Fall 2015 Articles, Flash Polls, Religion, Social Issues

What is a sin? State students weigh in

In light of the Pope’s visit to the U.S., religious issues became front and center. According to the most recent PackPoll, a vast majority of NCSU undergraduates (9 out of 10) believe that it is sinful to cheat on your partner. But that’s about where agreement that something is sinful ends.


For example, students are almost unanimous in believing that using contraceptives is not a sin (93%). Likewise, just 6% of students think it is a sin to use alcoholic beverages.

Most other attitudes about what is sinful are mixed, which can be seen in Figure 1. Almost four in ten think is sinful to engage in homosexual behavior (35%), which is about the same as those who believe it is sinful to “use energy without considering the environment (36%). Interestingly, just 40% think it is a sin to “have an abortion (60%).”

Completely different were opinions about cheating on schoolwork. About two in three students said cheating on schoolwork was sinful, second only to the percentage saying that it was a sin to cheat on your partner (87%).


Partisan Differences

What is considered a sin often, though not always, depends on respondents’ party identification (PID).

For example, 63% of Republicans answered that homosexual behavior is sinful, but only 12% of Democrats shared that opinion. The issues of cheating on your schoolwork and cheating on your partner, however, were not affected by partisanship; each group was very unlikely to view these things as sinful.

As we would expect, though, viewing abortion as sinful is correlated with issue preferences members of the different parties tend to have on the issue. Most Democrats do not believe abortion is a sin, but most Republicans do. It is notable that most Independents, like Democrats, do not consider abortion as sinful.


Do adults agree?

The PackPoll borrowed most of these questions about sin from the PEW research on ‘Beliefs about sin’, which had been administered to a general population of the United States. The comparison between NCSU students and general public is interesting from many points of view.

Overall, NCSU students consider almost every index they were asked about to be less sinful than the general public interviewed by PEW. Interestingly, the only clash was represented by the ‘use energy without considering the environment’, where almost four out of ten students consider as sin, that drops by half when it comes to the average American (19%).

Figure 3 highlights the relative differences between what students think compared to the population of the US. This could be representative of students in an academic community, or STEM based NCSU students, who are more likely to reflect on the consequences of energy use than the general public.


These are the results for this semester’s first “Flash Poll” about the Pope and related issues (October 5-6, 2015). The survey was administered over the internet to a random sample of 3,500 NCSU undergraduates, generating a 27% response rate for the first question, and a 24% response rate by the time our the last question was asked, because some respondents dod not complete the entire survey. Sampling error is higher than +/-3.3% for the first question because only half received one version of it. Sampling error is also higher for results that are reported for sub-groups. In addition to sampling error, other forms of error occur in surveys, such as confusion about question wording or the order of questions, but these are not precisely quantifiable. We do not apply post-stratification sample weights to adjust for possible demographic imbalances in our sample because we did not measure known population characteristics such as students’ year in school, race or gender.

Click here to see the full set of results: Toplines Pope Report

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