The Sun newspaper recently commissioned a poll from YouGov to see what percentage of the population believed in paranormal things, such as haunted houses, ghosts, and the ability to communicate with the spirits of the dead. They found that ‘one in four British people (39%) believe that a house can be haunted by some kind of supernatural being, and almost as many (34%) think that ghosts actually exist.’ Here is the breakdown:
39% believe a house can be haunted
34% believe in ghosts
28% have felt the presence of a supernatural being
9% have communicated with the dead
You can see the data in full by clicking here but to summarise, participants of this study were asked a series of questions with different sets of answers
SET 1: Generally speaking, do you think that each of the following do or do not exist?
Other supernatural beings
Possible answers: Definitely exist / Probably exist / Probably do not exist / Definitely do not exist / Don’t know
Generally speaking, do you think there is life after death?
Generally speaking, do you believe that a house could be haunted by a supernatural being (e.g. a spirit)?
Possible answers: Yes / No, I don’t / Don’t know
Have you ever seen or felt the presence of a supernatural being (e.g. a spirit)?
Have you ever communicated with the dead?
Possible answers: Yes, more than once / Yes, once / No, never / Don’t know
The results of this study are significantly different than a similar poll run through YouGov by ASSAP, the results of which were released this time last year. I wrote about my concerns with the poll data when the data was made public, but the poll conducted on behalf of The Sun has created even more questions.
The ASSAP poll found that 52% of the population believed in ghosts, a 2008 Comres poll found that 39% of the population belied in ghosts, and a 2005 poll found that 40% of the population believed that houses could be haunted. Why did the poll conducted last year by ASSAP cause such a huge leap on the number of people reporting that they believed in ghosts that led to headlines such as Do You Believe In Ghosts? More And More Britons Apparently Do.
I personally believe that the answer lies in the language used in the individual polls. Now, I broke this down in the article I wrote about the ASSAP poll, but basically – if the ASSAP poll asks “To what extent do you agree or disagree with the statement: ‘I believe some people have experienced ghosts’ and gives you the options of ‘strongly disagree’, ‘disagree’, ‘slightly disagree’, ‘slightly agree’, ‘agree’, ‘strongly agree’ or ‘not sure’ there are more chances for you to score a “positive” answer to that question than in a poll, like The Sun poll, that asks ‘Do You think that the ghosts do or do not exist?’ with the options ‘Definitely exist’, ‘Probably exist’, ‘Probably do not exist’, ‘Definitely do not exist, ‘Don’t know’.
I’m not a statistician and I understand that YouGov are the experts here, but I find it hard to understand why there would be a decrease in just one year – especially when previous polls in 2005 and 2008 have suggested consistent percentages of people reporting that they believe.
These are very complex subjects to deal with and belief is never straightforward. I would wager that there are some people who believe that a house can be haunted but that this wouldn’t automatically mean they believed in ghosts, there are those who believe in ghosts in a completely religious context and I know people who don’t believe in ghosts who believe in “earth energies”. I’ve dealt with eye-witnesses who don’t believe in ghosts but have experienced something they cannot explain. With this in mind, I don’t think we’ll ever gain a true reflection of how many people believe in ghosts and similar paranormal beliefs but a consistent poll that asks the same questions year on year would be a good way to start gaining some insight. Until then I think we have to take such polls with a pinch of salt.