Study addresses polarization on the rise in US presidential politics

Oct 18, 2012 by Amanda Garris

(Phys.org)—Every four years, the differences between the U.S. political parties are thrown into sharp relief, thanks to presidential elections. A study of three decades of voter choice has shown that while the influence of religion on voter choice intensified in the years between the elections of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Barack Obama in 2008, the phenomenon is limited to upper-income white Protestants and Catholics.

In a study published in the Review of European Studies (Vol. 4, No. 4), professor of development sociology Thomas Hirschl and professor of biological statistics and James Booth analyzed two large surveys of voter choice. The is a nationally representative, repeat cross-section of American voters across eight from 1980 to 2008, and the Cornell National Social Survey (CNSS) recovered identified presidential choice in 1,000 households for the 2008 election. In addition to basic demographic information collected in both surveys, the CNSS included a "biblical authority scale" to assess the degree to which a respondent agreed with such statements as "The Bible is without contradiction" and "The Bible is to be read literally."

A thorough analysis of voter presidential choice and personal characteristics, from family income to race, gender and , allowed the researchers to identify not only the magnitude of polarization, but also its specific source within the general population.

"Upper-income white Protestants who believe the Bible is the literal word of God have more than doubled their odds of voting Republican—from 2.7 GOP voters for every one Democratic voter among this group in 1980, to 6.1 for every one in 2008," said Hirschl. "Conversely, secular-minded, upper-income white Protestants reversed their partisan preference, from 1.9 to 1 in favor of the in 1980, to a 2.2 to 1 advantage for Democratic voters in 2008."

A less dramatic but significant increase in religious-partisan differences was also found in upper-income white Catholics. Contrary to popular belief, this polarization was evident only in white households that had a total income greater than $75,000 (2009 equivalent) per year—the "comfort class."

"There was no comparable trend among lower income white Protestants or Catholics," Hirschl noted. "In addition, African-Americans remained loyal Democratic voters throughout the 28-year study period, regardless of their religious identity."

The study data did not allow investigation of additional racial or ethnic groups.

The finding that an increase in secular-religious polarization was restricted to the upper-income white voters, even during a period of increasing economic inequality, runs counter to the predictions of a society-wide "culture war." According to Hirschl, the study's results are evidence of a decoupling of religious politics from the politics of economic inequality, presenting opportunities for the political parties to market themselves differently to different sectors.

"Overall, it's clear that religious identity strongly motivates upper-income white voters, but does not seem to drive African-Americans or lower income whites headed to the ballot box," said Hirschl. "Heading into election 2012, there's no doubt religious worldviews will continue to play an active role i

Explore further: Poll: Big Bang a big question for most Americans

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Voters' views of Mormonism still hamper Romney's campaign

May 22, 2012

Mitt Romney's religion was a major stumbling block for his 2008 presidential aspirations, and remains so for his candidacy in 2012, according to David Campbell at the University of Notre Dame. Real time voter analysis of ...

Recommended for you

Poll: Big Bang a big question for most Americans

2 minutes ago

Few Americans question that smoking causes cancer. But they have more skepticism than confidence in global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and have the most trouble believing a Big Bang created the universe 13.8 ...

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Clippers and coiners in 16th-century England

In 2017 a new £1 coin will appear in our pockets with a design extremely difficult to forge. In the mid-16th century, Elizabeth I's government came up with a series of measures to deter "divers evil persons" ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.