Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Belonging, Believing, and Group Behavior: Religiosity and Voting in American Presidential Elections

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Belonging, Believing, and Group Behavior: Religiosity and Voting in American Presidential Elections

Article excerpt

Abstract

The authors examine the effect of religiosity on intended and recalled voter turnout in presidential elections. They argue that the trade-off between time spent in worship and time spent in political activities, specifically voter turnout, is strongest for mainline Protestants, weaker for Catholics, and nonexistent for evangelical Protestants. Evangelical Protestants increasingly recognize the connection between their religious beliefs and politics, with the result that they have formed a habit of voting. This argument has important implications for American voting behavior literature. Going beyond partisan voting patterns, the findings demonstrate that evangelical Protestants manifest unique patterns as they relate to turnout patterns.

Keywords

voting, elections, turnout, religiosity, religion and politics

Many democratic theorists argue that political participa- tion is essential for a well-functioning democracy (Pateman 1970; Dahl 1989). While there are many avenues for citi- zen participation in American democracy, through inter- est groups and political parties for example, the fundamental means by which citizens participate in gov- ernment is through elections. Elections serve the function of translating citizen opinion into governmental policy, through the means of their chosen representatives. The repeated nature of elections enables citizens to hold their elected officials accountable for their actions while in office (Manin 1997), and it is clear historically that citi- zens are able to and do effectively exercise this ability. However, scholars demonstrate that participation in elec- tions is not equal and that, as a result, the voices of some are privileged over others (see Verba and Nie 1972; Piven and Cloward 1989; Rosenstone and Hansen 1993). Con- sequently, mechanisms that promote citizen participation in elections are considered vital for the health of democ- racy. Accordingly, it is important to discover both what causes citizens to participate in elections and what routin- izes subsequent participation.

Toward this goal, scholars increasingly find that iden- tification and attachment with a religion increase the like- lihood of political participation and engagement among citizens (Conger and Green 2002; Green 2007; D. E. Campbell and Monson 2008; Claassen and Povtak 2010). Religion promotes the development of civic skills that enable citizens to participate politically (Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995; Putnam 2000; Putnam and Campbell 2010). It also provides an important community or social net- work to which citizens belong and a social setting in which similar beliefs are promulgated among group mem- bers (Berelson, Lazarsfeld, and McPhee 1954; Verba, Schlozman, and Brady 1995).

We argue that the effect of religious commitment on voting behavior is an important relationship that is more nuanced than previous scholarship suggests. As with pre- vious scholars, we agree that active participation in a reli- gion fosters political participation. However, we contend that this positive effect is conditional on the particular reli- gious tradition and historical circumstances. Specifically, the trade-off between time spent in worship and time spent in political activities is strongest for mainline Protestants, weaker for Catholics, and nonexistent for evangelical Protestants. Evangelical Protestants increas- ingly recognize the connection between their religious beliefs and politics, with the result that they have formed a habit of voting (Djupe and Grant 2001; Gerber, Green, and Shachar 2003).

This argument has important implications for American voting behavior literature. Scholars increasingly find that evangelical Protestants behave in a unique fashion politi- cally, especially in relation to partisan voting patterns (Layman 2001; D. E. Campbell and Monson 2008). Going beyond partisan voting patterns, our findings demonstrate that evangelical Protestants manifest unique patterns as they relate to turnout patterns. …

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