How Religion Influences Voters
Humans have an uncanny ability to quickly make judgments about other people.
Do they look you in the eye? Give you a firm handshake? Are they smiling, or do they speak with confidence during their presentation?
Their outside behavior and appearance all play into how we judge someone in those first few seconds.
Now let’s talk about politicians. Nobody worries more about impressions than a political candidate.
Who they are, where they come from, and how they speak all play a part in persuading people to vote for them. It’s never just about their policies or their platform.
One of those factors is religion. And it plays an interesting role in how we see candidates. A new study published in American Political Research takes a look at this relationship between religion, politics, and trust.
Let’s take a quick look at how religion influences voters.
Who Do You Trust?
The researchers did three different studies that looked at how religious affiliations affected Americans and their politics.
They analyzed information from 2 previous polls and also performed new study.
The first poll looked at data collected during a 2007 Newsweek poll of over 1,000 Americans. There was one factor that could predict whether or not a person would vote for an atheist candidate.
What was it?
The belief of whether or not an atheist could be a moral person.
Almost 30% of the people polled believed that atheists could not be moral people. Those that felt this way were two-thirds less likely to vote for an atheist candidate.
The second part of their study looked at a 2007 CBS poll of almost 1300 Americans.
They looked at a specific candidate – Hillary Clinton – and tested to see how perceptions about religion interacted with feelings of trust.
From that poll, voters who were liberal were not impacted by Clinton’s religiousness. For moderates and conservatives, it was different. The more they believed her to be a strongly religious person the more they trusted her.
The researchers saw that for all voters, the stronger her religious convictions were perceived to be, the more likely she’d get favorable rating. And also the more likely they would vote for her.
The third study recruited 311 Americans online.
They read a short description about a politician and were then asked to rate him on morality.
Half of the people were told he was a Republican while the other half were told he was a Democrat.
For each of these groups, the scientists gave the fictional candidate a religious affiliation. Some were told he was strongly atheist, others that he was strongly religious, and a third group that gave the candidate no religious description at all.
Religious voters believed religious candidates to be more moral, while the non-religous voters found the atheist candidate to be more moral.
When it came to viewing the candidate outside a person’s own religious affiliation, though, there was a difference in reaction. Non-religious people still looked upon the religious candidate as relatively favorable. But the religious voters reacted negatively to the atheist candidate.
So it appears that being religious doesn’t hurt you much. But being an atheist does. A fact, I’m sure, political candidates and their campaign managers are fully aware of.
Getting Your Vote
The authors from the study conclude that religious rhetoric during campaigns is done largely to appear more trustworthy among the voters.
The authors of the study write this:
“When a candidate is perceived as adhering to a set of religious values, voters see them as moral and possessing high levels of integrity and honesty.”
Compare that to the fact that atheists are seen as, largely, immoral. In fact, a 2014 Pew poll in America found people rated atheists more negatively than any other religious group.
With these two things combined, a strong religious affiliation is sure to win votes.
Today, though, researchers are finding that the younger generations are less religious than their predecessors. It’ll be interesting to see how this affects the political scene in the years to come.