Thursday, March 29, 2012


Following a link from a reader named Chris, I saw this:
I think this is starting to change in the younger generation. I don't think I have a single friend who actually believes in God but almost all of them are conservatives.
The secular right has a lot of growing to do before it becomes a force in society. I wondered, though, how the association between active religiosity and political orientation might have changed over time in the US. Today, conservative politics and churchgoing are clearly correlated, as the proceeding table illustrates:

My impression is that the association is a relatively new one. Jimmy Carter, who has come to epitomize risible liberalism, was (and is) a devout Baptist who carried the bible belt on his way to the presidency in 1976. The following graph shows the percentages of conservative GSS respondents who regularly go to church (defined as attending services at least twice a month) compared to the percentages of the self-identified conservative general population over the same period of time. To avoid racial confounding, only whites are considered:

Extending back to Carter's election, regular churchgoers have tended to be more conservative than the general population has been, but the distinction remained pretty trivial through the eighties. It has grown considerably over the last couple of decades, alongside the perception that churchgoing is a red state thing.

GSS variables used: YEAR, RACE(1), ATTEND(5-8), POLVIEWS(1-2)(5-6)


Razib said...

putnam's new book returns the surprising result (to him) that people seem to more likely align their religion to their politics, than align their politics to their religion. so, he explains strong secularization tendencies among youth due to the association for liberal christians of christianity with conservatism. so they opt out of christianity in totality.

Black Death said...

It's interesting to contrast the 1976 (Carter vs. Ford) and 1980 (Carter vs. Reagan) elections. In 1976, Carter carried all of the South (except VA) and all of the border states (except OK). However, he won no states west of Texas except Hawaii. Carter got 297 electoral votes vs. 240 for Ford. The popular vote went for Carter, 50.1% to 48.0%.

In 1980, by contrast, Carter carried only six states, of which only one, his home state of Georgia, was in the South, plus two border states. Reagan got the rest and won decisively in both the popular vote (50.7% vs. 41.0%) and in the electoral college (489 vs. 49).

This was probably the most important presidential election in the second half of the 20th century. After four years in the presidency, Carter, a lifelong Georgian and a devout Southern Baptist, was highly unpopular in the South (I was living in the South at the time, and I remember it well). Carter had made such a mess of things the people in the South preferred Reagan, a conservative Westerner who was not particularly religious. Reagan made it "respectable" for Southerners to vote Republican, and they've been mostly voting that way ever since. It probably would have happened anyway, but this election was the defining event.

Noah172 said...

Black Death,

Your history is a little off.

Reagan made it "respectable" for Southerners to vote Republican

Eisenhower, Nixon ('60, '68, and overwhelmingly in '72), and Goldwater won a bunch of southern states; every southern state voted GOP at least once in the period 1952-72, and four (VA, TN, KY, and FL) did so four or five times, out of six total; and all but one did so at least twice.

After four years in the presidency, Carter, a lifelong Georgian and a devout Southern Baptist, was highly unpopular in the South

To be sure, Carter's popularity had sharply declined everywhere, but the election returns show that the South was still Carter's best region (relatively). First, in his primary battle with Ted Kennedy, Carter retained solid loyalty among southern Democrats. In the general election, Carter got 46-48 percent of the popular vote in eight southern states (in addition to keeping GA, as you noted); the split was the growing suburbs (and cities still white-majority) for Reagan, and the rural areas (where one might expect to find a lot of Old Time Religion) for Carter. While many northern liberals abandoned Carter for Anderson, the latter was barely a blip in the Bible Belt.

Noah172 said...

Interesting that AE brings up Carter. Reagan once said, "I did not leave the Democratic Party; the Democratic Party left me." I think that Carter can say (maybe he has said) the same thing about him and the Southern Baptists. Until very recently (ca 1980), they were a much more heterogeneous body than today. The Convention issued resolutions denouncing US involvement in the Second World War and Vietnam, and foreign adventurism generally. As late as the '70s, they took a moderate/liberal stance on the politics (as opposed to the morality) of abortion. I can understand how someone like Carter, whose political, social, and theological views were common in his denomination for most of his life, was left bewildered and alienated when the likes of Falwell became the SBC's image.