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Electoral Choice and Religion: An Overview  

Christopher D. Raymond

A wide body of research has studied the impact of religious cleavages on electoral choice in a range of democracies. This research focuses on two types of religious cleavages. One type of religious cleavage is the confessional cleavage, which is a measure of the center-periphery cleavages. This type of cleavage is measured in surveys using indicators of respondents’ religious identities (e.g., Christian vs. Muslim [when one needs to distinguish between voters of different faiths], Catholic vs. Protestant [when one needs to distinguish between different denominations within the same broader faith], and Presbyterian vs. Methodist [when one needs to distinguish between different traditions]). The other type of religious cleavage is the clerical cleavage, which divides religious from secular (i.e., nonreligious) voters. Clerical cleavages are measured using either a measure of religious behavior (e.g., individuals’ frequency of attendance of religious services or frequency of prayer) or beliefs (e.g., whether and the degree to which one believes in the tenets associated with one’s religious identity). Where such cleavages are present, previous research shows that religious groups tend to vote for parties appealing to their votes, while religious voters behave differently from secular voters. A wide body of research also examines whether and how the effects of religious cleavages change over time. One line of research argues that the effects of religious cleavages on electoral choices change in response to changes in society and among individuals. For instance, as individuals and society as a whole become more secular, some research argues that religious cleavages impact electoral choices less than more religious societies where religion matters more to individuals. Additionally, as voters become more cognitively sophisticated, voters do not need to rely on religious cleavages, resulting in weaker religious effects on voting behavior. Another line of research argues that the effects of religious cleavages change in response to changes in the messages articulated by political parties: When parties compete on issues relevant to religious voters and maintain organizational ties to religious groups in society, the effects of religious cleavages on voting behavior will be strong; when parties deemphasize religious issues and reduce formal ties to religious organizations, the effects of religious cleavages will weaken. While research suggests both types of changes impact the effects of religious cleavages on electoral choices, more research is needed to determine the extent to which ties between parties and religious voters have weakened, especially after accounting for the impact of religious and parental socialization on the behavior of seculars, as well as the degree to which material satisfaction increases the salience of religious issues for religious voters.

Article

The Political Effects of Religious Cues  

Aubrey Westfall and Özge Çelik Russell

Religion is a central and comprehensive identity for billions of people all over the world. Politicians and other political actors recognize the vitality of religion and use it for political purposes, deliberately signaling religion, religiosity, or religious values and connecting them to political outcomes or behaviors in an effort to influence the political preferences of religious practitioners. The most efficient way to make the connection between religion and politics is through religious cues. Religious cues create information shortcuts linking religious identity or values with a political candidate or issue. Religious cues are used by political and religious actors in secular and religious contexts and are typically one of two general types: identity cues, which engage an individual’s religious identity and activate an in-group/out-group effect, and linkage cues, which link religious values or beliefs with an issue or candidate. Identity cues are particularly tricky to use in secular contexts because they have been shown to have strong alienating effects on nonreligious people, thereby defeating the intended purpose of the cue sender. For this reason, coded religious language called “implicit cues” is used with greater frequency in political discourse where only the religious cue receiver recognizes the religious cue for what it is. This strategy allows a political candidate to reap the benefits of the cue without risking alienation. While scholars have made substantial progress in using experimental methods to disentangle the ways religious cues influence political behavior, there is ample opportunity for more research exploring different types of religious cues and the way they interact with other forms of cues and identities. Furthermore, most of the research on religious cues has focused on Christian cues in the United States, and a more diverse range of religions and contexts should be explored to understand the way religious cues influence political behavior. Researchers should also expand the definition of “religious practitioners” to explore how religious cues influence the growing number of people who do not affiliate with a religion or engage in practices traditionally associated with religiosity but do identify as religious. This would help to expand conceptualization of political behavior to more accurately reflect lived political experiences. Embracing these opportunities will allow the scholarly community to gain a better understanding of the varied political dynamics of religious cueing, which offers insights into how fundamental identities and attitudes are linked, thereby shedding more light on the complex dynamics of political behavior.