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Feb 11 2014

The Inexorable Link Between Religion and Politics

Last week Gallup released polling data on religious belief on a state-by-state basis and Chris Cillizza identifies a very interesting and predictable fact: The most religious states voted unanimously for Mitt Romney in 2012 and the least religious states voted for Barack Obama.

The 19 most religious states — ranked by Gallup as those who identify as “very religious” — all went for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in 2012. (Romney won 24 total states.) In those 19 states, President Obama averaged 39 percent of the vote. Here are those 19 states.

On the other end of the (religious) spectrum, the opposite is true. President Obama won the 14 least religious states in the country. He averaged 61 percent of the vote in those places; if you take out the District of Columbia, which Obama won with 91(!) percent, the president averaged 59 percent in the remaining 13 states. Here are those 13 states (and the District)…

The predictive power of religiosity is nothing new. Going back to 2000 — the first time they began asking the question on the exit polls — the Republican nominee has won among those who attend church weekly by 20 points or more. The one exception is 2008 when John McCain beat Barack Obama among weekly churchgoers by 12 points.

This certainly isn’t a surprise. But as Americans become less religious, the Republicans have to be concerned about that.

29 comments

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  1. 1
    Modusoperandi

    …the Republican nominee has won among those who attend church weekly by 20 points or more.

    That should read “the Republican nominee has won among those who say that they attend church weekly by 20 points or more”. I’m not saying that they don’t. I’m saying that if they don’t, there’s a bias toward saying they do (“Pollster asks me if I go to church. Church is good. I am good. Ergo, say ‘Yes, I do to go church. All the time. Heck, I’m at church right now.’”).

  2. 2
    richardelguru

    Modus
    The last bit of your comment shows why it is so important to choose with extreme care the location for conducting a poll

  3. 3
    matty1

    Modus, stealing the communion wine doesn’t count.

  4. 4
    raven

    Much of the time, it is impossible to separate religion from politics. You can’t tell where one ends and one begins.

    Fundie xianity seems to be mostly rightwing extremist politics with a few crosses stuck on for show.

    God is nowhere doing nothing and heaven might exist but probably doesn’t and at any rate, is out of reach. OTOH, politics, money, and power are real and can yield real advantages and benefits..

  5. 5
    eric

    Yeah I saw that but I’m not all that impresed with the results. First, they’ve got 4 point of comparison (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012), one of which goes against their conclusions. That’s not very strong support for this being a causal trend; luck or randomness easily explains that result.

    Secondly, I doubt very much that the pattern is consistent through gubernatoral, house, or senate elections. Now the house elections we might reasonably ignore because gerrymandering could skew the expected results. But if this pattern isn’t repeating in senate and gubernatoral elections, then it probably isn’t a pattern at all.

  6. 6
    Pteryxx

    Quotes from Accelerated Christian Education study material… for an English course.

    http://leavingfundamentalism.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/accelerated-christian-education-raising-political-activists/

    “We have allowed humanists to make laws that have restricted the exercise of our Biblical faith. We have not been good caretakers of the freedoms God has given us by refraining from participating in our representative government.”

    “I have recently learned that culture deteriorates whenever believers allow humanists to influence government.”

    “God established three institutions: home, church, and government. He expects His people to apply Biblical principles in all three institutions.”

    “Every believer has a responsibility to add his ‘salty’ influence to government.”

    That last sentence is a reference to Matthew 5:13, “Ye are the salt of the earth.”

  7. 7
    Pteryxx

    bah, italics tag failed me.

    That last sentence is a reference to Matthew 5:13, “Ye are the salt of the earth.”

    is Jonny Scaramanga commenting on the quoted material.

  8. 8
    matty1

    With the exception of a few issues though the correlation with parties does seem to be a largely American affair. I have friends who are self described evangelicals, young earth creationists and opposed to abortion and gay marriage. Around two thirds of them I would describe as left of centre, one used to have a Che Guevara poster, and the others as broadly conservative yet none of them think the others are bad Christians for disagreeing about politics.

  9. 9
    heddle

    matty1,

    With the exception of a few issues though the correlation with parties does seem to be a largely American affair.

    I think so too. I have long been puzzled by the large, positive correlation among Americans. I know quite a number of conservative-Christian Europeans– and to the extent that I am aware of their politics, they are political liberals. At least by American standards. Something caused a sizable segment of American conservative Christians to elevate the culture wars to the level (and beyond) of the gospel–and the connection between conservative faith and conservative politics was off and running. I don’t know enough history/anthropology/sociology to know what kickstarted it all.

  10. 10
    fifthdentist

    “But as Americans become less religious, the Republicans have to be concerned about that.”

    Be assured that in some dank, subterranean room with poor ventilation and a big cross on the wall a group is hard at work determining how to prevent the non-religious from voting.

  11. 11
    dingojack

    Heddle – I recall vaguely a Ken Burns film* documenting the role of religion in American history. I found it kind of interesting in explaining why America (and Americans) are so ‘hyper-religious’ (relative to places like England, Canada and Australia**). I’ll see if I can find out more, it might serve as background research.
    Dingo
    ——–
    * If his style doesn’t put you off. Some people I know get very irritated as soon as they see Ken’s name in the credits.
    ** ‘Our fearless leader’, rather shamefacedly, made reference to god recently. It lead to nothing but a nervous giggle from the audience. Hardly overwhelming support from a majority Christian nation.

  12. 12
    dingojack

    Ah this is what I was thinking of….
    Dingo

  13. 13
    heddle

    dj #11,

    I love Ken Burns. I could watch the baseball series again, and I rarely watch anything twice. (Unlike the Mrs, who could watch Fiddler on the Roof or Oceans’s Eleven once a week.)

  14. 14
    Modusoperandi

    heddle “I don’t know enough history/anthropology/sociology to know what kickstarted it all.”
    What Peculiar Institution, and its fallout, and its fallouts fallout, is unique to the US….Start at Brown v Board of Education, then jump ahead to seg academies.

  15. 15
    Chiroptera

    But as Americans become less religious, the Republicans have to be concerned about that.

    I’m not so sure about that. Maybe other people have data on this, but I suspect that religion isn’t the cause of conservative politics as much as it’s a marker for it. I can easily see red states/counties remaining very conservative even as overtly religious superstition is replace with more secular but equally authoritarian and anti-non white male political ideologies.

  16. 16
    Synfandel

    At #9, heddle wrote:

    I know quite a number of conservative-Christian Europeans– and to the extent that I am aware of their politics, they are political liberals. At least by American standards.

    Looking at American political culture from the outside, one gets the impression that most of the rest of the industrialized world is ‘liberal’ by American standards—and according to the American definition of “liberal”. (Outside the US, “liberal” means supporting small government and the free market.)

  17. 17
    eric

    Yeah, gotta agree with Modus; if you’re looking for a reason, Heddle, start with the dixiecrats leaving the Dems over civil rights in the ’60s.
    Also keep in mind the fact that many of the christian conservative sects in the US are relatively young and arose because the people involved were politically conservative. The SBC, for example, is not a case of an old and hallowed sect that used to help the poor and downtrodden suddenly changing its political tune. There is no mystery about how it “turned” politically conservative because it always was: it was created in 1845 specifically to give a voice to slave-owning ministers, in one fell swoop siding both with the rich against the poor and with social conservatives against liberals.

  18. 18
    eric

    @16 – as a generalization, it’s fair. Both our main parties are to the right of the European center. But Europe’s farthest right fringe groups sometimes do better in Europe than they would ever do in the US (IMO). Some of your nationalist parties are more like our skinheads or white supremecists than our GOP, and those groups haven’t had any significant representation in our national politics since the civil rights era. I can only think of two national politicians who might count as exceptions (i.e. examples of nationalist/white supremicist right people gunning for major office) – Robert Byrd was a klansman, and only publicly repudiated his racist views in the early1980s. The second would be David Duke, but he only got to the state rep level – never any national political office.

  19. 19
    eric

    I should also point out that Byrd was a Democrat, though that probably had more to do with geopolitical history (he started in West Virginia in the 1950s) than it did his policy preferences.

  20. 20
    Modusoperandi

    eric ” I can only think of two national politicians who might count as exceptions (i.e. examples of nationalist/white supremicist right people gunning for major office) – Robert Byrd was a klansman, and only publicly repudiated his racist views in the early1980s. The second would be David Duke, but he only got to the state rep level – never any national political office.”
    Jessie “Watch me make her cry. I’m going to make her cry. I’m going to sing ‘Dixie’ until she cries.” Helms.

  21. 21
    Nick Gotts

    In England and Wales (not the UK as a whole) the Anglican Church has traditionally been “The Tory Party at prayer”, and I saw a recent article giving evidence this still has considerable truth. Non-conformists have tended to be more leftish, and this was most marked in Wales. The Anglican/non-conformist division doesn’t, I think, correspond closely to theological conservatism or liberalism. In Scotland, Protestants voted Conservative and Catholics Labour until the 1960s or even later – until Thatcher largely destroyed the Conservative vote in Scotland. In northern Ireland, the vast majority still vote for parties closely associated with Catholicism or Protestantism. But the biggest difference between the USA and western Europe is that in the latter, effective social security systems have undermined religion as a whole – so it makes perfect sense for religious leaders in the USA to support the hard right to maintain their hold on their flocks.

  22. 22
    timgueguen

    Stephen Harper’s majority term here in Canada is a good demonstration of how conservative Christian views don’t have the same kind of traction as they do in the US. Harper has disappointed some of his supporters by not trying to limit abortion or get rid of same sex marriage, and generally making sure his backbenchers don’t get far when they bring up such issues. He’s decided, quite rightly, that those issues will be losers for him, that reopening them will piss off too many people. He’d rather change what he can, like going the tough on crime route, being less multilateral in international affairs, and shrinking government programs of various sorts,

  23. 23
    Michael Heath

    heddle,

    Part 1 – conservative Christians migration into one party:
    Political ideology was largely spread across political parties until the late-1970s/early-1980s. Starting with George Wallace in 1958, then Richard Nixon in ’60, then Barry Goldwater, then Nixon again in ’68 and finally Reagan in 1980, southern conservative Christians all migrated toward the Republican party. This was motivated predominately on racism. The parties were considered the same on racial politics until around 1960, within two short years, that changed dramatically as the GOP marketed themselves towards racists. [1]

    The GOP had long been a home for secular plutocratic-loving conservatives going back to the late-19th century, the Democratic party’s conservative wing was dominated by conservative populists, which included southern conservative Christians. European conservative Christians who migrated to the northern latitudes of the U.S. predominately became Republicans, where there numbers weren’t sufficient to drive much of a religionists agenda, until their fellow southerners left the Democratic party and joined the GOP.

    By the year 2000 conservative Christians made up about 60% of the GOP. So as a voting constituency, they became the predominant voting force in the GOP, and the biggest voting block in the U.S. This migration led to the opportunity for religious leaders to wield even more power by becoming political leaders, e.g., Pat Robertson, Cal Thomas (Moral Majority), Jerry Falwell, and then James Dobson (who President W. Bush called on Monday mornings as a standing rule).

    By the 1970s racism wasn’t the predominant energizing feature keeping conservatives loyal to the GOP, instead it had become the so-called pro-life movement. Of course racism came back into play with the 2008 Obama campaign, with Fox promoting a racist response nightly from late-Spring until deep into the Summer.

    Since 2008, racism also better solidified secular conservatives with conservative Christians in the GOP than abortion or the emergent gay rights movement has done. So it will be interesting see what keeps these two conservative movements banded together after President Obama leaves office, especially since, in the long-term, the GOP needs some of the brown-skinned hordes of immigrants to vote Republican.

    During the 1990s through early-2000s, the biggest threat the GOP and conservative religious leaders faced was continuing to leverage the pro-life movement to maintain control of conservative Christians voters. This was due to the emergence of the threat of global warming. The GOP was lagging on mitigation efforts in the 1990s and the Democrats began to lead. Conservative Christians became increasingly concerned about this threat, this threatened their loyalty to voting Republican which threatened the power of conservative Christian leaders. Ted Haggard was an emerging leader who attempted to distinguish himself from his peers by advocating for the mitigation of AGW. I think that didn’t help him when he had his scandal and no circling of the wagons occurred as it had for so many other religious leaders.

    There’s no biblical reason for conservative Christians to zero-in on denying climate change as they began to do in the very early-2000s. But the threat their leaders faced if they did prioritize mitigating climate change over anti-abortion rights was very real. So at this juncture we the Bush administration renege on their climate change campaign promises and helped lead a denialist strategy. They of course also exploited conservative Christian bigotry towards gays to amplify voter commitment to the GOP that was recently fueled primarily by the abortion debate. 2004 was the halycon years for conservative Christian voter turn-out when it came to denying gays their rights.

    1] This is the most recent book that touches on the above subject: Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class. I haven’t read this book, I have read two major excerpts that covered the information provided here, where I was literate on the topic prior to these articles. One thing I did learn from those excerpts was how quickly Republicans became known as the home for racists, overt ones, those how hide it, or especially today – those demonstrable racists who deny even to themselves they’re racists. That from two years earlier the public perceived little difference between the parties on race.

    Part 2 – psychological profile
    Conservative Christians are largely authoritarians. I forget the exact rate and certainly the children aren’t naturally disposed to it (it’s more of a developmental issue passed on by parents and other authority figures, i.e., school and church); but authoritarianism is an attribute of this sub-population. The best sources to understand this phenomena is Bob Altemeyer’s The Authoritarian’s and then Chris Mooney’s mis-titled book, The Republican Brain, which should have been titled, The U.S. Conservative Brain.

    Now authoritarianism is obviously not unique to the U.S., e.g., USSR and Nazi Germany were both infected far worse than the U.S., where politically powerful non-conservatives provide a check. Additionally, we do see today’s authoritarian Christians acting similar to the late-19th century U.S. southerners.

    The U.S. Ambassador to Germany during the rise of Naziism, William Dodd, was a historian who was an expert in both the post-Civil War South and Germany’s culture from the mid-19th century onward. He noticed startlingly similarities between both cultures and warned FDR and the country accordingly about the Nazis. Erik Larsen’s book on Dodd’s time in Germany provides a brief overview. That description of the late-19th century South and Germany are very similar to behavior expressed today, nationalistic (ironic in the late-19th century South), jingoist, militarist, racist, and bigoted.

    While I’m conversant on what’s caused conservative Christians to become far more political than religious, abandon the best of their dogma and become the most powerful opponent of those edicts, I wonder what happened to all those German authoritarians. Did they mostly emigrate to the U.S. and South America? Did those who weren’t change? Did WWII actually cause German parents who remained in Germany to stop indoctrinating their children so they weren’t similarly infected with authoritarianism?

    I’m second generation German-America and nearly all my relatives are committed authoritarians. Some are even proud to be described as such in spite of this being an apparent psychological affliction (to me, not sure if psychologists agree). So authoritarianism isn’t a mere abstract observation for me, but instead a condition that I’ve had to fight off since I was a little kid.

  24. 24
    Michael Heath

    I hit submit above rather than Preview.

    To wrap up my prior post. Racism and then the pro-life movement solidified theologically conservative Christians into the GOP. Authoritarianism is their given condition and that affliction makes them very easy to manipulate and creates little authoritarians as well, an amplifying feedback affect.

    Their religious leaders were able to secure more power by securing political power which promoted using ever more strident authoritarian tactics to maintain their people’s loyalty.

    This wouldn’t have happened if these people were better educated. Racism is strongly correlated to ignorance and a lack of education. And when we consider the roots of these people, you see them coming from poor, very religious immigrants who were already authoritarians, that coupled to southern Conservatives whose immigrant roots were also deeply planted in authoritarianism. There these poor southern white immigrants of the 19th century were confronted with authority figures who overtly promoted racism.

    I recall my earlier educative years being spent with how many history lessons focusing on racism. I didn’t buy it. But after I got out of college and started my own studies, I find that it’s difficult to over emphasis the role race has played in our country’s history.

    So these are the roots on why theologically conservative Christians are politically conservative. What makes it difficult for some to break out and be liberal is the authoritarian mentality of their authority figures and how they’ve been indoctrinated to be authoritarians. Liberals are open, conservatives are closed. Authoritarianism is the ultimate indoctrination to be closed. Dr. Altemeyer found it very difficult for people indocrtrinated to be authoritarians to not become one in adulthood. The ones that succeeded were from a small subset of any population: highly intelligent. I wonder if a seminal event would jar loose more to become liberal; is that what happened to make Germany more liberal? Their loss in WWII?

  25. 25
    martinc

    1) Interesting topic. I have always wondered why religion is so important in American politic, yet so unheard-of in most other Western nations. Here in Australia, strong religiosity is probably considered a net negative politically, though the strongly religous certainly gravitate toward politics, so they are over-represented in Parliament compared to the population as a whole.

    2) Thanks, Michael Heath at #23 and #24, for an interesting analysis.

    3) Nick Gotts @ 21:

    But the biggest difference between the USA and western Europe is that in the latter, effective social security systems have undermined religion as a whole

    Interesting link. I agree there’s a correlation, is it definitely causal?

  26. 26
    Nick Gotts

    martinc@25,

    Interesting link. I agree there’s a correlation, is it definitely causal?

    Very difficult to be certain about it, but here’s a paper on the matter. It focuses on income inequality rather than social security systems as such. It admits that the strong correlation at national level between income inequality and religiosity could be due to the latter promoting the former, or to some third factor, but argues that income inequality -> personal insecurity -> religiosity is the most plausible causal sequence. The temporal sequence in western Europe also seems to support this: the most rapid change in social security (notably medical care free at the point of delivery) came shortly after WWII, and it is since then that churches have been closing. Assuming this hypothesis is correct, it’s interesting to consider whether the decline is reversible if social security systems are destroyed, as a hegemonic neoliberal right* clearly intends in much of western Europe.

    *By this piece of jargon, I mean that the market fundamentalism of the post-1975 right has become “common sense” in north America and Europe, accepted even by most parties supposedly on the left. Throughout the EU, there are perhaps only two political parties with significant followings whose policies do not amount to “austerity lite” (cutting state spending, putting the screws on the poor and scapegoating minorities), in the wake of the financial crash, which one might have expected would revive the left: Syriza in Greece and Sinn Fein in Ireland.

  27. 27
    dingojack

    Not what I was looking for, but this is interesting…
    [resumes ferreting away].
    Dingo

  28. 28
    dingojack

    Ah ha! This is what I what looking for. Now to chase up the actual article (it is a little dated but still interesting, in a general sense).
    Dingo
    ——–
    Sorry about the tiny size.

  29. 29
    dingojack

    Here ya go matey!
    :) Dingo

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