In my previous post I discussed my skepticism about the conclusions drawn in a USA Today report of a recent Baylor Religion survey (see post below for details and the conclusions). Just because I’m a data geek, I went to the 2008 ANES survey to try to get to the bottom of this.
The 2008 ANES survey has questions measuring a person’s political ideology, their levels of religiosity (Biblical literalism, frequency of church attendance), as well as a preference for 1) needing a strong government to solve complex problems, or 2) the free market can handle problems without government involvement.
The 2008 ANES did not include a question specifically asking the degree to which the individual sees God as actively engaged in the daily workings of the world (that was what the Baylor survey specifically measured). For our purposes, I’ll assume that we can use Biblical literalism and frequency of church attendance as proxy measures for being more likely to see God as actively engaged in the world. It’s not perfect, but I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch, either.
First, we see that only 30% of Biblical literalists prefer a purely free market approach as opposed to a stronger government. However, only 32.6% of non-Biblical literalists also prefer a free market approach. This suggests that there is very little difference of free market economic policies in terms of personal religiosity. (For the data geeks out there, the gamma is -0.061 and it’s not significant, p=0.219.)
Here are the results from a logistic regression analysis. Essentially, this analysis sorts out the competing effects of several different variables in terms of its usefulness in explaining a particular outcome variable. In this case, I wanted to see if religiosity makes a difference in explaining a preference for a purely free market economic philosophy once political ideology and other standard demographic variables are accounted for. (I hypothesized in my previous post that the association between religion and economic views was really just showing differences in political ideology.)
Sure enough, political ideology has the single largest effect on free market preferences, with conservatives being more in favor than liberals. No surprise there. However, Biblical literalism and church attendance still play a role even after controlling for ideology… but in the opposite direction than the USA Today article described. Here, higher religiosity is associated with a lower support for a pure free market economy, even after controlling for political ideology. Substantively, this means that even though conservatives are more likely to favor the free market, highly religious conservatives are slightly less likely to do so than less religious conservatives (but still more than liberals).
The bottom line? Political ideology is the key driver of economic preferences in the United States. Religion does play a role, but, if anything, higher levels of religiosity tend to be associated with lower levels of support for a libertarian free-market economy.