A bluebird in the garden, a spirit in a house, a kind man on the side of the road. Americans are big believers in angels, although not necessarily the ones with halos and wings.
An overwhelming majority, almost regardless of backgrounds and religious convictions, think angels are real, according to an AP-AOL News poll exploring attitudes about Santa Claus, angels and more.
Belief in angels, however people define them, is highest -- almost universal -- among white evangelical Christians, 97 percent of whom trust in their existence, the poll indicates.
Among the findings about angels and Santa:
* Protestants, women, Southerners, Midwesterners and Republicans were the most likely to believe in angels, although strong majorities in other groups also shared that faith. Belief in angels declined slightly with advanced education, from 87 percent of those with high school education or less to 73 percent of those with college degrees. Overall, 81 percent believed in angels.
* 86 percent believed in Santa Claus as a child. And despite the multiethnic nature of the country, more than 60 percent of those with children at home consider Santa important in their holiday celebrations now.
* Nearly half, 47 percent, said Santa detracts from the religious significance of Christmas -- over one-third, 36 percent, said he enhances the religious nature of the holiday.
* 91 percent of whites believed in Santa as a child -- 72 percent of minorities did. One quarter of those now living in households with incomes under US$25,000 did not believe in Santa.
The poll of 1,000 adults was conducted by telephone between Dec. 12 and Dec. 14 by Ipsos, an international public opinion research company. The margin of sampling error for all adults was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
If it's one thing to believe in angels, it's something else to explain exactly what an angel is.
"A presence that you feel around you, is my opinion," said Elizabeth Daves, 63, of Flemington, New Jersey.
"I accept them -- to come whenever they want to," she said. And she said they have comforted her since her mother-in-law died.
Edward Pelz, 80, of Grabill, Indiana, said he believes that angels are guiding him.
"Have I ever seen one? Nope. We depict an angel as a person that's white, has a robe on, has wings on back. I'm not sure that's the way they look. So for me, I think sometimes there's angels that aren't that way," he said.
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