Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Mixed Reactions: How Religious Motivation Explains Responses to Religious Rhetoric in Politics

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Mixed Reactions: How Religious Motivation Explains Responses to Religious Rhetoric in Politics

Article excerpt

Religious rhetoric is a fixture in American political culture. All of the past thirty State of the Union Addresses have mentioned the word "God," and sixteen of those thirty have used "God" outside of the phrase, "God Bless America."1 According to the American Presidency Project ("Major Presidential Speeches" n.d), in the past thirty years, 175 public presidential addresses have used the word "scripture." Domke and Coe (2010) show the use of religious rhetoric within the political sphere is increasing in the United States. One might assume the more religious someone is, the more appealing religious rhetoric will be, and it appears most politicians who use such appeals are operating under such an assumption (Djupe and Calfano 2013; Domke and Coe 2010). This article challenges the simplicity of that assumption. Studies testing this relationship between religious rhetoric in politics and candidate appeal do find positive correlations (Albertson 2015; Djupe and Calfano 2014; Weber and Thornton 2012). These studies use broad measures of religiosity or fundamentalism to classify religious citizens. However, other research has shown there are important differences among religious citizens that are not as straightforward as their religious tradition or their observable religious behavior (Allport and Ross 1967; Altemeyer and Hunsberger 1992; Batson, Schoenrade, and Ventis 1993; Eisenstein 2006). If research glosses over these differences, it takes the chance of missing or underestimating religion's effect on important political behavior. While some scholars acknowledge the religious vary in their acceptance of religious rhetoric (e.g., Albertson 2015; Djupe and Calfano 2014), previous research has not fully dealt with how religious differences may affect responses to religious cues within a campaign environment. This article hypothesizes that religious motivation can help explain different responses, even among the religious, to the political use of religious rhetoric. Religious motivation is a measure of the place religion has in an individual's life and is an important determinant of individual behavior and attitude formation, and variation in religious motivation can explain why some religious citizens are attracted to candidates using religious appeals while others recoil from such appeals.

The goal of this article then becomes twofold. First, it introduces a measure of religious motivation and demonstrates religious motivation is a unique measure of individual difference with independent effects beyond personality and traditional measures of religiosity (measures of religious behavior, belief, and belonging). Religious motivation is a measure of the place religion has in an individual's life and gives a perspective on how religion is used to interact both with one's internal and external life. The measure of religious motivation introduced contains three subscales-extrinsic, intrinsic, and quest. This measure allows for a more personal measurement of religiosity, one that can indicate the place and importance of religion in someone's life. The second goal of this article is to demonstrate that religious motivation can explain the variance in reactions to religious rhetoric within a campaign environment. To accomplish these goals, the article makes use of a nationally representative survey experiment that varies the use of religious rhetoric by a fictitious mayoral candidate. The religious rhetoric tested in this study is intended to replicate the language frequently used by mainstream American politicians and familiar to those from a Judeo-Christian background. The results establish religious motivation as a distinct and compelling measure of individual difference that also helps us understand the varied response to religious campaign rhetoric. This response to religious rhetoric is not nearly as simple as previously thought. Religious individuals respond differently to religious appeals, with some evaluating candidates much higher when religious words were included in a quote while other religious individuals rated the candidate lower. …

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