Monthly Archives: September 2010

Atheists/Agnostics, Jews, and Mormons have an edge in religious knowledge

One of my areas of research specialization is religion and American politics. Thus, I was intrigued by the findings of a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life:

Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.

On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.

Interestingly, despite the fact that many Protestant groups hold that Mormons are neither Christian nor believe in the Bible, the survey shows that Mormons scored the highest of any religious group on their knowledge of Christianity and the Bible.

I also thought this was noteworthy:

Mormons, black Protestants and white evangelicals are the most frequent readers of materials about religion. Fully half of all Mormons (51%) and roughly three-in-ten white evangelicals (30%) and black Protestants (29%) report that they read books or go online to learn about their own religion at least once a week. Only a small fraction of all religiously affiliated Americans – 6% of the general public and no more than 8% of any religious group – say they read books (other than Scripture) or visit websites to learn about religions other than their own at least once a week.

Steve Colbert on immigration

Stephen Colbert was invited to testify before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Security. He had previously spent a day working in the agricultural fields along-side the immigrant workers and was asked to speak on his experiences:

I will admit taking a small amount of pleasure in Rep. Steve King’s scowl. (Iowa Rep. King is one of the fiercest anti-immigrant members of the House.)

And since the Senate was not able to overcome a filibuster of the Defense Bill, the DREAM Act remains stalled for the time being… (see previous posts).

The LDS immigration conundrum

Last year I published an article in The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion which shows that, after controlling for partisanship, ideology, and a host of other demographic and political control variables, Latter-day Saints are more likely to have liberal, “friendly” immigration policy preferences, generally speaking. I attributed this to the theory that members of a minority group (LDS church members) may tend to have more sympathy for members of another minority group, in this case, undocumented immigrants.

An article in today’s New York Times provides some anecdotal evidence to support this finding. The article discusses how the editorial board of the largest LDS-owned newspaper in Utah, The Deseret News,  has taken a very pro-immigrant stand in recent weeks and months, much to the chagrin of the state’s more politically conservative members who are also members of the LDS church. The article speculates that this may be another way in which the LDS church is tacitly revealing a pro-immigrant position while avoiding taking a direct “official stance” on the issue.

Support the DREAM Act!

From America’s Voice:

The DREAM Act is bipartisan legislation that would give eligible young people who were brought to the U.S. as children the opportunity to legalize their immigration status and work towards citizenship.

To move from being undocumented to being a U.S. citizen, eligible young people would be required to pass background checks, be of good moral character, graduate from high school and go on to attend college or serve in the military.  It is estimated that each year, 65,000 young people graduate from high school in the U.S. who find themselves unable to work, join the military or go to college because of their immigration status.  Approximately 800,000 young people would be eligible for the DREAM Act upon passage.

Even the military loves the DREAM Act:

Many military experts have come out in support of the DREAM Act because it would significantly increase the pool of qualified recruits in the Latino population, which comprises the majority of undocumented immigrants and which research indicates are more likely to enlist and serve in the military than any other group.

Margaret Stock, retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, has stated “Potential DREAM Act beneficiaries are also likely to be a military recruiter’s dream candidates for enlistment … In a time when qualified recruits—particularly ones with foreign language skills and foreign cultural awareness – are in short supply, enforcing deportation laws against these young people makes no sense. Americans who care about our national security should encourage Congress to pass the DREAM Act.” Conservative military scholar Max Boot has stated, “I think it’s crazy we are not tapping into it.”

The Senate will be taking up this legislation next week. Please contact your Senators soon and urge them to support this legislation!

More information available here:

The Motor Voter Act

I finally got around to getting a Kentucky driver’s license this week and I had the unexpected opportunity to put my political science training to good use (which, admittedly, does not happen very often). 

I was in the driver’s license office at the Boyle County Courthouse in Danville and the very helpful ladies helping me with my license application inquired as to why I had moved to the area. I told them that I was working as a political science professor at Centre. Thinking that I might have some insight on the matter, they asked me why it was that they were required to give people the opportunity to register to vote at the driver’s license office when the auditor’s office was just a few steps down the hall. DING DING DING! “Oh, because of the Motor Voter Act!”

I continued: “the thinking when the law was passed was that since re-registering to vote is not at the top of everyone’s radar screen when they move to a new area (or since many are not sure where to go even if they did want to re-register), it would make it easier for them if they could do it when they got a new driver’s license, which IS at the top of most people’s ‘to-do’ list when they move to a new area.” I am always happy to be a proselytizer for practial applications of political science. 

Ironically, however, even though the Motor Voter Act may have helped voting registration to increase around the country over the last two decades, it has not seemed to have much of an effect on actual rates of voter turn-out at the polls. From this we can surmise that the inconveniences of registration is not the chief reason that people don’t vote in the U.S. As has been said (and perhaps especially appropriate to say in Kentucky), you can lead a horse to water… 

How to become a “legal” immigrant…

With all the talk of “illegal immigration” in the news over the past several days and years, it’s instructive once in a while to review the process of how to immigrate legally to the U.S. This is a humorous, yet insightful, flow-chart that outlines the legal immigration process in the U.S.:

Depending on your bias, this process is either too difficult or too easy. Regardless, I think we can all agree that it’s overly and unnecessarily complicated, which is why comprehensive immigration reform is so extremely important. Let’s hope that the efforts of Senators Reid and Menendez come to some sort of fruition this election cycle…

Why politicians should listen to political scientists…

Editorialist Ezra Klein of the Washington Post had this to say after attending the APSA conference in Washington, D.C. last week:

“The 24-hour news cycle is really focused on little, tiny swells and waves on the surface of the ocean,” says John Sides, a political scientist at George Washington University. “But in fact, most of the big things affecting the ocean are these currents underneath. They’re what’s moving the water.” And that’s what political science studies.

So political science is often accused of a sort of nihilism: Lobbyists don’t much matter, it says. Speeches are ineffective. Voters are driven by the economy, and campaigns barely move the needle. Most of the stuff that obsesses us during election season has no effect on the eventual outcome.

But if politicians took these findings to heart, it would free them to do their jobs better. “The fact that much of what cable news is talking about on any given day is not important probably is empowering,” Sides says. Particularly combined with the finding that what does matter, both for elections and for people’s lives, is how well the country is doing. Worrying less about tomorrow’s polls and news releases and more about the effect of today’s policies could make for better bills — and happier, more successful politicians.