Personal religiosity and economic views

USA Today has a report today of the latest Baylor Religion Survey administered by Baylor University. The juicy parts:

About one in five Americans combine a view of God as actively engaged in daily workings of the world with an economic conservative view that opposes government regulation and champions the free market as a matter of faith. “They say the invisible hand of the free market is really God at work,” says sociologist Paul Froese, co-author of the Baylor Religion Survey, released today  by Baylor University in Waco, Texas. …

At the opposite pole, another one in five Americans don’t see God stepping in to their daily lives and favor reducing wealth and inequality through taxation. “So they’re less likely to see God controlling the economy. Liberal economic perspectives are synonymous with the belief that there is no one ‘ultimate truth,'” Froese says.

I suppose this explanation is plausible. I’ll admit, though, that I’m a little skeptical and would like to be able to play with the survey data myself. I question this conclusion simply because of the “correlation is not causation” rule that’s important to remember when looking at public opinion survey data. To me, it seems that this pattern could simply be expressing differences in political ideology. Conservatives are both more religious and more likely to favor free-market economic principles. Liberals are both less religious and more likely to favor regulatory economic principles. That being said, I don’t doubt that individual religious opinions inform economic views; I just don’t see religiosity as the prime mover for most people.

And I think Mr. Froese exaggerates his case a bit when he says “liberal economic perspectives are synonymous with the belief that there is no one ‘ultimate truth’.” Although I agree that there’s likely a tendency for the one to go with the other, I doubt very much that there’s a 1-to-1 correlation between those two measures.

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