Upper middle-class Americans believe the Bible tells True Believers to vote Republican

Every four years, the differences between the U.S. political parties are thrown into sharp relief, thanks to presidential elections. A study of three decades of voter choice has shown that while the influence of religion on voter choice intensified in the years between the elections of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Barack Obama in 2008, the phenomenon is limited to upper-income white Protestants and Catholics.

In a study…Thomas Hirschl and…James Booth analyzed two large surveys of voter choice. The General Social Survey is a nationally representative, repeat cross-section of American voters across eight presidential elections from 1980 to 2008, and the Cornell National Social Survey (CNSS) recovered identified presidential choice in 1,000 households for the 2008 election. In addition to basic demographic information collected in both surveys, the CNSS included a “biblical authority scale” to assess the degree to which a respondent agreed with such statements as “The Bible is without contradiction” and “The Bible is to be read literally.”

A thorough analysis of voter presidential choice and personal characteristics, from family income to race, gender and religious identity, allowed the researchers to identify not only the magnitude of polarization, but also its specific source within the general population.

Upper-income white Protestants who believe the Bible is the literal word of God have more than doubled their odds of voting Republican — from 2.7 GOP voters for every one Democratic voter among this group in 1980, to 6.1 for every one in 2008,” said Hirschl. “Conversely, secular-minded, upper-income white Protestants reversed their partisan preference, from 1.9 to 1 in favor of the Republican Party in 1980, to a 2.2 to 1 advantage for Democratic voters in 2008.”

A less dramatic but significant increase in religious-partisan differences was also found in upper-income white Catholics. Contrary to popular belief, this polarization was evident only in white households that had a total income greater than $75,000 (2009 equivalent) per year — the “comfort class.”

“There was no comparable trend among lower income white Protestants or Catholics,” Hirschl noted. “In addition, African-Americans remained loyal Democratic voters throughout the 28-year study period, regardless of their religious identity…”

The finding that an increase in secular-religious polarization was restricted to the upper-income white voters, even during a period of increasing economic inequality, runs counter to the predictions of a society-wide “culture war.” According to Hirschl, the study’s results are evidence of a decoupling of religious politics from the politics of economic inequality, presenting opportunities for the political parties to market themselves differently to different sectors.

Yup, somewhat of a surprise to me. If you accept that income follows education – at least in the most general terms – I would think acquired knowledge would override the knee-jerk responses generally required by religion. I guess not.

American exceptionalism at work, again?

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5 comments

  1. Martyn Wilson

    I’m a Brit living in France, and I think my views are probably similar to those of many reasonably well-educated and aware Europeans. Most of us like America and Americans, and are prepared to discount numpties such as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin etc etc etc (it is a long list that we have to discount, you know).

    Anyway, Europeans are not generally anti-American, and even when Dubya was dragging my home country into an illegal war, it was him and his fellow neocons for whom we reserved our disgust (well, him and pricks like our very own Tony Bliar). But (getting to the point at long last) the thing very few Europeans can understand is the religiosity of ordinary Americans – and the shock many evince when someone like me explains that they are an atheist. I’ve had people ignore me at dinner parties when I’ve fessed-up to my non-belief, as if I have no right to it.

    I’ve read quite a lot of American history, and it did seem – during the period 1950-80 – that religious observance was withering on the vine, rather like it has in most European countries. Yet despite scientific advances, textual analysis, archeology and the rest, a very substantial minority of Americans believe in the literal truth of the Bible. It’s bizarre and, from over here, inexplicable. Sadly, I think it is also going to cause problems in the future: empires that have believed they have god on their side have disappeared regularly over the past 2000 years, from the Roman through the Spanish to the British and the Ottoman.

    Like your blog by the way. Great read.

    • eideard

      A couple of features – not positive or negative of themselves:

      Mainstream religions, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish are cratering. No question. The best educated of those walking away keep walking towards atheism.

      Fearfilled types are fodder for the fundies. Ignorance combined with fear isn’t building a revival, though. The noise level doesn’t equate to growth. The noise is encouraged by what American conservatives have become, e.g., opportunists trying for political power, adding fundies’ bigotries today to the commitment to racism made by Nixon.

      • martynwilsoncopywriter

        It would be good to think you are right, but viewed from this distance it does seem like the bigots have the whip hand. It’s most noticeable among the Republicans (what a choice in the primaries, FFS) but Obama – whom I doubt is a believer – had to state clearly that he is a Christian (when of course Ann Coulter knows he is a Mooozlum). And there’s that “Gahd bless America” that has to be said at the end of every speech.

        As I mentioned previously, it just doesn’t happen on this side of the pond. No politician parades their religion (well, apart from that twat Bliar). In the most recent Labour government there was a member of Opus Dei in charge of education, who was moved because she was trying to bring her beliefs to bear on her political role: well, she was also moved because she was an incompetent f***wit. And any politician ended a speech with “God bless the UK/England/France/Germany or whatever” would probably be carted off to the funny farm.

        I long for an American politician to stand up and say “Look, I don’t believe, but I respect entirely your right to do so.” Were I young enough, I would bet it will not happen for the next 25 years. But ten years ago I would have bet there would not be a black President in the next 25 years, so what do I know?

  2. Sex, Spirit, Soul Mates and Chocolate....Ivonne's Journey

    Funny, I think I have read the same bible and studied it while getting my M.A. in rellgious studies and I am pretty darn sure nothing in the Bible about voting Repulican…but I do recall Jesus saying make sure to take care of the women, the widows, the children, the sick and the poor—which really should make most Christians socialist and not Republicans………

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