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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Multiple Perspectives on Religion and Group Politics
  4. Religion and African American Political Life
  5. Religion and Latino Politics
  6. Faith and Politics among Whites
  7. Data and Measures
  8. Analysis
  9. A Replication Using the 2008 American National Election Study
  10. Discussion and Conclusions
  11. References
  12. Supporting Information

Although there is considerable evidence that religion influences political opinions, it is unclear how this story plays out across different segments of the U.S. population. Utilizing the 2000 Religion and Politics Survey, we examine the effects of religious beliefs, behaviors, and affiliations on citizens’ attitudes relating to issues of egalitarianism. Our study is one of the few to comparatively analyze the link between religious measures and political outlooks for the nation's three largest ethno-racial groups. The findings show that conservative Christianity is consistently associated with less tolerant and less egalitarian views among whites. Religious African Americans and Latinos, however, hold more equitable opinions about disadvantaged individuals. To further strengthen our arguments, we also replicate these results using the 2008 American National Election Study. Overall, we demonstrate that a single perspective on religion and public opinion does not apply to all groups.

Political scientists have long been interested in the social and group bases of public opinion. Religious differences, in particular, lie at the heart of such examinations. Indeed, scholarship on religion and American politics has increasingly received academic attention (Green 2007; Kohut et al. 2000; Layman 1997; Leege and Kellstedt 1993; Putnam and Campbell 2010; Smidt, Kellstedt, and Guth 2009; Wald and Calhoun-Brown 2011). Researchers attribute the more prominent connection between faith and political views to a number of factors, but chief among these is a changing issue environment that places social and moral topics at the center of contemporary debates (Gaines and Garand 2010). Matters relating to gay/lesbian rights, women's equality, race relations, and social justice dovetail with people’s core religious values, and in this climate, moral considerations structure citizens’ political judgments.

Studies that demonstrate the impact of religiosity on mass opinions are abundant and compelling (Green 2007; Guth et al. 2006; Kohut et al. 2000; Layman 1997; Leege and Kellstedt 1993; Smidt, Kellstedt, and Guth 2009; Wilcox 1987). Yet, research on this topic is incomplete in some respects. Scholars often focus their inquiries on whites (given their proportion of the population) despite the fact that African Americans and Latinos are on average more religious (Pew Research Center 2009; Putnam and Campbell 2010; Stark 2008) and a majority in a number of congressional districts (Garand and LeVeaux Sharpe 2001; Manzano 2011; Walton 1997).1 And even with their strong religious commitment, black and Latino Christians appear to be less motivated by the faith-based political conservatism observed in white Christian circles (Barvosa-Carter 2004; Calhoun-Brown 1997; De La Torre and Aponte 2001). These group-based differences merit careful consideration by social scientists.

The multifarious nature of the U.S. population motivates us to think more deeply about religious variation among groups and its potential political effects. Although some aspects of religion and public life operate similarly across individuals, others may not be identical for specific communities. We contend that ethno-racial differences in opinions about social issues can, in part, be explained by several religious factors. Most importantly, because spiritual beliefs are developed within cultural settings, religious experiences may expose individuals to unique “brands” of Christianity that link faith teachings to larger societal concerns.

While African American, Latino, and white Christians may agree on the basic tenets of faith and worship the same God on Sunday morning, this “most segregated hour in America” could give rise to a very different political outlook for believers. The divided nature of religious life places parishioners in contexts that emphasize specific aspects of Christianity. Indeed, many conservative, predominantly white denominations express distaste for the liberal values and lifestyles that abound in today's society (Green 2007; Leege and Kellstedt 1993; Wilcox 1987). Meanwhile, African American and Latino congregations often discuss the theological bases of social relations and marginalized group status because their members deal with these issues on a daily basis (Avalos 2004; Barvosa-Carter 2004; Billingsley 1999; De La Torre and Aponte 2001; Leal 2010; Lincoln and Mamiya [1990] 1999). These distinctions, among others, should account for discrepancies in the political influence of religion.

Using the 2000 Religion and Politics Survey (RPS), we explore the effects of group-specific religious theologies and practices on mass opinions. Across a range of personal belief and behavior measures, we show that on average blacks and Latinos are more religious than whites, but there are important distinctions between the political effects of religious beliefs in the three communities. Despite their greater faith commitment, the attitudes of religious blacks and Latinos on social issues are often more liberal than those of whites. Our results demonstrate that among whites, most measures of conservative Christianity are consistently associated with less egalitarian viewpoints on issues such as overcoming discrimination against women in society, reducing intolerance toward homosexuals, providing assistance to the poor, and supporting policies to achieve racial equality. On the other hand, religious effects for Latinos are less pronounced since only those who hold very conservative beliefs and are affiliated with evangelical churches express traditionalist gender and sexuality opinions. The findings also illustrate that religiosity has no influence on blacks’ opinions about the majority of these issues, except gay/lesbian rights. Church involvement decreases African Americans’ attention to combating intolerance toward homosexuals, but blacks who are affiliated with Mainline Protestant denominations report more liberal attitudes on this topic. To further strengthen our arguments, we also replicate the key multivariate results with the 2008 American National Election Study (ANES) and find corroborating evidence with this independent data source.

Our article proceeds as follows. The first part draws upon the religious studies and racial politics literature as building blocks for our theory about the varied influence of religion on political opinions. Next, using the RPS, we demonstrate significant dissimilarities in opinions about social issues, religious views, and religious behavior among the three groups. We follow with a series of multivariate analyses that test our hypotheses regarding the divergent political effects of religious beliefs, behaviors, and affiliations for African Americans, Latinos, and whites. Continuing forward, we present the results from the replication analyses using the ANES dataset. Finally, we discuss the findings and their implications for research on minority politics and American public opinion.

Multiple Perspectives on Religion and Group Politics

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Multiple Perspectives on Religion and Group Politics
  4. Religion and African American Political Life
  5. Religion and Latino Politics
  6. Faith and Politics among Whites
  7. Data and Measures
  8. Analysis
  9. A Replication Using the 2008 American National Election Study
  10. Discussion and Conclusions
  11. References
  12. Supporting Information

Broadly speaking, religious experiences shape individuals’ political beliefs by providing authoritative guidance on proper conduct and behavior, constraining personal attitudes, through influential messages from clergy and via interactions with congregants that are governed by social norms (Leege and Kellstedt 1993; Smidt, Kellstedt, and Guth 2009; Wald and Calhoun-Brown 2011). What varies, however, is the cultural milieu in which these processes take place. Although there is some evidence that suggests white congregations have added a few black and Latino members in the last 15 years (Chaves 2011), churches remain one of the most visible and enduring signs of the separation of ethno-racial communities. In short, black, Latino, and white congregations typically are racially homogenous, and the attendance patterns of the vast majority of worship settings reflect significant color divisions (Chaves 2004, 2011; Putnam and Campbell 2010; Roof and McKinney 1987). Given this reality, sociologists who study religion and analysts of minority politics stress the importance of utilizing “interpretive frameworks” that capture the particularities of people's experiences (Diaz-Stevens and Stevens-Arroyo 1998; Harris 1999; Leal 2010; Lincoln and Mamiya 1990; McClerking 2009; McDaniel and Ellison 2008). This approach is especially sensible since the application of faith principles differs among groups.

To be sure, Christian teachings are frequently refined to fit the social location of minorities (De La Torre and Aponte 2001; Hopkins 1999; Leal 2010; Lincoln and Mamiya 1990). Astute religious leaders are keenly aware of the concerns of their congregants and address these topics during worship services. Some African American ministers, for example, promote social gospel and liberation theologies that underscore the importance of reaching out to downtrodden individuals and achieving an equitable society (Hopkins 1999; Lincoln and Mamiya 1990; McDaniel and Ellison 2008). Similarly, many Latino theologies focus on social justice issues and norms of community among their adherents (De La Torre and Aponte 2001; Leal 2010). White religious assemblies differ slightly because they primarily serve whites who are the majority population (Chaves 2000; Roof and McKinney 1987). In these settings, minority group status and marginality issues are not regular topics of theological reflection.2

It is also notable that the categories used by researchers to classify religious traditions are partly determined by ethno-racial differences between groups (Lincoln and Mamiya 1990; Roof and McKinney 1987; Steensland et al. 2000). African American Methodists and Latino Catholics, for example, owe much of their cultural distinctiveness to racialized experiences and sociological forces that shaped the religious trajectories of these faith communities over time. These variations, among others, produce a different sense of how the domains of civic and spiritual life intersect for members of the electorate. In light of the nuances that characterize the sacred landscape of America, we examine the connection between religion and politics within specific communities.

Building upon prior research regarding the multidimensionality of religion (Green 2007; Kohut et al. 2000; Leege and Kellstedt 1993; Smidt, Kellstedt, and Guth 2009), we analyze the political effects of three key aspects of faith: believing, behaving, and belonging. This approach allows us to systematically explore dissimilarities in how these elements play out in the political lives of blacks, Latinos, and whites. Religious beliefs are internal psychological constructs that capture one's perception of doctrine and acceptance of spiritual ideas (Leege and Kellstedt 1993; Smidt, Kellstedt, and Guth 2009). Theoretically, the views of committed individuals toward social issues, then, will likely be constrained by their understanding of Christian principles. Behaviors reflect outward faith practices such as church service attendance. For our purposes, frequent involvement is meaningful because it places worshipers in contact with religious messages and socializes individuals to precepts and norms of the faith. Finally, belonging represents a personal attachment to a valued community that shares common beliefs, practices, and commitments (Roof and McKinney 1987). We argue that the consensus of viewpoints generated within religious assemblies shapes the mind-set of affiliates.

There are several key premises of our theoretical model of religion and political attitudes. First, we argue that religiosity influences mass opinions on egalitarian social issues. Second, American ethno-racial groups are distinct in terms of religious beliefs, behaviors, and affiliations. The third assertion of the model is that there are meaningful differences between the cultural experiences of African American, Latino, and white religious adherents. Finally, we contend that group-based religious characteristics produce varied levels of interest in political topics by individuals. We elaborate more on this explanation and derive testable hypotheses for each population in the sections that follow.

Religion and African American Political Life

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Multiple Perspectives on Religion and Group Politics
  4. Religion and African American Political Life
  5. Religion and Latino Politics
  6. Faith and Politics among Whites
  7. Data and Measures
  8. Analysis
  9. A Replication Using the 2008 American National Election Study
  10. Discussion and Conclusions
  11. References
  12. Supporting Information

African Americans are usually regarded as one of the most religious ethno-racial collectives in the nation (Pew Research Center 2007b; Putnam and Campbell 2010; Stark 2008). Scholars note that blacks profess strong faith beliefs and greatly value religion (Harris 1999; Lincoln and Mamiya 1990; McDaniel 2008; McKenzie 2004, 2008; Pew Research Center 2009; Taylor et al. 1996; Walton 1985). The 2007(b) Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey finds that 79% of African Americans say religion is very important in their lives. Although far from being monolithic, most blacks’ spiritual convictions are nurtured in African American worship settings, where traditional doctrinal tenets intermingle with the unique circumstances of this populace (Lincoln and Mamiya 1990; McClerking and McDaniel 2005; McDaniel 2008; McKenzie 2011). Lincoln and Mamiya (1990) note that these independent spaces offer a qualitatively different form of Christianity to their participants. Black churches emphasize theological messages and viewpoints that differ from their mainstream counterparts. For instance, scriptures that focus on freedom from oppression, equality, and communal values are staples of African American theologies (Hopkins 1999; Lincoln and Mamiya 1990; McDaniel and Ellison 2008). As these principles are disseminated from the pulpit, they may guide the opinions of devout individuals.

High levels of black religiosity are evident from behaviors as well. Nationwide surveys show that over half of African Americans report attending worship services at least once a week (McKenzie 2004, 2008; Pew Research Center 2009; Putnam and Campbell 2010).3 As a consequence of this participation, individuals are exposed to faith-based communications and the group norms of coreligionists. Regular involvement of this type produces close-knit bonds of association between group members and results in greater familiarity with religious doctrine and ideas (Leege and Kellstedt 1993; McKenzie 2004; Smidt, Kellstedt, and Guth 2009). One would expect such encounters to heighten the political effects of churches on citizens’ attitudes.

With respect to their belonging tendencies, recent data from the 2007(b) Pew Religious Landscape Survey reveal that 87% of African Americans report a formal religious affiliation. Compared to whites, African Americans are clustered in a smaller range of religious traditions. About 75% are affiliated with Protestant, mostly black denominations (Lincoln and Mamiya 1990; Roof and McKinney 1987; Pew Research Center 2009). Membership in these traditions is a form of group identification and has great symbolic value for African Americans. This situation produces a reciprocal relationship between the faithful and their churches where religious association serves as a reinforcement of racial identity. Black denominations arose from the past discriminatory practices of mainstream religious bodies and over time evolved into important cultural spaces for African Americans. Within these institutions, blacks discuss pressing social, spiritual, and political issues that affect their people. Beyond historically black denominations, less than 15% of African Americans are affiliated with white Mainline Protestant, Catholic, and nondenominational assemblies (Lincoln and Mamiya 1990; Pew Research Center 2009; Roof and McKinney 1987). This group is on average better educated than members of traditional black churches. It will be interesting to see if these congregations approach political issues differently from their counterparts.

Several national debates—views about gender attitudes, gay rights, helping the poor, and racial equality—are subjects for which faith beliefs arguably shape citizens’ opinions. First, there are two perspectives regarding the effects of black religion on gender attitudes. One approach holds that black churches and their primarily male leadership may privilege men's concerns over women's (Harris 1999; Lincoln and Mamiya 1990). Harris observes that “black women's exclusion from clerical leadership and key decision-making processes in churches sanctions the ideas and practices of male authority” (1999, 155). In contrast, several scholars show that political messages about equality that are conveyed in black congregations generally increase support for gender concerns (Calhoun-Brown 2003; Wilcox and Thomas 1992). We believe that although black churches are gendered institutions, this may not preclude them from exerting an indirect egalitarian influence through their general concern for equality and justice.

Gay/lesbian rights are another domain where religiosity might influence political opinions. This subject involves same-sex relationships that are often frowned upon by Christian teachings. In fact, most clergy regard homosexuality as a sin (Shaw and McDaniel 2007). Moreover, at the mass level, morality-based concerns about gay/lesbian rights are evident from a 2008 California exit poll, which showed that 70% of African Americans voted “yes” to ban gay marriage in the state (November 2008, National Exit Poll). Along these same lines, African Americans are generally known to be socially conservative, an impression that is surely shaped by their strong religious beliefs and high levels of church involvement in black denominations (Calhoun-Brown 1997).4 This literature leads us to believe that religiosity will promote conservative attitudes about same-sex group rights.

On two other topics that affect sizable portions of blacks, assisting the poor and supporting policies to achieve racial equality, African American congregations have often been at the forefront of efforts to achieve a more just society. In particular, several studies of African American religious life focus on individual and organizational commitments to social justice issues aimed at helping disadvantaged groups (Billingsley 1999; Harris 1999; Lincoln and Mamiya 1990; McDaniel 2008). These works provide a basis for our arguments about black political opinions. We test two hypotheses:

  • Hypothesis 1: Affiliation with African American Protestant churches facilitates support for gender equality and interest in helping the poor.5

  • Hypothesis 2: Black church involvement will be associated with less interest in reducing intolerance toward gays/lesbians.

Religion and Latino Politics

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Multiple Perspectives on Religion and Group Politics
  4. Religion and African American Political Life
  5. Religion and Latino Politics
  6. Faith and Politics among Whites
  7. Data and Measures
  8. Analysis
  9. A Replication Using the 2008 American National Election Study
  10. Discussion and Conclusions
  11. References
  12. Supporting Information

Understanding how religion affects Latino public opinion is complicated by the fact that various ethnicities comprise the larger group label. Under the Latino umbrella, for example, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Central Americans, Dominicans, and Colombians make up the largest portion of this growing population (Pew Research Center 2012). So, comprehensive accounts of religious-based political influence should be regarded with a degree of caution. Yet ethnic differences are slightly reduced by the uniformity that exists among Latinos in terms of their levels of religious commitment and the types of churches to which individuals belong. For political scientists, it is especially important to grasp the significance of religion on Latino life because very little is known about this facet of American politics (Leal 2010).

Latinos closely follow blacks in terms of the intensity of their faith beliefs and religious behavior. According to a 2007(a) Pew Research Center report, 68% of Latinos say religion is very important to them. Recent surveys also indicate that 44% of Latinos report they attend church weekly (Pew Research Center 2007a, 2011). And 38% of Latinos say their religious beliefs are very important in influencing their political thinking (Pew Research Center 2007a). Along these lines, most Latinos view churches as appropriate forums to address social and political issues (Leal 2010; Pew Research Center 2007a). It is also notable that Latinos tend to worship in parishes with coethnics, which strengthens the group identification and perceived ethno-racial cohesiveness of religious participants (Avalos 2004; De La Torre and Aponte 2001; Diaz-Stevens and Stevens-Arroyo 1998; Leal 2010; Manzano 2007). These characteristics provide a foundation for thinking about how religiosity might shape Latino political attitudes.

We are also mindful that Latino religious teachings often diverge from their mainstream equivalents. For example, the Catholic theologies of Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans are blends of folk culture and Anglo-American Catholicism (Avalos 2004; Barvosa-Carter 2004; De La Torre and Aponte 2001; Diaz-Stevens and Stevens-Arroyo 1998; Leal 2010). Communalism, family, and interactions with the larger society are prominent features of Latino ethno-religious contexts. Moreover, the liberalizing Vatican II reforms that took place in the Catholic Church during the 1960s allow for substantial autonomy in the manner in which local parishes connect with members and their communities (Roof and McKinney 1987; Wuthnow 1988). This reality permits an understanding of scriptures as they affect the daily lives of Latinos.

Consequently, social issues, group status, and domestic policies are subjects that church leaders discuss with their constituencies. And while Latino theologies are not synoptic, they share common assumptions. The concept of justice, for instance, is a key aspect of religious teachings (De La Torre and Aponte 2001). In Spanish translations of the Bible, for instance, believers are encouraged to seek justice for disenfranchised individuals (De La Torre and Aponte 2001). Equally significant, during the 1960s and 1970s, Latino church leaders incorporated elements of Latin American liberation theology within U.S. Catholic theology. The hybrid religious principles that sprung from this union identify systemic forces, such as government, as factors for alleviating social inequities. Finally, Latino clergy often emphasize the church's role as an advocate for the poor (Leal 2010; Walsh 2004). Religious notions of this type should structure opinions about public issues.

Unlike blacks and whites, Latinos mostly belong to Catholic churches. The best estimates suggest that about 70% are Catholic and 20% are Protestant (Perl, Greely, and Gray 2006; Pew Research Center 2007a).6 It is worth noting that Latino Protestants are overwhelmingly Evangelicals (Putnam and Campbell 2010), and the size of this group has grown in the past two decades (Avalos 2004; Barvosa-Carter 2004; Diaz-Stevens and Stevens-Arroyo 1998; Hunt 2000). The diversity of affiliations in Latino faith communities suggests that political heterogeneity among Hispanics may soon follow. Leal et al. (2005), for example, find that in the 2004 presidential election there were differences in the preferences of Latino Catholics and Latino Protestants; Latino Catholics favored Kerry by over 40 points, while Latino Protestants preferred Bush by a 13-point margin. However, Leal and colleagues argue that the religious split was not enough to alter the election and that the reported mobilization of Latino Protestants in response to the “moral values” campaign of George Bush was overstated.

We examine the effects of traditionalist religious beliefs and affiliations on opinions about gender discrimination, gay rights, helping the poor, and promoting racial equity. Given the dearth of scholarship on the political implications of Latinos' affiliation with conservative Protestant groups, we draw upon the literature for white Evangelicals (Barker and Carman 2000; Green 2007; Hunter 1991; Wilcox 1987). Our expectation is that Latino Evangelicals will exhibit attitudinal tendencies similar to their white counterparts, particularly on matters regarding egalitarianism. We examine three additional hypotheses for Latinos:

  • Hypothesis 3: Conservative Latino Christians will be less interested in overcoming discrimination against women.

  • Hypothesis 4: Religiously conservative Latinos will exhibit less interest in mitigating intolerance toward gays/ lesbians.

  • Hypothesis 5: Religious involvement among Latinos promotes concern for assisting the poor and achieving racial equality.

Faith and Politics among Whites

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Multiple Perspectives on Religion and Group Politics
  4. Religion and African American Political Life
  5. Religion and Latino Politics
  6. Faith and Politics among Whites
  7. Data and Measures
  8. Analysis
  9. A Replication Using the 2008 American National Election Study
  10. Discussion and Conclusions
  11. References
  12. Supporting Information

We now turn to the religious experiences of white Americans.7 As the largest group in the nation, much of the research literature focuses on understanding faith and politics from the perspective of this population. For example, leading studies of the religious bases of partisanship and voting, along with the moral foundations of public opinion, primarily center on whites (Green 2007; Layman 1997; Leege and Kellstedt 1993; Smidt, Kellstedt, and Guth 2009; Wilcox 1987). White Evangelical Protestants, in particular, have recently garnered significant attention for their active role in state and national elections (Green 2007; Guth et al. 2006; Wald and Calhoun-Brown 2011; Wilcox 1987).

Consider as well that whites make up a sizable portion of all U.S. religious adherents and are a prominent constituency in various regions across the country (Pew Research Center 2007b). This relative social position looms large throughout the polity, where white Evangelical and Mainline Protestantism often influence social policy debates. Keep in mind that religious theologies and beliefs are partly molded by the experiences of clergy and laypersons. Thus, like all people, whites tend to view religion from their own vantage point. Meanwhile, the homogenous racial composition of most churches means that ministers are speaking to primarily white audiences (Chaves 2004, 2011; Emerson and Smith 2000; Putnam and Campbell 2010). So, unlike black and Latino congregations, racial experiences are not integrated into spiritual messages, and little attention is directed toward using faith to uplift one's lower group position in society.

When political scientists discuss “American” religious life, they often are referring to whites—with some attention to Black Protestants and Latino Catholics. But it is important to note that the confluence of racial and religious identity does not operate for whites in the same manner we have outlined for minorities. Because they represent the majority, whites’ racial identity (and by extension their social location in the American religious mosaic) is not chronically accessible to individuals or a source of cultural commonality that might guide political viewpoints. Instead, for understanding the political implications of religion for whites, “race” is better understood more subtly as an identifying label that denotes membership in a particular segment of the populace. Accordingly, whites’ sense of belonging and camaraderie with others structures their social interactions and relationships in mono-ethnic religious settings. This social phenomenon links citizens’ faith and their opinions about egalitarian issues.

Relative to African Americans and Hispanics, the typical white person reports lower levels of religiosity (Pew Research Center 2007b; Putnam and Campbell 2010; Stark 2008). Recent Pew Research Center data show that 57% of whites said that religion is very important to them. This figure is even greater (81%) for white Evangelicals. Involvement in worship settings may further reinforce the connection between faith and politics. In fact, 39% of whites report attending religious services at least weekly (Pew Research Center 2007b). These numbers increase to 61% for Evangelicals. Although white Christian churches vary in terms of their engagement with public life, many Evangelicals seek to link their conservative faith beliefs to social and political issues (Emerson and Smith 2000). This phenomenon is evident in contemporary media discourse about birth control and abortion, stem cell research, and the defense of traditional definitions of marriage (Gaines and Garand 2010; Wald and Calhoun-Brown 2011). Evangelical hallmarks include, among other factors, beliefs that the Bible is authoritative, personal acknowledgment of a “born again” experience, an emphasis on sharing their faith, high levels of worship attendance, and self-identification with this community (Emerson and Smith 2000; Green 2007).

The religious experiences of large numbers of white Christians may result in traditional views about lifestyle choices, women's roles, and assistance to poor individuals. In regard to religious beliefs, for example, New Testament texts are often interpreted as upholding men as the head of households and encouraging women to submit to their husbands. Wilcox (1987) notes that religiosity and aspects of conservative Christian doctrine are associated with less support for gender issues. And, in terms of morality issues, Evangelicals emphasize the biblical bases of the ills of same-sex relationships. Consequently, highly religious individuals ought to express less favor toward this issue. With respect to public aid, conservative doctrine tends to treat the poor differently from other oppressed groups such as women or homosexuals. Many doctrinarians believe in the Christian responsibility to look after the poor, but their sense of individualism and opposition to redistributive programs likely hinder support for such government efforts (Barker and Carman 2000; Hunter 1991). These same Christian principles, however, may be understood differently by minorities, whose theologies sympathize with impoverished communities and encourage aid for the less fortunate. From this knowledge base and the insights of our theoretical model, we investigate a final hypothesis for whites:

  • Hypothesis 6: Conservative Christianity is associated with less interest in overcoming gender discrimination, reducing gay/lesbian intolerance, and policies to promote racial parity.

Data and Measures

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Multiple Perspectives on Religion and Group Politics
  4. Religion and African American Political Life
  5. Religion and Latino Politics
  6. Faith and Politics among Whites
  7. Data and Measures
  8. Analysis
  9. A Replication Using the 2008 American National Election Study
  10. Discussion and Conclusions
  11. References
  12. Supporting Information

We analyze the 2000 Religion and Politics Survey (RPS), which was conducted by SRBI Associates for Princeton University.8 Most important for our purposes, the RPS is one of the few recent political surveys that contain large samples of African Americans (570), Latinos (550), and whites (4,477). These numbers approximate each group's proportion of the U.S. population in 2000. Moreover, this unique dataset includes several questions about personal religious beliefs, devotional activities, affiliation with denominational bodies, and involvement in worship settings. Interviewees responded to queries about their party affiliation and interest in government affairs as well. These data also include measures of citizens’ opinions about various political issues and demographic and socioeconomic status items. The RPS is a nationally representative telephone survey of adults who live in the continental United States. It was fielded between January 6 and March 31, 2000. The completion rate was 0.91, and the total sample size is 5,597 cases. The survey has a margin of error of ±1.42% at the 95% confidence level.

Dependent Variables

The dependent variables for our analyses are respondents’ reported level of interest in four political matters. Interviewees are asked, “Here are some social issues facing our country today. How interested are you in each one?” The topics include overcoming discrimination against women in society, reducing intolerance toward homosexuals, social policies to assist the poor, and supporting policies to achieve racial parity. Consistent with the public opinion literature, we view interest in these subjects as a proxy for the salience and priority that individuals place on various topics in their lives. Responses are coded on a 3-point ordinal scale from 0 (not very interested) to 2 (quite interested). Although not ideal, this measure is the best item available in the RPS to gauge policy attitudes. It is important to recognize, as well, that few surveys contain respectable samples of African Americans, Latinos, and whites, along with appropriate religion and policy opinion items. Since this is one of the first efforts to study the political influence of religiosity across multiple groups, we discuss our findings in a manner that appreciates the data limitations.

Key Independent Variables

To capture three dimensions of religion, we employ measures of respondents’ religious beliefs, behaviors, and affiliations. In terms of beliefs, our model utilizes a religious conservatism measure and an authority of the Bible question. Respondents provided their religious views on a scale from 1 (very conservative) to 6 (very liberal). This item was recoded as 1 (to identify the two most conservative categories on the scale), while others are labeled 0. Views about the authority of the Bible are coded 1 for individuals who believe everything in the book should be taken literally and 0 for people who do not hold this view. For religious behavior, we use a standard church attendance measure, “Aside from weddings and funerals, how often do you attend religious services?” This variable is coded from 0 (never) to 5 (more than once a week).9 Affiliation measures are separate dummy variables for six religious tradition categories that follow Steensland et al. (2000). Catholic, Black Protestant, Evangelical Protestant, Mainline Protestant, and Jewish are labeled 1. “Other” identifiers are the comparison category and are coded 0. The remaining explanatory and control variables are described in the appendix.

Analysis

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Multiple Perspectives on Religion and Group Politics
  4. Religion and African American Political Life
  5. Religion and Latino Politics
  6. Faith and Politics among Whites
  7. Data and Measures
  8. Analysis
  9. A Replication Using the 2008 American National Election Study
  10. Discussion and Conclusions
  11. References
  12. Supporting Information

How does religion influence the political opinions of African Americans, Latinos, and whites? To explore this question, we first compare the group means for the dependent variables and for three measures of religious beliefs and behaviors—religious conservatism, authority of the Bible, and church attendance.10Table 1 illustrates the mean differences found across the groups.11 First, with respect to the dependent variables, our analysis reveals that except for the issue of “interest in reducing intolerance toward gays/lesbians,” there is some degree of distinction in the average attitudes of members across the three populations. Most notably, African Americans are significantly more concerned about overcoming gender discrimination and achieving racial equality than Latinos, who, in turn, are more interested in combating gender discrimination and supporting policies aimed at racial parity than white respondents. So, consistent with our expectations, it appears that various segments of the public differ in their views about social issues.

Table 1.  Comparison of Means for African Americans, Latinos, and Whites
Mean Comparison of Dependent Variables
D.V. (Min/Max) African Americans Latinos Whites
Interest in Overcoming Gender Discrimination (0/2)1.725•◊1.528*◊1.435*•
Interest in Reducing Intolerance Toward Gays/Lesbians (0/2).774 .782 .855 
Interest in Helping the Poor (0/2)1.765•◊1.540* 1.480* 
Interest in Achieving Racial Equality (0/2)1.782•◊1.502*◊1.370*•
Mean Comparison of Religious Items
Religious Item (Min/Max) African Americans Latinos Whites
  1. *= African Americans; •= Latinos; ◊= Whites (symbols denote which group means are statistically distinct from one another).

  2. The mean difference is significant at .001.

  3. Bonferroni method used for mean group comparisons.

Religious Conservatism (0/1).246.238 .222 
Literal Authority of Bible (0/1)  .532•◊ .447*◊ .264*•
Religious Service Attendance (0/5)  2.968•◊2.367* 2.372* 

The next task is to see how minorities and whites compare in terms of their faith beliefs and practices. Judging from the results for the religious measures, two of the three variables (literal authority of the Bible and religious service attendance) display a degree of group-mean distinction. In general, African Americans are significantly more likely than Latinos, and Latinos are significantly more likely than whites, to say they accept the literal authority of the Bible. These patterns of religious belief fit the conventional wisdom regarding higher levels of reported religiosity among blacks and Latinos, when compared to the average white American.12 Additionally, African Americans are significantly more likely than both Latinos and whites to say they attend religious services. There are no meaningful differences between the mean values of whites and Latinos on these measures. Finally, we note that the similarity across groups for the religious conservatism item conforms to previous research. Blacks and whites often express similar levels of conservative religious beliefs when queried by interviewers (Calhoun-Brown 1997). Keep in mind, however, that in terms of its political effects, being highly religious may mean different things to different groups.

Together, the bivariate findings reveal significant attitudinal and religious belief/behavior differences among the three ethno-racial communities. These dissimilarities are often masked in studies that focus on one segment of the electorate. We think distinctions of this sort are consequential for understanding political attitudes, a subject we explore in the next section using multivariate techniques.

We analyze the results from four ordered probit models of the determinants of individuals’ interest in overcoming discrimination against women, reducing intolerance toward gays/lesbians, assisting the poor, and achieving racial equality.13 These attitudinal dependent variables represent issues which the literature identifies as having moral dimensions that individuals draw upon in forming political views.

Since the research literature and our theoretical expectations propose that different processes influence opinions, we use separate regression models for each ethno-racial group. Our analysis also compares results across collectives, focusing on differences that arise from theological perspectives and cultural practices.14

Tables 2–5 reveal the findings from these models for African Americans, Latinos, and whites. We complement the results with predicted probability graphs which depict the influence of key religious explanatory variables on the political views of different portions of the electorate.

Table 2.  Interest in Overcoming Gender Discrimination
Variable African Americans Latinos Whites
  1. Source: 2000 Religion and Politics Survey. Entries are ordered probit coefficients and robust standard errors. **p < 0.05, ***p < 0.01.

Religious Conservatism0.22 (0.14)−0.27**(0.13)−0.18***(0.05)
Authority of Bible−0.78 (0.13)−0.13 (0.12)−0.03 (0.05)
Attendance0.13 (0.38)0.07 (0.04)−0.01 (0.01)
Catholic0.67 (0.22)0.08 (0.15)0.02 (0.05)
Black Protestant0.14 (0.14)−0.71**(0.34)n/a
Evangelical−0.17 (0.20)−0.56***(0.19)−0.15***(0.06)
Mainline0.42 (0.30)0.16 (0.33)0.02 (0.06)
Jewishn/a−0.09 (0.70)0.06 (0.13)
Democrat0.07 (0.14)0.08 (0.12)0.22***(0.05)
Republican−0.39 (0.23)0.31 (0.17)−0.22***(0.04)
Follow Govt.0.20***(0.05)0.12***(0.05)0.12***(0.02)
Age0.00 (0.00)0.00 (0.00)−0.00 (0.00)
Female0.45***(0.12)0.50***(0.11)0.45***(0.04)
Education0.06 (0.06)−0.06 (0.06)0.04** (0.02)
Cut1−0.49 (0.28)−0.78 (0.25)−0.65 (0.09)
Cut20.39 (0.28)0.13 (0.24)0.37 (0.09)
N5615404336
Table 3.  Interest in Reducing Intolerance Toward Gays/Lesbians
Variable African Americans Latinos Whites
  1. Source: 2000 Religion and Politics Survey. Entries are ordered probit coefficients and robust standard errors. **p < 0.05, ***p < 0.01.

Religious Conservatism−0.19 (0.13)−0.33**(0.13)−0.29***(0.05)
Authority of Bible−0.08 (0.11)−0.04 (0.12)−0.14***(0.05)
Attendance−0.09***(0.03)0.00 (0.04)−0.07***(0.01)
Catholic0.29 (0.20)0.00 (0.14)−0.11**(0.05)
Black Protestant0.23 (0.12)0.25 (0.35)n/a
Evangelical0.06 (0.20)−0.22 (0.21)−0.26***(0.06)
Mainline0.51**(0.22)0.05 (0.31)−0.10 (0.06)
Jewishn/a−0.27 (0.67)0.24**(0.11)
Democrat0.11 (0.12)0.13 (0.11)0.24***(0.04)
Republican0.12 (0.22)0.07 (0.16)−0.20***(0.04)
Follow Govt.0.26***(0.05)0.10**(0.05)0.12***(0.02)
Age−0.01 (0.00)−0.00 (0.00)−0.00***(0.00)
Female0.41***(0.11)0.31***(0.10)0.40***(0.04)
Education0.07 (0.05)0.16***(0.05)0.13***(0.02)
Cut10.83 (0.27)0.68 (0.25)0.24 (0.09)
Cut21.49 (0.27)1.34 (0.25)1.06 (0.09)
N5615404336
Table 4.  Interest in Helping the Poor
Variable African Americans Latinos Whites
  1. Source: 2000 Religion and Politics Survey. Entries are ordered probit coefficients and robust standard errors. **p < 0.05, ***p < 0.01.

Religious Conservatism0.23 (0.15)−0.07 (0.14)−0.23***(0.05)
Authority of Bible0.10 (0.14)0.10 (0.12)0.16***(0.05)
Attendance0.02 (0.04)0.08**(0.04)0.06***(0.01)
Catholic−0.11 (0.19)0.07 (0.14)0.01 (0.05)
Black Protestant0.18 (0.15)−0.44 (0.46)n/a
Evangelical−0.30 (0.21)−0.40 (0.21)−0.09 (0.05)
Mainline−0.22 (0.27)−0.15 (0.35)−0.07 (0.06)
Jewishn/a−0.05 (0.64)0.24 (0.13)
Democrat0.21 (0.14)0.06 (0.12)0.30***(0.05)
Republican−0.42**(0.21)−0.14 (0.16)−0.19***(0.04)
Follow Govt.0.04 (0.05)0.06 (0.05)0.07***(0.02)
Age0.00 (0.00)−0.00 (0.00)−0.00 (0.00)
Female0.17 (0.12)0.34***(0.11)0.33***(0.04)
Education0.06 (0.06)0.02 (0.06)−0.01 (0.02)
Cut1−1.03 (0.31)−0.86 (0.25)−0.95 (0.09)
Cut2−0.04 (0.30)0.08 (0.25)0.24 (0.09)
N5615404336
Table 5.  Interest in Achieving Racial Equality
Variable African Americans Latinos Whites
  1. Source: 2000 Religion and Politics Survey. Entries are ordered probit coefficients and robust standard errors. **p < 0.05, ***p < 0.01.

Religious Conservatism0.03 (0.15)−0.09 (0.13)−0.13***(0.05)
Authority of Bible0.04 (0.14)−0.00 (0.12)−0.02 (0.04)
Attendance0.02 (0.04)0.09**(0.04)0.04***(0.01)
Catholic−0.00 (0.22)0.13 (0.14)−0.06 (0.05)
Black Protestant0.12 (0.15)−0.01 (0.46)n/a
Evangelical−0.04 (0.23)−0.30 (0.20)−0.22***(0.05)
Mainline0.53 (0.33)0.06 (0.37)−0.13**(0.06)
Jewishn/a−0.81 (0.65)0.27**(0.14)
Democrat0.26 (0.14)0.26**(0.12)0.26***(0.05)
Republican−0.30 (0.24)0.02 (0.16)−0.21***(0.04)
Follow Govt.0.23***(0.06)0.09 (0.04)0.13***(0.02)
Age−0.01 (0.00)−0.00 (0.00)−0.00***(0.00)
Female0.14 (0.13)0.05 (0.11)0.22***(0.04)
Education0.13 (0.06)0.13**(0.06)0.09***(0.02)
Cut1−0.72 (0.30)−0.40 (0.25)−0.56 (0.09)
Cut20.12 (0.30)0.42 (0.25)0.52 (0.09)
N5615404336

First, in Table 2, we consider the results for respondents’ interest in overcoming discrimination against women. For blacks, religious beliefs, behaviors, and affiliations do not have a significant effect on expressed interest in policies that combat sex discrimination. However, a different pattern emerges from the data for the two other groups. Among Latinos and whites, greater religious conservatism depresses one's interest in surmounting gender inequality. Religious affiliations also negatively influence the attitudes of Latinos and whites about women's rights. Both Latino and white Evangelicals are less interested in overcoming gender discrimination.15 Thus, the results support Hypotheses 3 and 6, which posit that conservative Christian religious experiences and association with Evangelical congregations depress support for gender equality among Latinos and whites.

Figure 1 expounds upon these results by illustrating the change in probability for respondents’ level of interest in overcoming gender disparities. The predicted change reflects a typical respondent's move from being a nonreligious conservative to a religious conservative and from being a non-Evangelical to Evangelical, respectively. For blacks, the confidence interval surrounding the estimated difference between being a religious conservative and a nonreligious conservative (baseline) includes zero, which suggests no difference. Religiously conservative whites, however, are less likely (probability = .73) than nonreligious conservatives (probability = .78) to express interest in overcoming discrimination against women. The religious belonging measure highlights variation among the groups as well. Moving from the non-Evangelical to Evangelical category negatively affects interest in overcoming discrimination against women for both Latinos (probability of non-Evangelical Latino = .85; probability of Evangelical Latino = .68) and whites (probability of non-Evangelical white = .79; probability of Evangelical white = .74). Black Evangelicals exhibit no difference from the baseline.

image

Figure 1. Probability of Antidiscrimination Attitudes

Line segments represent 95% confidence intervals.

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Another domain where we see the diverse effect of religion on political attitudes is citizens’ opinions about gays/lesbians. Table 3 indicates that, among African Americans, religious service attendance is associated with reduced interest in efforts to curtail intolerance toward gays/lesbians. This lends support for Hypothesis 2. On the other hand, blacks who belong to Mainline Protestant churches are more concerned about these issues. The findings for black religious affiliation are logical given that Mainline Protestant denominations typically include better-educated, more cosmopolitan congregants—factors that promote liberal views among people (Leege and Kellstedt 1993; Roof and McKinney 1987). For Latinos, religious conservatism depresses interest in reducing intolerance toward homosexuals. This result confirms Hypothesis 4. Most interesting, among whites, all of the religious belief and behavior measures—religious conservatism, authority of the Bible, church attendance—consistently reduce interest in mitigating intolerance toward gay individuals. This striking pattern only manifests for whites. We attribute this uniformity to strict Christian teachings against immoral behavior that are characteristic of conservative white religious experiences. These findings verify Hypothesis 6. Further, whites who are affiliated with Catholic and Evangelical Protestant churches show less concern for the issue of same-sex intolerance in society. Together, this empirical evidence demonstrates that white religiosity reliably shapes a less tolerant outlook toward gay individuals, relative to the faith experience of blacks and Latinos.

Figure 2 displays the change in probability for respondents’ interest in reducing intolerance toward gays/lesbians. The predicted change is captured by a typical respondent's move from nonreligious conservative to religious conservative, from one who does not believe in the authority of the Bible to one who does believe in the authority of the Bible, and from non-Mainline Protestant to Mainline Protestant.

image

Figure 2. Probability of Reducing Intolerance Attitudes

Line segments represent 95% confidence intervals.

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For a typical Latino respondent, moving from being a nonreligious conservative to being a religious conservative decreases one's interest in reducing intolerance toward gays/lesbians by about 13 percentage points, while for whites, the same shift decreases interest in such policies by approximately 12 percentage points. Also, taking the Bible literally (biblical authority) decreases whites’ interest in policies to reduce gay/lesbian intolerance by about 6 percentage points. In addition, Figure 2 shows that a typical African American Mainline Protestant's probability of being very interested in policies to reduce gay/lesbian intolerance is approximately 20 percentage points higher than their counterparts in the sample. These figures provide further evidence of the opinion differences that exist between ethno-racial groups.

The distinct effect of religion is also apparent for attitudes about assisting the poor. Table 4 shows that for blacks and Latinos, religion does not generally exert a significant effect on political views, but for whites it plays a strong mitigating role. Thus, we do not find support for Hypothesis 1. On the other hand, Latinos who frequently attend religious services are significantly more likely to express interest in providing assistance to the poor. This finding partially confirms Hypothesis 5. We believe this result reflects the social outreach tendencies of many Latino religious settings. The analysis also shows that religiously conservative whites are less likely to favor public aid for disadvantaged people. However, the other two measures—authority of the Bible and religious service attendance—exert a positive influence on whites’ opinions toward helping the poor. These results suggest that whites may receive messages about individual responsibility as part of the conservative religious mantra, yet adhere to biblical precepts about aiding the needy.

Figure 3 illustrates the change in probability for respondents who are most likely to report interest in assisting the poor. The predicted change is based on moving from being a nonreligious conservative to a religious conservative, from not believing in the authority of the Bible to believing in the authority of the Bible, and from being a non-Evangelical to being an Evangelical. On the measure of religious conservatism, for blacks and Latinos, the inclusion of zero across the confidence interval suggests no difference between being a religious conservative and the baseline (nonreligious conservative). Religiously conservative whites, however, are less likely (probability = .73) than nonreligious conservative whites (probability = .80) to be interested in helping the poor. Furthermore, for a typical white respondent, moving from the baseline to believing in the literal authority of the Bible increases the probability that a person will exhibit strong concern for the poor by about 4 percentage points.

image

Figure 3. Probability of Assistance Attitudes

Line segments represent 95% confidence intervals.

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Finally, we examine how religion influences individuals’ views about racial equality. Table 5 indicates that, for African Americans, religiosity does not exert a significant effect on interest in supporting policies to achieve racial parity. Among Latinos, religious service attendance is associated with more support for policies that promote racial equality, but no other religious variable is significant. Thus, there is only partial support for Hypothesis 5. For whites, two religious belief/behavior variables structure opinions about racial equality policies. Religious conservatism has a negative effect on whites’ attitudes toward policies that promote racial fairness, but religious service attendance has a positive influence. Religious affiliations also play a meaningful role in shaping the attitudes whites hold regarding racial equality. Evangelical and Mainline Protestant whites are significantly less likely to support policies for achieving group equity, while whites who are Jewish are significantly more likely to support such policies. This result partially supports Hypothesis 6.

Figure 4 presents the change in probability for respondents who are most likely to favor policies that would lead to racial equality. We predict change based on a respondent's move from nonreligious conservative to religious conservative, from nonreligious service attendance to religious service attendance, and from non-Evangelical to Evangelical. On the first variable, there is no effect for Latino and black respondents, as demonstrated by the confidence intervals surrounding the baseline. For a typical white respondent, moving from being a nonreligious conservative to being a religious conservative decreases the probability of strongly supporting racial equity policies by about 4 percentage points. Latinos who most frequently attend religious services are about 15 percentage points more likely to express favor for racial equity policies, while whites who most frequently attend worship services are 6 percentage points more likely to strongly support these policies. Finally, we notice that white Evangelicals are unique in their expressed lack of interest toward supporting group fairness initiatives. The analyses show that a typical Evangelical white is less likely (probability = .69) than a non-Evangelical white (probability = .76) to support policies directed at achieving racial equity. Together, these findings provide a more complete picture of the varying influence of religiosity across segments of the population.

image

Figure 4. Probability of Supporting Equality Attitudes

Line segments represent 95% confidence intervals.

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A Replication Using the 2008 American National Election Study

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Multiple Perspectives on Religion and Group Politics
  4. Religion and African American Political Life
  5. Religion and Latino Politics
  6. Faith and Politics among Whites
  7. Data and Measures
  8. Analysis
  9. A Replication Using the 2008 American National Election Study
  10. Discussion and Conclusions
  11. References
  12. Supporting Information

So far we have presented sound evidence that supports our claims about the distinct political impact of various ethno-racial religious communities on citizens’ attitudes toward egalitarianism issues. Because of its explicit focus on religion and politics and numerous African American, Latino, and white respondents, the 2000 RPS is ideally suited for addressing the research questions in this article. We believe, however, that it is beneficial to further examine our arguments with a more recent dataset, the 2008 American National Election Study (Pre-Election wave). Although these data do not allow us to perfectly replicate our multivariate models, we conducted a comparable analysis of the ANES data to investigate the findings among another contemporary sample of Americans.16 For the sake of clarity, we focus on the key outcomes from this exercise.

Given data constraints, we are able to evaluate similar egalitarian opinion models for two items that are included in the 2008 ANES: perceived importance of improving the social and economic position of blacks and views regarding whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry (see Table 6).17 The wording of the first “perceived importance of assisting blacks” measure is sufficiently broad to make it analogous to the 2000 RPS's “interest in achieving racial equality” and “interest in helping the poor” items (see Tables 4–5). And the second “should same-sex couples be allowed to marry” ANES measure is especially useful since it parallels the “reducing intolerance toward gays/lesbians” RPS question (see Table 3), while focusing on a specific policy/legal action—marriage equality.

Table 6.  Replication Analyses: Egalitarian Opinion Models
Interest in Assisting Blacks
  African Americans Latinos Whites
Authority of Bible0.36 (0.21)0.33 (0.19)−0.50**(0.24)
Evangelical−0.38 (0.28)−0.15 (0.37)−0.36**(0.14)
Cut1−1.24 (0.39)0.19 (0.38)−0.48 (0.24)
Cut2−0.65 (0.40)1.31 (0.38)0.65 (0.24)
N298200572
Support for Gay Marriage
  African Americans Latinos Whites
  1. Note: Ordered probit model for interest in assisting blacks also includes the following independent variables: Attendance, Catholic, Jewish, Black Protestant, Mainline Protestant, Republican, Democrat, Follow Government, Age, Female, and Education Level.

  2. Ordered probit model for support for gay marriage also includes the following independent variables: Catholic, Jewish, Black Protestant, Mainline Protestant, Republican, Democrat, Follow Government, Age, Female, and Education Level. Source: American National Election Study 2008.

Authority of Bible−0.31**(0.14)−0.50***(0.15)−0.68***(0.12)
Attendance−0.22***(0.05)−0.11**(0.05)−0.11***(0.03)
Evangelical0.05 (0.21)0.36 (0.27)−0.28**(0.13)
Cut1−0.59 (0.30)−0.81 (0.28)−1.04 (0.22)
Cut2−0.55 (0.30)−0.76 (0.28)−0.99 (0.22)
N5564231131

Overall, these secondary analyses generally confirm our previous findings. Both models show that the most religious whites are exceptional in their less than equitable views toward marginalized individuals, relative to blacks and Latinos. Specifically, white biblical literalists and white Evangelicals place less importance on improving the life chances of blacks in society. The same is not true for devout Latinos or African Americans. Remember that our analysis of the RPS data produces similar results for white religious conservatives and Evangelicals. On another topic, gay marriage policy, we observe a related pattern of faith-based white antipathy toward groups. Three aspects of religiosity (beliefs, behavior, and belonging) drive negative sentiments among whites, whereas disfavor of homosexual couples is less universally present and weaker for minorities. Recall that this same relationship emerges in our analysis of the 2000 RPS. Thus, we find consistency in the results across the two datasets that are examined.

Discussion and Conclusions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Multiple Perspectives on Religion and Group Politics
  4. Religion and African American Political Life
  5. Religion and Latino Politics
  6. Faith and Politics among Whites
  7. Data and Measures
  8. Analysis
  9. A Replication Using the 2008 American National Election Study
  10. Discussion and Conclusions
  11. References
  12. Supporting Information

An increasingly multicultural society broadens our curiosity about how different people might view social issues. While previous studies illustrate the role of faith experiences in shaping opinions, few accounts have taken a comparative approach and examined this topic cohesively across ethno-racial groups. Our research demonstrates that religious beliefs, behaviors, and affiliations operate in a distinct manner for each group. Perhaps most interesting, for whites, a good number of the religious beliefs and belonging measures are uniformly associated with less interest in egalitarian issues. However, religiously conservative Latinos only somewhat resemble their white counterparts, expressing less interest in liberal topics such as overcoming gender discrimination and mitigating intolerance toward homosexuals. And religiosity merely influences blacks’ opinions in one area—religious involvement diminishes interest in gay/lesbian rights, but Mainline Protestant church affiliates tend to be concerned about this issue. Our confidence in this story is bolstered by the fact that we show these results using two different national surveys of Americans. Thus, our study highlights the complex ways in which religiosity conditions political views.

Overall, we demonstrate that a single perspective on religion and public opinion does not neatly apply to all ethno-racial groups. It is noteworthy that many current studies focus on developing general theories of American political behavior. While this approach has obvious merits, the quest for general explanations may come at the expense of accurately portraying the political life of specific communities. To better understand the politics of a diverse society, scholars’ theoretical models and analyses should move toward reflecting the complexities of spiritual experiences within specific populations. Accounts of Evangelical politics, in particular, seem to consistently explain the conservative effects of religion for whites (and to a lesser extent Latinos), rather than African Americans. Thus, the sociopolitical teachings and views of white congregations may differ somewhat from minority group settings. This phenomenon strikes us as an important avenue for additional research.

We also recognize that subgroup diversity among Latinos may have both religious and political implications beyond those we discuss here. The 2000 RPS classifies respondents using a single Latino category, so we are unable to separate Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans, Dominicans, or Central Americans. However, there is good reason to believe that additional variation exists among Latinos. Indeed, the political effects of religion may manifest differently for Mexican Americans in the Southwest, compared to Puerto Rican and Dominican communities in New York and Boston (Avalos 2004; Barvosa-Carter 2004; Leal 2010). The relative autonomy (or lack of freedom) that local Catholic parishes are permitted in a region may account for variations in the politicization of Latino congregations. The involvement of priests in local community affairs is another factor that varies for Latino churches. The research literature suggests that contextual differences of this type ought to have significant effects on the attitudes and behaviors of parishioners. And, of course, one would expect to see differences in the religious and political influence of churches that cater to recent immigrants, compared to native-born Latinos. All of these issues deserve further study.

In light of the public's evolving attitudes toward gender roles, state-level battles over legalizing same-sex marriage, discussions of “post-racial” social relations, and discourse regarding policies directed toward assisting the poor in the present economic downturn, this article is timely in its attention to important political concerns. Our work highlights the myriad ways in which religion molds individuals’ beliefs about politics. Given the shifting demographics of the polity, future research should continue to explore between-group differences in religiosity and their influence on mass opinions and voting behavior. We believe this can be accomplished using a framework that considers how collectives differentially experience their faith and apply it in forming political attitudes.

Footnotes
  • 1

    The terms “black” and “African American” are used interchangeably throughout this study. We use “Latino” when referring to people of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, or other Hispanic origins. Unfortunately, our data do not disaggregate Latinos by ethnic group. We discuss the possible implications of this limitation later in the article.

  • 2

    White congregations may occasionally discuss racial issues, but these topics are not part of their regular agenda.

  • 3

    These figures likely reflect some overreporting (Hadaway, Marler, and Chaves 1993).

  • 4

    This uneasiness about homosexuality is not representative of the entire black Christian experience. From the perspective of social gospel and liberation theologies that promote equality for disadvantaged people, gay individuals might be viewed as a group that is unfairly treated by society. Thus, religious affiliation may facilitate sympathy for gay persons because they are an oppressed constituency (Shaw and McDaniel 2007).

  • 5

    We do not hypothesize a relationship between black religiosity and racial equality because we anticipate little variance in blacks’ opinions about this issue.

  • 6

    Not all Latinos are Christians. Some practice non-Christian faiths with Caribbean and African roots.

  • 7

    Undoubtedly, there is diversity among white Christians regarding their conservative, moderate, and liberal religious beliefs and understanding of doctrines and practices.

  • 8

    The sampling procedure, random generation of the last two digits of telephone numbers selected on the basis of their area code, telephone exchange (the first three digits of a seven-digit telephone number), and bank number (the fourth and fifth digits), ensures equal representation of all (listed and unlisted) residential households. The area code, telephone exchange, and bank number were selected proportionally by county and by telephone exchange within a county. At least 10 attempts were made to reach each number, and the person over 18 with the most recent birthday was asked to participate in the interview. These data are from ARDA archives available at http://www.thearda.com.

  • 9

    “DK/Refused” cases are coded as 0. The statistical results are identical when these cases are treated as missing.

  • 10

    Since we are comparing means for more than two groups, we rely on one-way ANOVA for the initial mean analyses and the Bonferroni method for post hoc mean group comparisons. See Appendix 2 in the supporting information for a summary of ANOVA results (e.g., sum of squares, degrees of freedom, and mean square).

  • 11

    Some respondents in the survey identify themselves as being members of two groups—both “white” and “Latino”= 361; both “Latino” and “black”= 50. Based on the mean comparisons of the groups, and for theoretical reasons (for white Latinos, ethnicity has been shown to be a stronger predictor than race), we count “white Latinos” as “Latino.” Because there are so few “black Latinos” in the sample, we drop these respondents from the ANOVA analyses.

  • 12

    These results are general group means and, of course, do not consider highly religious white Christian subgroups, such as Evangelicals.

  • 13

    We conducted multicollinearity tests for each model. None of the VIF values exceed 1.94 and the mean VIF is 1.38.

  • 14

    To alleviate concerns over high correlations between church affiliation variables and religious beliefs/behavior items, we conducted separate multicollinearity tests for these variables. None of the VIF values exceed 1.81 and the mean VIF is 1.47.

  • 15

    We also find that Latinos affiliated with Black Protestant churches are less interested in overcoming gender discrimination. However, only eight Latinos are in this group, so this result should be interpreted with caution.

  • 16

    The 2008 ANES includes oversamples of blacks and Latinos and has an AAPOR Response Rate 1 (RR1) of 59.5%, an AAPOR Response Rate 3 (RR3) of 63.7%, and an AAPOR RR5 of 78.2%. These data do not include a measure of personal religious conservatism, and the wording of some items differs from the variables in the 2000 RPS. Also, several of the questions asked in 2008 are randomly determined, half-sample items where half the respondents received differently worded queries (compared to their counterparts) or the question was omitted altogether by the interviewer. This design reduces the available sample size for certain variables.

  • 17

    The coding schemes for dependent and independent variables in these models mirror our previous multivariate configurations as closely as possible. We conducted multicollinearity tests for each model. None of the VIF values exceed 2.35 and the mean VIF is 1.42.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Multiple Perspectives on Religion and Group Politics
  4. Religion and African American Political Life
  5. Religion and Latino Politics
  6. Faith and Politics among Whites
  7. Data and Measures
  8. Analysis
  9. A Replication Using the 2008 American National Election Study
  10. Discussion and Conclusions
  11. References
  12. Supporting Information
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Supporting Information

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Multiple Perspectives on Religion and Group Politics
  4. Religion and African American Political Life
  5. Religion and Latino Politics
  6. Faith and Politics among Whites
  7. Data and Measures
  8. Analysis
  9. A Replication Using the 2008 American National Election Study
  10. Discussion and Conclusions
  11. References
  12. Supporting Information

Appendix 1: 2000 Religion and Politics Survey-Questions and Response Categories

Appendix 2: Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) Characteristics

Appendix 3: Variables and Summary Statistics

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AJPS_611_sm_suppmat.docx23KSupporting info item

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