The Pew Research Center is a research institution focusing on questions of public policy and national culture. It is a subsidiary of the Pew Charitable Trusts. The center conducts research in seven areas. Each section of the Pew Research Center includes analytical reports and polling.
The Center was founded in 1998 as the Pew Research Center for People and the Press. In 2004, after the Pew Charitable Trusts became a public charity, the Pew Research Center for People and the Press was amalgamated with the Project for Excellence in Journalism, Stateline.org, the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the Pew Hispanic Center, and the Pew Global Attitudes Project as the Pew Research Center.
The Pew Research Center’s programs are divided amongst seven major research areas. Its U.S. Politics and Policy divisions features reports on American politics; recent reports include a typology of the coalitions in the Republican and Democratic parties, polls about support for same-sex marriage, and the amount of trust Americans have in the government. Pew Social and Demographic Trends has studied how long children live with their parents and American views on gender equality.
Pew research on journalism and media includes polls on how President Donald Trump has been covered by the media, how much effort Americans spend in reading science news, and how news is covered in social media. Its internet and technology program conducted an analysis of comments to Federal Communications Commission proposals on changing rules on “net neutrality,” a study of how older people are using technology, and the extent of online trolling.
Pew Research also conducts surveys on the interaction of science and religion in public life. The science and society program has surveyed feelings on how automation is changing everyday life, and has polled on vaccine use and whether humans should be artificially “enhanced” by technology. The religion and public life program analyzes the attitudes of Muslims and Christians around the world and polled cultural differences between Protestants and Catholics 500 years after the Reformation.
The Center also conducts research outside the United States: Pew Hispanic Trends not only surveys the number of immigrants in the United States but also Mexican views of the U.S. Pew’s principal overseas survey project is the Global Attitudes and Trends, which surveys public opinion in India, Japan, Britain, and the Philippines, among other countries.
Most of the Pew Research Center’s funding comes from its parent organization, the Pew Charitable Trusts. However, since 2005, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Templeton Foundation have jointly run the Pew-Templeton Center on Global Religious Futures, which conducts surveys and analyses of religion around the world.
The roots of the Pew Research Center begin in 1995, when the Pew Charitable Trusts agreed to take over the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press, a five-person polling unit headed by Andrew Kohut that was the polling unit of the Times Mirror newspaper chain. Pew kept the center going with a three-year $4.5 million grant and re-named the organization the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in 1998.
In 2003 the Pew Charitable Trusts transformed from a foundation to a public charity. As a public charity, it could now fund its own programs directly rather than creating quasi-independent organizations that were funded through Pew grantmaking. In 2004, Pew took seven organizations it had created or controlled—the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, the Project for Excellence in Journalism, Stateline.org, The Pew Internet and American Life Project, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the Pew Hispanic Center, and the Pew Global Attitudes Project—and combined them into the Pew Research Center. The merger, Pew Charitable Trusts president Rebecca W. Rimel told the New York Times, would save the trusts $1 million a year in services they no longer needed to duplicate. Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, became president of the Pew Research Center. The merger also cost the Tides Center $6 million a year in income, as Tides received a six percent cut of the grants Pew used as an administrative fee for three of the seven predecessor organizations.
The Pew Research Center has had three presidents. The first, Andrew Kohut, came to the Pew Research Center from its predecessor, the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press. Prior to that, he had served as president of the Gallup Organization between 1979-1989. According to American Enterprise Institute fellow Norm Ornstein, Kohut “was not just the gold standard for polling—he was the platinum standard” and “used some of the resources at Pew…to keep the (polling) industry as honest and competent as possible.” National Public Radio commentator Mara Liasson said that Kohut “was one of the most frequent outside voices at NPR” from 1986-2012.
Kohut served as president of the Pew Research Center from 1995 until his retirement in 2012, His successor, Alan Murray, had been deputy managing editor of the Wall Street Journal. Murray left the Pew Research Center in 2014 to become editor of Fortune.
Pew’s third—and current—president is Michael Dimock, who was previously associate director of the center and a political scientist at North Carolina State.
Several of Pew Research Center’s studies have proven controversial, including surveys of religion. In addition Pew Research, like all pollsters, has had to address the problem of Americans’ increasing reluctance to answer calls from pollsters (a problem known as the “response rate crisis”).
A Survey of Jewish America
In 2013, Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project produced A Survey of Jewish America, the largest survey of Jews in a decade. The survey found that the percentage of Americans who were Jews remained relatively constant at 2.2 percent of the population. Pew researchers included in this number the 22 percent of Jews who said they did not have any religion but called themselves Jewish because they were raised as Jews or had a Jewish parent. The researchers also found that 10 percent of the Jews living in the United States were either Soviet immigrants or were descended from parents born in the U.S.S.R.
Writing in Commentary, Jonathan S. Tobin summarized reactions from prominent Jews to the Pew survey. He noted that Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union of Reform Judaism interpreted Pew’s findings that Jews were more likely to define themselves as Jewish because of their politics or social customs, that Judaism should downplay religion in favor of further outreach to Jews in ways that weren’t religious. “The true purpose here,” Tobin wrote, “would seem to be the unabashed identification of Judaism…with the latest in American liberal tropes.”
Marvin Schick, formerly a professor at Hunter College and the New School of Social Research, argued that Pew had overstated the number of Orthodox Jews in the U.S. by counting the number of people who attended Orthodox synagogues but were not Orthodox. He faulted Pew, which hired Russian-speaking researchers to deal with Russian emigrants, for failing to hire anyone with first-hand knowledge of Orthodox Judaism to study the Orthodox population.
J.J. Goldberg, writing in Forward, argued that Pew overstated its evidence that the percentage of Jews “with no religion” had risen dramatically from 7 percent of Jews surveyed in 2000 to 20 percent in 2013. Goldberg suggested that the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey showed that 20 percent of Jews surveyed then had said they were “of no religion,” a figure comparable to Pew’s. Goldberg also said that other demographic surveys of American Jews in the past 20 years showed the number of Jews in the U.S. was constant at just over two million, rather than being slowly in decline as Pew found.
Pew researchers Alan Cooperman and Greg Smith countered that their methods of counting Jews were not comparable to other demographic studies and that it was “highly misleading” to make comparisons between Pew’s findings and those of the National Jewish Population Survey.
Criticism by Robert Wuthnow
In a 2015 article in First Things, Robert Wuthnow, a Princeton sociologist and the author of Inventing American Religion: Polls, Surveys and the Tenuous Quest for a Nation’s Faith, noted that “Mentions of Pew polling about religion in the nation’s newspapers and periodicals increased from approximately 1,800 mentions in the 1990s to more than 11,000 between 2005 and 2012.” He stated, “Polling has taught us to think about religion in certain ways that happen to be convenient for conducting polls. The questions tap a few aspects of belief and behavior that can be tracked as trends and rarely provide opportunities to hear what people actually think.”
He noted that falling response rates threatened polls’ accuracy and that answering questions about religion was not as simple as determining which candidate to support in an election. For example, surveys that showed the number of nonreligious Americans were increasing did not show that many of these Americans still said they believed in God and still attended religious services occasionally.
Alan Cooperman and Greg Smith of the Pew Research Center responded that the evidence showed that people who still responded to polls were more likely to go to church, thus perhaps showing that “the move away from organized religion that we and others have reported may be more dramatic than we document.” They said that survey researchers had long understood that Americans were likely to overstate to pollsters how often they attended church, but that religious attendance figures were “important and revealing” since they provided information about the demographics of Americans who said they were frequent churchgoers.