, and only eight or nine would have been Muslim.

    That’s not how survey sampling is done. There has to be a minimum number of people sampled in any category in order to report on that category. So those 1000 would have a larger percentage of Muslims and Jews than in their population as a whole. This is called over-sampling. Then statistical adjustments are made in scaling to the overall population.

  • Itarion

    That is an amazing pic. Skin tone of the guy on the left is a little off, but really cool.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Seriously! Check out sites like Deviantart. There are many thousands of amazing artists using incredible new tools in all styles, and most of them have to work commissions where they come out to $10 an hour or less. >.<

  • sbstarlite

    Of course he is real. You can hear him spouting from the airwaves on his pulpit of doom almost daily. He goes by the name of beck, huckaberry, barton and a few others. Beware!

  • Stephen Mahi

    Wow, Jesus is HOT!

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Yeah, but his beard is clearly glued on. He might be Quasimodo under there.

      • katiehippie

        Satan has been working out. Can’t tell about Jesus with the robe and all.

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          Wait a second. Does… does Satan have two biceps?

          Lou is effing ripped.

  • L.Long

    I believe that the devil is real….as real as cheeses is.
    But if the devil is really real then that makes him my hero…
    1…stood up to a mean boss.
    2…has a shity job but works hard at it.
    3…killed less then 10 people in his story book, where his boss killed millions.
    4…Convinced us to think! Rather then be sheep.
    5…doesn’t lie as much as his boss does.

  • scroogleu

    Oh, no! What’s that face in the mirror?!!


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