Religion is a powerful and very influential factor in people’s lives. It governs one’s actions, and it is considered when people are faced with difficult decisions. Even in politics, religion has an important role to fill. Various studies have been done in the past to determine the effects that religion has on the voting and political behaviors of people.
Consequently, religion affects the voting and political behavior in the following ways: 1) by setting standards that guide believers in the realm of politics; 2) by indirectly leading the congregation in developing a common outlook on political issues; and 3) by serving as a source of motivation. Interestingly, the church (religion) is separated from the state (politics), yet religion is an influential factor with regards to political activities (Bryner). In fact, there are some countries whose religion takes precedence over government policies.
For instance, there are countries where policies in reproductive health are being pushed by politicians. However, the church may intervene if it deems that the policies are against the teachings of the church. Religion, as described by Wald and Calhoun-Brown, “is a specialized institution with a limited public role, and religious affiliation is a matter of personal choice” (8). According to McDaniel, religion “permeates all aspects of American life,” including social and political lives (1). It has become a very important factor for the United States, compared to other developed countries such as Canada and Britain (McDaniel 3).
By Setting Standards that Guide Believers in the Realm of Politics Interestingly, political parties in the United States recognized the power of religion as a political weapon. During campaigns before the election, political candidates used the strategy of appealing first to religious groups to gain their support, otherwise known as God strategy. Republicans are said to be more successful than Democrats in using this strategy (McDaniel 18). Most notably, presidential candidates of the recent elections John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barak Obama all expressed the importance of fusing God and the American country (McDaniel 22).
However, this God strategy has not just sprouted recently. During the “Great Awakening” period, political campaigning made use of techniques for mass persuasion, which were originally used through preaching and worship styles. Political wannabes gained their supporters by endorsing parades and tent meetings, even door-to-door campaigning and public declarations. These were the same techniques that evangelists used to convert people into the religion being sponsored (Wald and Calhoun-Brown 42). In addition, past researches showed that churches and religious groups ranked first among other groups in having confidence in major institutions.
Mass media, public schools, labor unions, and business fell behind. The most interesting finding is that people believed that Catholic priest are more honest and ethical despite cases of sexual abuse compared to government officials and business leaders. The truth of this finding could be seen in the amount of donations. In 2002 alone, $80 to $90 billion was spent on religious institutions. This indicates that churches are the number one recipient of private philanthropy. A portion of the budget is spent on education, health, community development, and others (Wald and Calhoun-Brown 10).
Furthermore, religion affects the political behavior of the public as described by Martin Luther King, Jr. According to him, a religion that is “true to its nature” is not only concerned about the faith and salvation of the public but also includes social conditions. It means that the public sees religion as an aid against economic and social conditions that cripple it. The public is also confident that religion can aid in making conditions better (McDaniel 31). By Indirectly Leading the Congregation in Developing a Common Outlook on Political Issues
Churches serve as political communities. In 1988, a study involved 21 Florida churches which believed that “the theological climate in the churches contributed strongly to the political conservatism of its members. ” The authors stated that theology and practices in a church can lead to cohesion with regards to the political attitudes of the members (McDaniel 8). Past researches all showed one similarity in their results: religion affects the voting and political behavior of the public. In particular, religion has influenced the public’s political views, especially among Americans.
For instance, Americans support the candidates based on the latter’s position on moral and social issues (Buras 3) such as homosexuality, abortion, and environmental and economic issues (Gibbs). A research study showing the connection between religiosity and voting behavior would best explain the influence that religion holds on its congregation. The study stated that voters would consider the issues that the candidate supports or does not support. In particular, economics and benefits are among the priorities of voters when choosing for their candidates.
This shows that voters would first vote according to what would best benefit them and their group (Gibb). Another study provided evidence on the influence that religion has on the voting behavior of the public. It showed that majority of the respondents under the Evangelical category (70. 2%) registered to vote compared to non-evangelical Christian (65. 7%). The study also revealed that those who attended religious services on a regular basis are more likely to register. Also, 67. 5% of those who registered believed that religion is a very important factor in their lives, whereas 59. 2% expressed that religion is not important (Buras 7).
Another issue that voters look into is related to gender. Gibb stated that among women, they would choose to support a candidate or would identify with a certain political party if it supports gender issues that are pressing such as female equality and reproductive rights. In addition, the author mentioned that cultural factors influenced why women support the Democratic Party while men support the Republican Party. The split between men and women in choosing the party to support is attributed to the implementation of newer policies for women’s rights that threatens a society that is largely based on tradition.
The study further went deeper by examining factors that influence voting behavior. One of these factors was ideology, which serves as a reflection of the things that a person holds important such as ethnicity and gender (Gibbs). In the United States, religion has a say in how representatives vote. There are also denominations which are united in choosing which candidate to put to power. For example, when it comes to their beliefs about abortion, Jewish groups, along with Mainline denominations, would support pro-choice stances while Catholics and Mormons would support pro-life.
In addition, religious denominations support their own candidates, as can be seen through the support of Evangelical Protestants on conservatism while Jews and Catholics support liberalism (Gibb). Additionally, Evangelical Protestants support the Republican Party because they believed that the party’s policies on privatization of social security, defense spending, and tax cuts, among others, subscribe to their beliefs. On the other hand, the Democratic Party supports public welfare, affirmative action, and universal healthcare (“Religion and its effects on Political Party Affiliation”).
Another study involved the question of whether Catholics or Protestants or other religions vote with regards to their moral values. The study showed that more than 45. 5% of Protestants believed that the views of the candidates on moral issues are more important than economic policies. The percentage for Catholic almost reached 28. 6%%. However, other religions (52. 5%) disagreed to the idea that the views of candidates on moral issues are more important than economic policies. Interestingly, the Catholic registered a smaller percentage in agreeing compared to Protestants, as opposed to its strong stance on moral issues such as abortion.
However, the Catholics would support the Democratic Party, as it includes economic policies that are aligned to the tenets of Catholicism (“Religion as a Variable”). Furthermore, several studies showed that evangelicals associate with their preferred parties. For instance, evangelicals would more likely support the Republican Party while non-evangelicals would support the Democratic Party. This shows the connection between the religion and the voting behavior of the public (Gibb). By Serving as Motivation Religious groups participate in politics for varied reasons.
One is voice and equality. For instance, when churches support a particular political candidate, it gives the former a voice to encourage the public. It also presents an opportunity for the churches to communicate to the public about their faith and religion. Additionally, political participation sets the stage for equality (McDaniel 9). Religious groups also show that they have the capacity to participate in politics. However, participating means that there are some things required of them. One of these is time.
Religious groups must spend a portion of their time to volunteer during campaigns. Another is money as support to the political cause that they endorse. The last thing is verbal skills necessary “to compose a convincing letter. ” As mentioned already, churches serve as voluntary organizations. It means that they would need the assistance and training of members in order to achieve its goals or duties. Furthermore, churches are the best place where one can build skills needed in the political arena (McDaniel 11-12). Aside from capacity, churches have networks of recruitment.
They have the ability to mobilize the public into participating in politics through these networks. As such, groups and activist can encourage people to participate in political activities. They also recognize that people “are more likely to participate when asked” (McDaniel 13). Furthermore, people can enjoy tangible and intangible benefits when they vote. Voting shows their cooperation towards the realization of their goals for the betterment of the country or government. Likewise, religion can be a source for motivation (McDaniel 15-16).
Another reason involves the Americans’ journey towards identity that they can found in religion. For many years, Americans resorted to ways in order to improve their situations. By joining in religious activities and political parties, they believe that they can seek identity. Furthermore, several authors of previous studies stated that religious identity is an important factor which gives light to the question regarding people’s reasons for choosing a political party (“Religion and its effects on Political Party Affiliation”).
From the facts and results of previous studies presented, it shows that religion indeed affects the voting and political behavior of the public through several ways. By setting standards that guide believers in the realm of politics, the public determines which candidate or political party to support. In addition, religious congregation that has things in common is more likely to act on their status with regards to political activities. Furthermore, religion serves as motivation for most people to participate in politics.
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