If There’s a Ghost of a Chance, Americans Will Believe It

Times Staff Writer

Nobody polled the British. Nobody had to. As everyone knows, there are more haunted houses per square Englishman than among any semi-civilized tribe this side of the Styx. In Scotland, they have ghosts to tea; in Cornwall, pious parishioners still pray: “From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord deliver us.”

It may seem a long way, then, from Land’s End to Los Angeles, at least as the buzzard flies, but as it turns out, it’s only a tiny leap of faith. A recent poll, by George Gallup Jr. and Jim Castelli, confirms that when it comes to ghosts--and witches and Sasquatches and even Loch Ness Monsters--the West leads all other regions of the United States in degree of belief.

Belief in “non-religious” ectoplasm, that is. The poll carefully distinguishes between faith in traditional (i.e. church-sanctioned) extra-human presences--angels and devils--and “superstitious” beliefs in the likes of goblins, Big Feet, and werewolves. To “superstitious beliefs,” moreover, the pollsters have appended “unusual phenomena.”

Lumped together, 50% of all Americans believe in angels, 46% in extra-sensory perception (ESP), 37% in devils, 31% in deja vu, 24% in precognition, 18% in clairvoyance, 16% in Big Foot, 15% in astrology, 15% in ghosts, 13% in witches and 10% in the Loch Ness Monster.


Further breaking down the ghost-to-ghost survey, women lend more credence to angels/devils than do men (46% to 41%); women also believe more in “other phenomena” (22% to 20%). Belief in just about anything tends to peak from the age of 30 to 49 and then tail off as one approaches the moment of truth. College graduates believe less in angels/devils and ghosts/witches then do their less learned brethren, but more in the “unusual experiences” of ESP, precognition, clairvoyance, etc. (Fully 16% of college graduates polled, though, do subscribe to Galluping ghosts.)

The South and Midwest, where traditional religious beliefs remain most tenacious, are predictably strongest for angels and devils. (Only 41% of the West has faith in the Angels, a figure that surely would be lower were one to subtract Anaheim.) By comparison, the East seems to believe in little else than Mario Cuomo.

The West registers the nation’s highest credibility marks for ESP (52%) and similar paranormal phenomena. Perhaps more revealing, the West believes more widely in ghosts (21%) than does the East (15%), the Midwest (15%) or the South (10%).

Most likely to be haunted tonight, then, according to Gallup, would be a woman of 30 to 49, living in the West and without a college education. Skeptics are directed toward the confession of the mortal Charles A. Dana, typically cynical editor of another time. “I don’t believe in ghosts,” said Dana, “but I’ve been afraid of them all my life.”