God's Party? Race, Religion, and Partisanship over Time

By McDaniel, Eric L.; Ellison, Christopher G. | Political Research Quarterly, June 2008 | Go to article overview

God's Party? Race, Religion, and Partisanship over Time


McDaniel, Eric L., Ellison, Christopher G., Political Research Quarterly


The Republican Party has aggressively attempted to recruit black and Latino Evangelicals; however, the success of these efforts has been questioned. The authors argue that the GOP's diminished success in recruiting these groups, compared to Anglos, is based on differing religious worldviews. Using data that allow them to track partisanship over two decades, the authors examine how religious conservatism has shaped Anglo, Latino, and black partisanship. They find that the GOP has been most successful in recruiting Anglos, followed by Latinos. Blacks appear to be unaffected. In addition, they find support for their underlying assumption of differing religious worldviews among the racial/ethnic groups.

Keywords: religion and politics; partisanship; African-Americans; Latinos; and Evangelicals

Electoral politics centers on the formation, maintenance, and destruction of coalitions. As a result, political scientists have long been interested in the partnership between political parties and certain social groups (Berelson, Lazarsfeld, and McPhee 1954; Campbell et al. 1960). Since electoral success ultimately hinges on the ability of political parties to maintain coalitions of different groups, when and why social groups move between the two parties is of particular significance. In recent decades, the incorporation of conservative Christians under the Republican umbrella has inspired the study of how religious groups partner with political parties. These studies document the exodus of conservative Protestants from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party as a result of Republican appeals to this particular class of voters (Layman 2001). For the most part, however, this research has focused primarily on Anglos (non-Hispanic whites).

An examination of the contemporary scene illustrates why the omission of other racial and ethnic groups leaves a gap in our understanding of religion and party politics. First, although African Americans are much more likely than others to be Evangelicals and biblical literalists, they are historically less likely to identify with the Republican Party. Similarly, with the rapid growth of the Latino population, there has been a growth of Evangelical Protestantism within this group. Yet the majority of Latinos also support the Democratic Party. It is interesting to note that Republican strategists, recognizing their sizable numbers, have sought to reach out to minority religious conservatives. This effort has focused on common moral values and similar views on issues like abortion, homosexuality, and the public role of faith. The full impact of these appeals, however, has not been assessed.

The current study begins to fill this gap. First, we develop a theoretical framework for understanding why religious conservatives of varying race and ethnicity may differ in terms of their partisan attachments. We argue that individuals' reading of the Bible is guided by their culture and community. Thus, even those who believe that the Bible is the literal word of God still infuse aspects of their culture into its interpretation. Consequently, biblical literalists vary across communities in terms of their understanding of the Bible. We first test this framework by utilizing a unique data set that allows us to track the role of race/ethnicity and biblical literalism in shaping partisanship over time. The findings from this analysis suggest that race/ethnicity moderates the link between religion and party identification. Specifically, we find that blacks, Latinos, and Anglos differ with respect to how they use their biblical literalism to determine their partisanship. second, we test the underlying assumption that this difference in support is because literalism's effect on political attitudes is contingent on the racial/ethnic background of the individual. These analyses indicate that the direction and magnitude of literalism on policy attitudes is conditional on the race/ethnicity of the individual. …

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