Where you vote may influence how you vote, researchers find

January 19, 2012

Passersby who stopped to answer surveys taken next to churches in the Netherlands and England reported themselves as more politically conservative and more negative toward non-Christians than did people questioned within sight of government buildings — a finding that may be significant when it comes to voting, according to a Baylor University study.

The study, published online in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, adds to a growing body of evidence that religious "priming" can influence both religious and nonreligious people, Baylor researchers said. Priming occurs when a stimulus such as a verbal or a visual cue — for example, the buildings that were in participants' line of vision during questioning — influences a response.

The findings are significant in that and other buildings affiliated with a religious group are among the most common polling places, said psychologist Jordan LaBouff, Ph.D., lead author for the Baylor study.

"The important finding here is that people near a religious building reported slightly but significantly more conservative social and political attitudes than similar people near a government building," said co-author Wade Rowatt, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor. "In a close election, the place where people vote — a school, a church, a government building — could affect the outcome . For example, a higher percentage of people voting in a church instead of a school might vote for a conservative candidate or proposition."

He noted that a Stanford University study of an Arizona school funding referendum in 2000 showed that voters polled in schools were more likely to support a state tax increase than were those polled in churches or community centers. That study was published in 2008 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The Baylor study "raises questions about how our spaces can influence our attitudes," said LaBouff, a psychology lecturer at the University of Maine who collaborated on the research while a doctoral candidate at Baylor. "We should look carefully at places where important decisions are made."

He noted that while those conducting the survey made certain that the church or government building was within sight of the participant, they did not question people who were entering or leaving the buildings.

"We didn't want people who were there for the express purpose of going into a church, because that might mean they were inherently more religious," LaBouff said.

Another finding was that regardless of the setting, negativity toward Christians was not statistically significant among the culturally diverse group of passersby.

"Interestingly, these more negative attitudes toward non-Christian groups were held by a very diverse — and largely non-Christian — sample," LaBouff said. "The only who weren't viewed negatively were . They were a non-factor."

Passersby were asked to rate "outgroups" — those who were different from themselves in terms of culture and/or religion. Groups listed included rich, poor, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, gay men, lesbian women, Africans, Asians, Europeans and Arabs. Participants were asked to rate their feelings of "coolness" or "warmness" toward certain groups on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the warmest.

Survey participants were diverse and multicultural — 99 individuals from more than 30 countries. They were questioned by Baylor students during a study-abroad tour, and Baylor psychologists in the College of Arts & Sciences analyzed the data collected by the students in an advanced research methods class.

In Maastricht in the , passersby were surveyed outside the Basilica of Saint Servatius and Maastricht Town Hall; in London, they were surveyed outside Westminster Abbey and Parliament. All the structures are located along major pedestrian paths.

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4 / 5 (1) Jan 19, 2012
Interesting. It's fascinating how many of our decisions are influenced by the subconscious.
4.3 / 5 (3) Jan 19, 2012
This is a bad survey. Psychologists should know better than to publish garbage like this. Churches are usually built in conservative areas b/c that's where their worshippers live. You wouldn't build your wal-mart on the other side of town from your shoppers. Not every person in that area is going to go to church there; however, many will be conservative b/c like-minded people often live near each other. If you doubt this, look at the demographic breakdowns from the 2010 U.S. census and psychographic breakdowns from marketing surveys.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 19, 2012
@AWab: I find your criticism flawed. Voting places are not assigned based on the neighborhood's preference for church-going. While you may be right that neighborhoods with churches have more conservative occupants (and I question that), not all of those people are assigned to vote in churches. And vice versa, not all non-conservative neighbors are assigned to non-religious voting places. Thus the voting place is indeed the influence on the detected shift in voter preference.
not rated yet Jan 20, 2012
I see more and more news of this type. I think it's time some psychologist pulled it all together for us. It would make more sense that way, I'm sure.
not rated yet Jan 20, 2012
nmt, voting stations are set up in the local neighborhoods for the locals living in the immediate vicinity. In most places, the majority of people moving around the area will be locals (unless you're in, say, the financial district of a city). Since churches are typically for those within the local vicinity and they have a larger number of conservative members than liberal, then those around the church are typically more conservative. To prove my statement: there are more churches per person in the south (U.S.) than in the north (U.S.). The south is more conservative than the north. Get it?

So, if you're polling people outside of a church, whether they're going in or not, it's more likely that they live in the area and are conservative (more or less)! It's a bad poll built on false premises.

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