Steven Weldon and Denver McNeney
Political scientists have long assumed that issues were at the heart of vote choice and a causal determinant of it—that is, citizens came to politics with clear issue preferences and they voted for the party or candidate that best represented those interests. Many would say democracy demands this kind of link between issue preferences and vote choice. And yet, studies have consistently shown that surprisingly few voters measure up. Many voters know remarkably little about politics, including even basic facts about their own political system. They have little conception of issues, party, and candidate positions on those issues or how issues relate to one another as part of a coherent political ideology. As a result, they often have unstable and ephemeral preferences. Worse, among the fraction of voters who are engaged and well-informed, many appear susceptible to persuasion and possibly manipulation of their issue opinions from the media and their partisan leaders. This raises questions about the viability of representative democracy and, at its most pessimistic, the possibility that elites are largely free to pursue personal goals unchecked and independent of the public good.
Some of the most innovative work on issue voting is focusing on partisan bias, including its limitations and how it relates to other social divisions. When mapped onto existing social divisions in society, such as those arising from race, religion, and immigration, issues can indeed matter for elections because they tap into and stimulate the same psychological and affective processes that make partisanship so powerful in the first place—in-group and out-group bias. Cross-national research has also increasingly pointed to the role of such issues as part of an emerging political cleavage related to globalization that is transforming elections and party systems across Europe and other postindustrial democracies. The causal determinants of issue voting is a promising avenue for future research.
Hajo G. Boomgaarden and Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck
Media are key for the functioning of democracy. It is the essential link between politics and citizens, providing critical information and interpretation of politics and room for debate. Given this central role of the media for democratic political processes, questions about how mediated political information would affect citizens’ perceptions of and attitudes toward politics, as well as ultimately political behavior, have been dominant in research in the field of political communication. While vast amounts of mid-range theories and empirical insights speak in favor of influences of media on citizens, there is little in terms of a universal theoretical framework guiding political media effects research, which makes it difficult to give a conclusive answer to the question: how and, in particular, how much do the media matter? It may matter for some people under some conditions in some contexts relating to some outcome variables. Technological changes in media systems pose additional challenges, both conceptually and methodologically, to come to comprehensive assessments of media influences on citizens’ political cognitions, attitudes, or behaviors. Research needs to be clearer as to which conceptualization of media is followed and how such conceptualization may interact with other dimensions of media attributes. Measurement of media use and reception needs to take into account the increasing complexities of how citizens encounter political information, and it requires alignment with the conceptualization of media. Political media effect theories should not continue developing side by side, but should attempt to find a place in a more comprehensive model and take into account how they relate to and possibly interact with other approaches. In sum, the field of political media effects, while vast and covering a range of aspects, would do well to consider its role and purpose in increasingly complex media environments and, accordingly, provide more integrative perspectives, conceptually, methodologically, and theoretically.
Matthew R. Miles and Jason M. Adkins
In 2012, the Republican Party selected a Mormon, Mitt Romney, as their nominee for U.S. president. After decades of persecution and suspicion, many felt like the LDS Church was finally being accepted as a mainstream religion and an equal player on the national political stage. From a different perspective, the “acceptance” of the LDS Church by the U.S. government and the Republican Party has come at a tremendous cost. Unlike those who joined other religious denominations in America, 19th century converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave everything they had to the church. The 19th-century LDS Church controlled not just the political, but the economic, social, and religious aspects of its members’ lives. The LDS Church has traded immense power over a few dedicated members for a weaker political voice in the lives of millions more members. From this perspective, the LDS Church has never been more politically weak than they were in the 2012 presidential election. Previous LDS Church presidents endorsed non-Mormon candidates Cleveland, Taft, and Nixon more enthusiastically than President Monson endorsed Mitt Romney—one of his own. In the 20th century, the power of the LDS Church over the lives of its members has waned considerably, significantly hindering the institutional church’s ability to politically mobilize its congregants. Even in Utah, only the most ardent LDS Church members are swayed by the political dictates of LDS Church leaders.
Political party systems are an important element of political systems in Africa and elsewhere. They form the central intermediate institution between the general population and the government. Party systems represent and aggregate diverse political views and group interests, and they form coalitions that then form governments with potentially important consequences of democracy and political stability.
Unlike the case in the period directly after independence, African party systems have been overwhelmingly multiparty since the 1990s. As a result, the literature has grown significantly, although most works focus on political parties rather than party systems. Many efforts have been devoted to classification, referring to the legal context as well as, more specifically, the number of relevant parties, the levels of institutionalization, and, less often, the degree of ideological or other polarization. While levels of institutionalization and ideological differences are generally not pronounced, more than half of African party systems have been one-party dominant, of which most are authoritarian. In contrast, two-party and pluralist-party systems, which make up approximately one half of all multiparty systems, are generally more democratic. Besides determining classifications, most analytical work focuses on the determinants of African party systems using quantitative and qualitative as well as macro- and micro-level methodologies. Three determinants are debated: first, ethnicity, which has been cited as the main social cleavage behind African party systems; however, while ethnicity matters, its effects vary and are limited; second, political institutions, especially electoral systems for legislative elections, which only partly explain fragmentation or other features; third, the performance of political parties and rationalist approaches. Scholars largely agree that all of these elements need to be taken into account. While certain functions of party systems may facilitate democratization and political stability or other outcomes, little empirical work exists on the consequences of party systems. Some evidence suggests that highly institutionalized, moderately fragmented, and polarized systems promote democracy. Future research faces many challenges, in particular the development of integrated theory and more fine-grained data, as well as an increased focus on the consequences of party systems.
Despite predictions that urbanization, economic development and globalization would lead to the recession of religion from public life, populations around the world continue to be highly religious. This pattern holds in most parts of the Global South and also in some advanced industrial democracies in the North, including in the United States. In grappling with the influence (or lack thereof) of religion on political life, a growing body of literature pays attention to how clergy–congregant communication might shape listeners’ political attitudes and behaviors. Considerable debate remains as to whether clergy–congregant communication is likely to change political attitudes and behavior, but there is a greater consensus around the idea that exposure to religious communication can at the very least prime (that is, increase the salience of) certain considerations that in turn affect how people evaluate political issues and whether they participate in politics. Religious communication is more likely to exert a persuasive and a priming influence among those already inclined to select into the communication and when the source of the communication is credible. More research is needed on the duration of religious primes and on the effects of religious communication in different political and social contexts around the world.
The definition of the term “religious discrimination” is contested, but for the purposes of this discussion religious discrimination is defined as restrictions on the religious practices or institutions of minority religions that are not placed on the majority religion. Religious discrimination can include restrictions on (a) religious practices, (b) religious institutions and clergy, (c) conversion and proselytizing, and (d) other types of discrimination. Globally, 88.5% of countries discriminate against at least one religious minority, and religious discrimination is becoming more common over time. Religious discrimination is the norm worldwide regardless of world region, government type, and majority religion.
Motivations to discriminate are multiple and complex. They include (a) differences in religious ideologies and beliefs—many religions are ideologically intolerant of other religions; (b) religious organizations seeking an institutional monopoly in a country; (c) religious beliefs and practices running counter to liberal and secular values, including human rights; (d) countries seeking to protect their national culture from outside influences, including nonindigenous religions; (e) countries having anti-cult policies; (f) countries restricting minority religious practices that are considered objectionable to the national ideology or culture; (g) a historical conflict between minority groups and the majority; (h) the perception of minorities as a security threat; (i) the perception of minorities as a political threat ; (j) long-lasting historical tensions between the majority and minority; (k) national politicians mobilizing supporters along religious lines; (l) societal prejudices against minorities leading to government-based discrimination; (m) religious identity; (n) general discrimination that is also applicable to religious minorities. Although these are among the most common motivations for discrimination, in many cases the motivations are unique to the specific situation.
Christopher W. Hale
Historically, the Catholic Church in Latin America has supported conservative interests. It legitimized Spanish colonial rule and sided with traditionalist elites following Latin American independence. However, beginning in the mid-20th century, some within the Church engaged with social causes, and a new progressive theology inspired many priests and bishops to advocate politically on behalf of the poor. The resultant movement helped topple dictatorships, facilitated transitions to democracy, and developed as a result of three factors. First, liberation theology emboldened clergy to support the political causes of the poor and created an ideological frame encouraging Catholic laity to organize for social change. Furthermore, competition from new Protestant religions provided Catholic leadership with an incentive to support secular political movements and created an opportunity for political engagement through the Catholic Church. Finally, decentralization within the Church encouraged Catholic adherents to engage and develop organizational capacities at the grass-roots. Taken together, scholarly explanations emphasizing framing, opportunity, and resource mobilization create a compelling account of the development of progressive Catholic activism.
Less sustained theoretical attention has been given to assessing the dynamics of conservative Latin American Catholic advocacy. The Church consistently opposes abortion, divorce, the use of contraceptives, and gay marriage. Moreover, although the Catholic Church has enabled many women’s political movements, it suppresses efforts at liberalizing reproductive rights. Future research on Catholic advocacy in Latin America should identify additional pathways through which framing, opportunity, and resource mobilization influence conservative Catholic advocacy in the region. Additionally, the Church’s relationship with environmental issues is understudied. Finally, Latin America offers untapped potential to examine the complicated relationship between ethnicity, religion, and collective action.
Marta Cantijoch and Rachel Gibson
The study of e-participation is a young and growing discipline in which controversies are vibrant. One of these is the lack of a widely accepted definition of “e-participation.” Online political activities that involve little effort from the participant, such as liking or sharing political content on social media, are particularly divisive. Some scholars are reluctant to label expressive forms of online behavior as political participation. Others argue in favor of an adaptation of previous definitions to accommodate recent technological changes.
Levels of engagement in different types of e-participation are increasing steadily over time. While differences between democracies are often stark, the upward trend has been consistent, especially since the emergence and expansion of social media. Whether this means that previously unengaged individuals are now taking part is one of the central questions of the literature on e-participation. To date, research has shown positive but modest results in support for a mobilizing effect. Particularly promising are findings suggesting that online tools are attracting younger participants to the political arena.
Online forms of political engagement are often placed in a more general process leading to online and offline political participation. “Lean-forward” models that provide a contextualized understanding of the drivers and effects of e-participation are particularly insightful. In order to provide robustness to some of the questions that remain unresolved, scholars exploring e-participation should consider expanding their methodological repertoires. The trend is toward mixed designs that combine surveys and other forms of data (big data collected from social media or qualitative data).
Jeremiah J. Castle and Patrick L. Schoettmer
An increasingly important area within the subfield of religion and politics is the study of secularism, an ideology that seeks to limit the influence of religion in public and private life. Secularism can refer to conditions at the societal level (public secularism) or at the individual level (private secularism). In addition, it can take the form of simply an absence of religion (passive secularism), or it can include an affirmative acceptance of secular ideals (active secularism).
Comparative studies highlight the complex ways in which secularism both influences and is influenced by politics. In Western Europe, the long-standing practice of established and/or preferred religions has led to a lack of vitality in the religious marketplace, resulting in high levels of private secularism. In Russia and other Eastern European nations, the end of communism and political motivations are leading to both decreasing public and private secularism. In the Middle East, secularization throughout the 20th century seems to have led to a fundamentalist backlash. Similarly, in the United States, the increasing association between religion and political conservatism seems to be driving increasing levels of private secularism. Together, these lessons suggest that both political factors and local context are key to understanding the relationship between secularism and politics.
The boundary between the religious and the secular spheres of life is contested in many parts of the world. From the latter decades of the 20th century, controversies over issues such as the legalization of same-sex marriage, assisted dying, and freedom of speech, as well as clashes around reproductive rights and equality issues, have all featured highly on national political agendas. Set against a backdrop of the “return of religion” to public life, these debates and tensions have given rise to the notion that secularism might be in a state of crisis or moving toward some form of post-secular condition. The term “secularism” is itself also contested. The precise nature of the “secular” and the “religious” spheres of life is subject to interpretation, and secularism in practice can be manifest in a number of ways. This ranges from exclusivist forms of secularism in countries such as the United States and France to inclusive secularism in the case of India. Supporters of a role for religion in public life maintain that religion provides a range of valuable public goods and gives individuals a sense of meaning and identity. Secularists, on the other hand, claim that the separation of church and state provides the best framework for upholding the rights and freedoms of all citizens regardless of their religion or belief.