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March 01, 2010

Elon Poll: N.C. residents say religion is losing influence on American life

Two-thirds of North Carolinians believe that religion is losing influence on American life, compared with about 24 percent who believe religion is gaining influence, according to the latest Elon University Poll. Nearly 65 percent say there should be no requirement for elected officials to believe in God.

The poll, conducted Feb. 22-25, surveyed 508 North Carolina residents and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. The sample is of the population in general, with numbers that include both landlines and cellular phones.

The poll asked people whether they agreed or disagreed with a statement in the North Carolina constitutional, which says elected officials can be removed from office if they "shall deny the being of Almighty God":

Strongly disagree: 27 percent
Disagree: 34 percent
Agree: 18 percent
Strongly agree: 13 percent

The issue arose in December when Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell, an atheist, was sworn into office. Some of his critics have threatened a legal challenge, based on the state's constitutional requirement, which is at odds with the U.S. Constitution. Nearly half (49 percent) of respondents to the Elon Poll believe the requirement does not belong in the state constitution, while 44 percent believe the requirement should remain in the state constitution.

In a series of questions regarding the environment, North Carolinians are generally satisfied with the environmental conditions in the state. Forty-five percent of respondents rate environmental conditions good or very good.

Respondents were divided on the causes of climate change:

Is climate change the result of human activity or of natural patterns in the earth's environment?
Result of human activity: 35 percent
Result of natural patterns: 44 percent
Both: 18 percent

Are statements about climate change generally exaggerated, underestimated or correct?
Generally exaggerated: 42 percent
Generally correct: 31 percent
Generally underestimated: 21 percent

Water pollution and contamination tops the list of “the most important environmental issue” among North Carolinians with nearly 18 percent indicating it was the most important environmental issue. Air pollution and recycling are next on the list of important environmental issues, with 11 and 9 percent of respondents respectively identifying these issues.

Citizens continue to be concerned with water supply levels in the state, with 62 percent saying they are very concerned with water supply levels. Nearly three-quarters of respondents (75 percent) continue to reduce water use in their households. Similar to practices during the height of the drought conditions across the state in 2008, nearly half said they are continuing to conserve water by taking shorter showers, not running water while brushing their teeth, and limiting their number of laundry loads. A significant number of citizens, 80 percent, think water conservation is now a long-term issue compared to the 68 percent two years ago.

Poll respondents support efforts to promote renewable energy sources. Nearly 80 percent favor new wind energy facilities in the North Carolina mountains or on the coast, and more than 83 percent favor construction of solar farms in the state. At the same time, more than half oppose using wood, trees, leaves or other forest products as fuel to produce energy.

Conservation of open space land is another area explored on the survey. Those polled were somewhat divided on their perspective of open space land conservation: 36 percent of North Carolinians think the state is not conserving enough open land space, while 30 percent believe the state is conserving about the right amount of open land space and 7 percent believe the state is conserving too much open land space.

Click here for full data tables on this poll (PDF)

For more information on this poll, visit www.elon.edu/elonpoll.

About The Poll: Using a computer-assisted telephone interviewing lab on campus, Elon University conducts frequent regional and statewide surveys on issues of importance to North Carolina as well as other southern states. Information from these polls is shared with media, citizens and public officials to facilitate informed public policy making through the better understanding of citizens’ opinions and attitudes.

By conducting several public opinion surveys annually, the Elon University Poll is recognized as the “poll of record in North Carolina.”