Category Archives: Political Science

Drew Curtis is pulling about even from potential Conway and Bevin voters

Yesterday’s release of the most recent Kentucky gubernatorial election Bluegrass Poll showed Jack Conway 42%, Matt Bevin 37%, and Drew Curtis 7% (MoE 3.8%), meaning that the gubernatorial race is a statistical tie. Given, however, that the same poll two months ago showed virtually identical results, it gives more confidence to the reality of Conway’s lead.

One question that has come up in the gubernatorial campaign so far is the effect of Drew Curtis in the race. Is he pulling more from potential Conway or Bevin voters?

By doing some quick arithmetic with the cross-tabulations on the most recent Bluegrass Poll, we find that 2.5% of likely voters in Kentucky are Republican Curtis supporters while 2.8% are Democratic Curtis supporters[1]. This suggests that Curtis is pulling roughly evenly from Conway or Bevin, which further suggests that he won’t likely play a “spoiler” role for either candidate.

Further, by the same method we can see that 6% of likely Kentucky voters are undecided Republicans while 5% are undecided Democrats. If the undecideds break in favor of their partisan identities (and there’s little reason to suspect that they won’t), this suggests that neither candidate will gain much of an advantage from the “undecided” folks.

All told, the polling evidence is still giving a very slight, but consistent, advantage to Jack Conway in the upcoming gubernatorial election. That being said, it’s still close enough that campaign events might “matter” enough to sway the election one way or another.

[FN1] I arrived at these figures by multiplying the total proportion of the sample in a particular sub-category by the proportion of voters for the particular candidate (or “undecided”) and then adding the categories together. For example, the 2.5% of Republican Curtis supporters is arrived at by multiplying his 1% by the 17% of strong Republicans, adding 9% of the 14% weak Republicans, and 8% of the 13% Republican leaners, for a total of about 2.5%

Research suggests that Kentucky GOP may lose votes for nominating Matt Bevin

A recent research article by Andrew Hall entitled “What Happens When Extremists Win Primaries?” asked whether parties who nominate more extreme candidates in a primary face a penalty in the general election. To test this question, he examined U.S. House elections from 1980 to 2010 and found that the party that nominates a more ideologically extreme candidate over an ideological moderate tends to lose, on average, somewhere between 9%-13% of the vote in the general election. This reduces the chance of winning the seat by anywhere from 35%-54%. The take-away from this research article is that parties stand to benefit from nominating more moderate candidates and take big risks when they nominate more ideologically extreme candidates.

Political scientists often argue that partisan and economic “fundamentals” matter more than campaign events or candidate characteristics when it comes to predicting the outcome of political elections. Thus, whether Republicans nominate Jeb Bush or Rand Paul, it will end up mattering only a little in terms of the final outcome of the election. This effect, however, is most strongly the case when it comes to nation-wide presidential elections. The further one goes “down the ballot,” the less the “fundamentals” tend to matter and the more campaign events and candidate characteristics come into play.

In the case of gubernatorial elections, I would argue that they’re roughly equivalent to U.S. House congressional elections in terms of the relative effect of “fundamentals” vs. campaign events and candidate characteristics. Thus, I don’t think it unreasonable to assume that, all other things being equal, the effect that Professor Hall found for U.S. House elections would generally apply to state-wide gubernatorial elections as well.

This suggests that the Kentucky Republican party did themselves no favors by nominating Tea Party ideologue Matt Bevin over establishment Republican James Comer on in the May 19th Republican gubernatorial primary. It may have potentially cost them up to 10% of the two-party vote come November, giving a respectable advantage to Democratic candidate Jack Conway.

Outline of “The Origins of Political Order” by Francis Fukuyama 2011

This is one of the best explanations of the origins of human political behavior that I have encountered. It deserves careful consideration.

The book is available here.

Outline based on portions of summary chapter 29.


  • Fukuyama rejects the idea that all behavior is socially constructed. There are certain scientific facts about human biology that affect and constrain human behavior.
  • Humans never existed in a “state of nature”
    • The “state of nature” of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, etc. is a fiction. Humans never actually existed in such a state of isolated individuals. As long as there have been humans (and primates) we have organized ourselves into groups and behaved in terms of our group identities.
    • Thus, humans evolved the necessary “cognitive and emotional faculties” to exist efficiently in groups. The fact that we cooperate in groups isn’t purely a rational cost-benefit calculation, but also a biological instinct and urge that evolved over time.
  • Why do we cooperate with one another?
    • ANSWER 1: “kin selection.” Human beings have evolved to be altruistic toward those who share common genes. This is an evolutionary adaptation to promote gene survival and reproduction.
    • ANSWER 2: “reciprocal altruism.” Human beings learn from repeated interactions with other individuals/groups and develop either trust or mistrust based on the results of those interactions.
      • Since we interact most often with those who share our genes and learn that this is beneficial to us, we are predisposed to treat those in our kin groups better than those outside our kin groups.
      • We learned that our survival is enhanced by cooperating with members of our kin groups.
      • This explains the political behavior of PATRIMONIALISM – or favoring those in your kin group.
    • Why are human beings rule-followers?
      • Human beings have a natural inclination to create rules and institutions.
      • Humans can create rules rationally through an economic cost-benefit analysis based on a desire to maximize advantages, reduce costs, and solve “prisoner’s dilemma-type problems of social cooperation.”
      • The instinct to follow rules, however, is more a product of emotion, evolution, and instinct. These come through emotions like “guilt, shame, pride, anger, embarrassment, and admiration.” These are biologically transmitted more than culturally transmitted. This is evidenced in the fact that small children organize their behavior according to these emotions.
      • We have evolved a psychological predisposition to “endow rules with intrinsic value.”
        • This explains why there is a bias toward conservatism in societies.
        • Individuals and societies cling to rules long after conditions have changed because of the emotional investment in the “rightness” of those rules.
      • Why are human beings aggressive?
        • We are predisposed to violent behavior. This has been inherited from our primate ancestors who behave similarly.
        • Institutions have always arisen to help “control and channel violence.”
      • Human being desire “not just material resources but also recognition.”
        • Recognition is “the acknowledgement of another human being’s dignity or worth.” This is also known as “status.”
        • Status is relative, not absolute, and thus exists in a zero-sum environment.
          • We attain recognition only at the expense of others because we organize ourselves into hierarchies.
          • Those with higher levels of recognition (status) have greater access to sexual partners and thus a higher degree of reproductive success. Thus, we have evolved a desire for recognition and status.
        • Much of human political behavior revolves around the desire for recognition.
          • This involves recognition not just for oneself, but for one’s values, culture, religion, etc.
          • Liberal democracy is based on the desire/demand for “equal recognition.”
        • Political LEGITIMACY arises when humans transfer the object of recognition from an individual to an institution. AUTHORITY is based on that perceived legitimacy.
      • Ideas are causal factors in political behavior.
        • Humans have evolved to create “mental models of reality.”
        • These models attribute causal explanations to things. These can be visible and demonstrable or invisible and assumed.
          • Early human causal factors: spirits, demons, gods
          • Contemporary human causal factors: gravity, radiation, self-interest
        • All religions constitute a “mental model of reality” that explain cause and effect relationships.
          • Humans have evolved a desire for mental models that make the world “legible, predictable, and easy to manipulate.” Religion is a mental model. Science is a mental model.
        • Shared mental models are necessary for facilitating widespread collective action. Religion is especially useful for playing this role. Religion can motivate people to overcome the collective action problem because it gives people intrinsic motivation for action. Thus, religion is very useful to the formation of politics and the state.
          • Religion also helps motivate people to transcend kinship and friends as a “source of social relationships.”
          • At the same time, secular ideologies like Marxism or nationalism can accomplish the same function.
        • Religions persist because they are non-falsifiable to one extent or another, and the natural bias toward conservatism endows them with intrinsic value. Also, there is evidence that humans are “hardwired” for religion just as they are “hardwired” for language or following rules.
        • Contra Marx, religion is not an invention of the elites to control the masses. Religion was present long before social hierarchies became common.
        • Brahmanism in India and Catholicism in Europe helped establish political institutions and the rule of law in those areas.
        • Political legitimacy should be understood as an idea, similar to other ideas that people have about “God, justice, society, wealth,” etc.
        • Democracy and accountable government cannot be explained in the absence of the importance of ideas.
      • How do political institutions develop?
        • “Political systems evolve in a manner roughly comparable to biological evolution.” Variation and selection.
        • Human biology provides for the instinct to follow rules, but the content of those rules develops through an “evolutionary” process.
        • Differences:
          • Variation is planned.
          • Characteristics are transmitted culturally instead of genetically. This is an advantage because they can be changed at whim instead of being biologically “hardwired.” But it’s a disadvantage because of our conservatism bias.
          • Can spread through imitation, not reproduction.
        • Competition drives political development. This drives the selection process of political development.
          • Most competitive pressures have come from “violence and war.”

Ben Wyatt faces an uphill battle in 2018

This week Pawnee, Indiana City Manager Ben Wyatt announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination for the Indiana 9th congressional district in the 2018 midterm election. While many are enthusiastic about his decision (especially Deputy Director of the Midwest National Parks Service Leslie Knope), I must admit that I’m not too optimistic about his prospects for electoral success.

First, campaign consult Jennifer Barkley informed Wyatt that he would be challenging the Republican incumbent. Challengers to sitting incumbents historically do very poorly in U.S. House races. Based solely on that information, Wyatt’s chances are already likely less than 10%.

Second, the southern Indiana 9th congressional district is a heavily Republican district, with a Partisan Voting Index score of R+9. Even if it the incumbent were to choose to retire, any Democratic candidate would have a strong uphill battle to fight in that congressional district.

Third, while we do not yet have enough information to accurately predict the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, we can apply political science forecasting models to say that if the election were held right now (January 2015), the Democratic candidate would be favored to win the election, given the incumbent Democratic presidential job approval rating of 46% and a 2014 economic growth rate of 2.6%. This means that the 2018 midterm congressional election will very likely favor Republican candidates, as the president’s party almost always loses seats during midterm elections.

In sum, the cards are stacked against a Ben Wyatt victory in 2018. This could be an opportunity for him to get his name out, however, and to build a campaign infrastructure for an election year when the fundamentals would be more favorable to a Democratic candidate.

My students’ choices for American electoral reform

This semester my POL 330 “Parties, Campaigns, and Elections” class at Centre College has been examining a variety of proposed electoral reforms. At the end of each discussion, we held a vote on whether or not to stick with the status quo on a particular issue (e.g. campaign finance, primary electoral systems, direct democracy, etc.) or go with a proposed alternative. I recorded the plurality winner for each electoral domain, and then the last week of class I presented the batch of reform choices to my class as a single up-or-down “package” of reforms. By a 2-1 margin, my students voted to recommend the following slate of electoral reforms:

  • Abolish direct elections to state judicial offices
  • Promote more state-level direct democracy (initiative, referendum, recall) throughout the country
  • Limit legislative redistricting to once per decade
  • Maximize the number of uncompetitive elections
  • Replace open/closed primaries with a Top-2 primary system
  • Eliminate the current presidential nomination process with a single national popular Top-2 primary vote
  • Eliminate the Electoral College and replace with a direct popular vote
  • Retain the current campaign financing system with the exception of reversing Citizens United

2014 midterm election: results vs. predictions

As of November 14, there are still a handful of Congressional races yet to be called. Nonetheless, if those that are currently leaning toward the GOP end up in the Republican column, we’ll begin the 114th Congress with 247 Republicans and 188 Democrats in the House, a pickup of 13 seats for the GOP. Assuming that Mary Landreiu loses reelection in the runoff election on December 6, the Senate will have 54 Republicans and 46 Democrats, a pickup of 9 seats in the Senate for the GOP.

In October, PS: Political Science and Politics published a collection of forecasts of the 2014 midterm elections. These were forecasts done by political scientists who make predictions based on election “fundamentals” such as presidential approval and economic conditions, and done several months before the election took place. (Notably, these models do not include information on things like campaign spending, candidate competence/appeal, etc.) The average (median) prediction was that the Republicans would pick up 14 seats in the House and 5 or 6 seats in the Senate.

All in all, not a bad showing for the science of political science election forecasting in 2014.

Predicted result Actual result Margin of error (difference / total seats)
House + 14 GOP + 13 GOP 0.2%
Senate + 5 or 6 GOP + 9 GOP 3.5%

Highlights from “Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons in American Politics” (2014)

David E. Campbell, John C. Green, and J. Quin Monson have recently published Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics. This is the first large-scale, in-depth, academic quantitative analysis of Mormon political behavior in the United States. While this book is geared toward a scholarly audience, it is easily accessible for anyone in a general audience who has even a small familiarity with statistics, charts, and graphs. While I certainly recommend interested parties to read the book for themselves, here are some of the highlights that I thought interesting:


  • The Mormon Paradox: they want to be a “peculiar” people but also want to be accepted as mainstream and “quintessentially American.”
  • This chapter contains a brief introduction to Mormon demographics, theological beliefs, and geographic distribution.


  • Are Mormons an “ethnic group”? While some would argue yes and others no, the authors settle on “no” and instead describe Mormons as constituting a “subculture” meaning that they “combine points of contact with, as well as points of distinction from, the broader culture” (30). They are similar to the subculture of modern Evangelicals or Catholics of the mid-20th
  • For purposes of scholarly analysis, Mormons are better understood as an “ethno-religious” group who, despite their internal diversity, still have religious behaviors that lead them to behave similar to how an ethnic group would behave. “To convert to Mormonism means more than joining a church; it means becoming part of a people” (37).


  • Mormons share an unusually high level of cohesiveness in terms of their religious beliefs and practices, as well as a high level of adherence to the tenets of their faith, more so than just about any other religious group with the exception in some cases of Evangelicals or Black Protestants.
  • Ironically, 86% of Mormons say that polygamy is “morally wrong,” a higher percent than say that pre-marital sex is morally wrong (79%).
  • The authors introduce four indices to measure various kinds of “Mormonness”: 1) activity (degree of religious practice), 2) authority (degree of obedience to the institutional church), 3) insularity (degree of social separation from wider society, and 4) identity (degree of self-identification and affinity with the group).
    • Activity: Mormons are almost uniformly on the highest end of this scale. About 75% rank either a 9 or 10 on a 0-10 scale.
    • Authority: most Mormons are on the higher end of this scale, with about 85% being higher than the halfway point, meaning that the vast majority report being obedient to the teachings and mandates of the institutional church. That being said, there’s more variation within the high end than in the activity scale. (Only 10% score a perfect 10 out of 10 on this scale.)
    • Insularity: this is a normal-curve looking distribution. Most Mormons are in the middle in terms of their integration/separation with wider society.
    • Identity: average around a 6 or 7 on a 10-point scale. Most Mormons are proud to identify as such and defend their in-group.
  • “Utah Mormons” are more insular than non-Utah Mormons and are slightly more likely to hold a calling. They are not, however, any different when it comes to other religious activities, levels of belief orthodoxy, or identity commitment.
  • Converts are slightly lower on each of those scores than non-converts.


  • Mormons are the most Republican religious group in America. No big surprise there. 65% are Republican (or Independent-lean-Republican) while only about 22% are Democrats (or Independent-lean-Democrat). This is ironic given that the Republican Party was founded partly on an anti-Mormon platform.
    • Unlike in other religious traditions, younger Mormons are slightly more likely to be Republicans than older
  • The two strongest predictors of Republican identification are authority (belief orthodoxy) and Mormon identity. Activity and Insularity wash out in the multivariate statistical models.
  • This was not always the case. Historically, Mormons were fairly evenly split between the two major political parties. They didn’t veer Republican until around the 1960s and especially the 1980s and onward.
  • Mormons are the religious group least likely to hear overt political messages over the pulpit at church, but they talk about politics a LOT with other Mormons outside of church.


  • Mormons are very conservative and cohesive on many issues, including pro-Israel, opposition to affirmative action, preferring small government, favoring death penalty, opposing Obamacare, opposing government aid to the poor, opposing environmental laws, and favoring preemptive military action.
  • About 75% of Mormons say that it’s better for the husband to be the achiever and the wife to stay at home. Compare this to 43% of black Protestants and 39% of Evangelicals.
  • “The fact that women do not hold the priesthood sometimes bothers me.” 8% of Mormon men say yes, 14% of Mormon women.
  • “Women do not have enough say in the LDS Church.” 14% of Mormon men say yes, 17% of Mormon women.
  • Mormons are more likely than Evangelicals or Catholics to oppose elective abortion, but less likely to oppose abortion in the case of health, rape, or incest.
  • Mormons are the religious group most likely to oppose same-sex marriage in the U.S., but more Mormons favor civil unions than oppose same-sex marriage. (Given the option between same-sex marriage, civil unions, and neither, 49% prefer civil unions, 40% prefer neither, and 11% prefer same-sex marriage.)
    • Interestingly, Mormons have a higher level of support for civil unions (49%) than any other religious group.
  • Mormons are split on immigration, but those who have served a mission and especially a foreign language mission are more favorable toward immigrants than those that have not.


  • This chapter deals with how Mormons can effectively be mobilized by church leaders on a particular cause. They are like “dry kindling” just waiting to be “lit” because they have “tight-knit social networks, extensive civic skills, strong attitudinal cohesion, and a deep respect for religious authority” (135).
  • Mormons vote at higher rates and are more engaged with the community than non-Mormon counterparts from similar socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • Mormons are most likely to follow their church leaders in politics when two conditions are met: 1) “public internal agreement among the leadership”, and 2) “Church leaders offer an official endorsement of a political issue” (142).
  • Three case studies on Proposition 8, the MX Missiles, and Immigration Reform.
  • “LDS leaders are most persuasive when they take a liberal position, given the conservatism of Mormons. Statements that mention a specific political position by the Church are typically more persuasive than general statements of principles. Finally, Mormons who have the strongest adherence to authority are most consistently persuaded by the Church.” (pgs. 155-156)


  • Mormons are among the least-liked religious groups in America, ranking higher than only Muslims and Atheists.
  • Mormons are subject to a mix of positive (patriotic, caring, strong families) and negative (insular, strange beliefs) stereotypes.
  • Old, married Republicans tend to like Mormons while younger, single Democrats tend to dislike Mormons.
  • Mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Jews tend to be neutral toward Mormons, while Evangelicals, Black Protestants, and other minority religious tend to dislike Mormons.
  • Mormons are viewed most negatively by the most religious and least religious.
  • Having correct factual knowledge about Mormons tends to increase favorability toward Mormons, and having a close Mormon friend or family member tends to increase favorability.


  • Analysis of general “willingness to vote for a Mormon candidate” on the part of the American public.
  • Case studies of the presidential campaigns of George Romney, Mo Udall, Orrin Hatch, Jon Hunstman, Jr., and Mitt Romney.


  • How did attitudes toward Mormons affect Mitt Romney’s performance in the 2012 election? “While Mitt Romney’s Mormonism mattered a lot to very few voters, it mattered little to most voters. The net result is that, on Election Day 2012, Mitt Romney’s Mormonism turned out to be the dog that didn’t bark” (227).
  • Mormons themselves were no more or less likely to vote for Romney after factoring in their partisanship. Democratic Mormons voted for Obama and Republican Mormons voted for Romney (lack of significance in “Mormon” variable on page 252).
  • While Mormonism did not much affect Romney’s chances in the 2012 campaign, it mattered much more during the 2008 primary campaign. This is because it was “new” and a little strange in 2008, but “old news” in 2012.
  • In the 2008 primary campaign:
    • Personal familiarity with Mormons had an interesting pattern: those who did not know a Mormon or who had a Mormon family member or friend were more likely to vote for Romney than someone who had a Mormon acquaintance.
    • “Framing Mormonism as a non-Christian religious had a negative reaction among voters” (240).
    • “The More people knew about Mormonism, the less it concerned them” (240).
  • People were no better able to answer factual questions about Mormonism in 2012 than in either 2010 or 2008. People learned that Romney was Mormon, but they didn’t learn much about Mormonism due to his candidacy.
  • Romney’s candidate produced no discernable effect in the average level of favorability toward Mormons. However, Republicans became more favorable and Democrats less favorable (partisanship at play). It remains to be seen whether this effect is permanent.


  • The Mormon Church has tried different strategies to address the original paradox: how to remain a “peculiar people” but also be accepted as mainstream and normal. After ending polygamy in the early 20th century, they veered mainstream in the first half of the 20th century then “retrenched” in the second half of the 20th There are advantages and disadvantages to each strategy.
  • There are signs that the Mormon Church is currently adopting a strategy of “alignment, increasingly allying themselves with other religious and social conservatives” (259).
    • While this may produce some results that the Mormon Church sees as advantageous, there are serious drawbacks to such an approach. 1) Within the Church, it risks marginalizing Democrats, minorities, and moderates who may become less active and potentially just leave. 2) Outside the Church, it risks alienating Democrats, minorities, and moderates, limiting the potential pool from which to draw converts to only strong religious and political conservatives. It also can alienate the younger generation of Mormons who are leaving the Church similar to Millennials in other faiths. It can also “limit the effectiveness of the LDS leaders’ voices in the public square. Prophetic voices are most likely to be heard and heeded when they rise above the partisan fray” (261).

Campaign Advice for Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes

[ Note: this essay is cross-posted on Huffington Post and the Commonwealth Duel Blog ]

There’s no shortage of campaign strategy advice in this year’s Kentucky Senate race. In that spirit, I’ll add my own two cents.

If I were advising the McConnell campaign, I would say…

Don’t screw up.

You’re the incumbent and incumbents already enjoy somewhere between a 5%-10% advantage right off the bat, although this does tend to fade over time so it’s not going to be worth as much as it was in the past when you first ran for reelection. Also, the economic and political “fundamentals” are on your side, which is why all the numbers geeks are giving you anywhere between a 78% and 99%+ chance of winning (see here, here, andhere). So basically, just make sure to keep up with the fundraising and campaigning, give your conservative Republican base a reason to turn out to vote for you by railing on Obama and by talking up the strong possibility of a GOP Senate takeover.

And don’t screw up.

If I were advising the Grimes campaign, I would say…

You and I both know that you have an uphill battle to fight. You’re a Democratic challenger in a red state where the sitting Democratic president is very unpopular. But then, your incumbent opponent is also very unpopular in your state, but that tends to matter less than the economic and political fundamentals which are currently giving you a 1-in-5 chance, at best. You’ll need a strong campaign combined with some luck to come out on top this year.

Right now it seems that one of your key strategies is trying to appeal to women, presumably in an attempt to entice Republican women over to your team (seehere, here, and here, e.g.). While it makes for a great media narrative and may possibly work, there are strong reasons to think that this may not be the most effective strategy. To put it bluntly, women simply don’t tend to be swing voters. Oodles of political science research has shown that, after controlling for partisanship, there’s not much of a difference between men and women in their voting patterns. In other words, women are just as reliably partisan as men. The fault lines of American politics do not tend to fall around gender, but rather partisanship and ideology. Thus, there are likely not very many Republican women who are going to “defect” in this high-profile partisan election.

So who are more likely targets where you could concentrate your efforts? I took the liberty of doing some number crunching on an exit poll of Kentucky voters from the 2008 Kentucky Senate election where McConnell narrowly beat Bruce Lunsford 53%-47%. In that election, only about 14% of Republicans voted for Lunsford, and they made up only 5% of all voters total. Further analysis shows that these Republican defectors tended to be a little younger than their loyal partisan counterparts (about 22% of Republican defectors were under age 30 compared to 15% of Republicans who stayed in the fold). They also tended to be poorer (46% of Republican defectors made less than $50K/year compared to 33% of loyal Republicans) and more ideologically moderate (56% of those Republican defectors identified as moderate and 34% as conservative, while those who stuck with McConnell were 37% moderate and 70% conservative).

Perhaps most importantly, there was ZERO difference when it came to gender. 50.7% of Republicans who voted for Lunsford were women compared to 50.4% who voted for McConnell – a statistically indistinguishable amount. This suggests that women are very likely not the persuadable demographic among Republican partisans. Instead, it seems to be younger, poorer, more moderate Republicans.

On the other hand, nearly a quarter of self-identified Democrats switched sides and voted for Mitch McConnell in 2008. They made up a full 11% of all voters in that election. What did these Democrats look like? They were more ideologically conservative (34% of Democratic McConnell voters said they were conservative compared to only 15% of Democratic Lunsford voters), more likely to be white (95% of Democratic defectors were white compared to 72% of loyal Democrats), and more likely to approve of George Bush (34% compared to 10%). They were also slightly more likely to be men, making up 48% of Democrats who voted for McConnell compared to 41% of Democrats who voted for Lunsford. There were also no differences when it came to age, education levels, income, or religiosity. This suggests that in 2008, Lunsford lost Democratic partisans who looked a lot like Republicans – conservative white men who were more approving of President Bush. This suggests that you might have success keeping your Democratic partisans “in the fold” by veering toward the middle and appealing to cultural conservatives in Kentucky as much as possible.

That presents a tough choice: appeal to younger, more moderate Republicans who might be persuaded to defect or appeal to conservative white Democrats who may be likely to switch sides. Given that there were more than twice as many voters in the latter category (11% of all voters) than the former (5% of all voters) in 2008, it stands to reason that veering toward the middle and trying to retain moderate Democratic partisans may be the option with the higher pay-off. That being said, you don’t want to veer too far toward the middle or you might risk alienating your loyal liberal base so much that they don’t care enough to turn out to vote on Election Day. Trying to balance that tightrope walk will be a delicate endeavor indeed.

One thing is for certain, at least: there is little evidence from the 2008 Kentucky Senate election that Republican women were a persuadable demographic in that campaign. It’s possible that the 2014 Senate campaign will be different, but given how consistent and predictable American voting patterns are, I wouldn’t bet on it. Perhaps consider altering the approach slightly. Forget about “peeling off” Republican women and instead focus on loyal Democratic women (to make sure they show up to vote on Election Day) and moderate or conservative-leaning Democratic women (to encourage them to stay in the fold).

Nativism and opposition to health care reform

Centre College undergraduate student Jordan Shewmaker and I recently co-authored a blog post for Huffington Post that summarizes the results of our research article that was recently published in Political Behavior. The summary article at Huffington Post is available here:

The full Political Behavior article is available online here (gated):

Here’s a teaser:

After statistically controlling for the effect of partisanship, political ideology, racial attitudes, income, age, education, etc., nativism was shown to exert a stronger influence than every other variable in the model [on support for the Affordable Care Act] with the exception of partisanship. Among Republicans, individual nativist attitudes tended to decrease support for the ACA by a factor of about 35% while among Democrats, nativist attitudes decreased support for the ACA by about 12%. … These results imply that the 20th century New Deal model of the expansion of the welfare state is increasingly becoming associated with “foreign” political values and practices in the minds of many Americans, especially Republican partisans. In other words, not only are Republicans seeing the welfare state model as obsolete, but now possibly antithetical to American identity as well.

Click here to learn more about opportunities for student-faculty research collaboration at Centre College.

Summary of “America’s Grace” by Putnam and Campbell (2010)

I finally got around to reading Robert Putnam and David Campbell’s 2010 American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. It’s been on my reading list since it was published but its 700+ page length was prohibitive until I finally found a Christmas break to tackle it. Here’s my non-comprehensive chapter-by-chapter summary of the parts that I thought were most interesting or important. These don’t include the ethnographic vignettes of particular congregations, even though they were gems and fascinating to read.

CH 1: Religious Polarization and Pluralism in America

  • About 83% of Americans identify with a religious tradition, about 40% go to church at least weekly, about 59% pray at least once a week, and about a third read scripture at least once a week.
  • Americans view a kind, loving, avuncular God rather than an angry, judgmental, fire-and-brimstone God.
  • Saying grace before meals is one of the single most effective predictors of overall levels of religiosity in the U.S.
  • An Evangelical Protestant is “someone who, knowingly or not, has taken the fundamentalist side in that debate” i.e. the debate between fundamentalism and modernism.
  • In terms of religious observance, Mormons, Black Protestants, and Evangelical Protestants are most observant while those of “other faiths,” Jews, and “none” are least observant. Those most observant tend to be concentrated in the South and in Utah.
  • The “average” religious person in the U.S. is an “older African American woman who lives in a Southern small town” while least religious is “a younger Asian American man who lives in a large Northeastern city.” Young men are turning away from religious at faster rates than any other demographic.

CHS 3 and 4: Religiosity in America: The Historical Backdrop / Shock and Two Aftershocks

  • There are both generational and life-cycle effects. People tend to become more religious as they get older, have families, and settle down. However, that life-cycle effect is smaller than generational patterns which affect a single generation that remains consistent throughout their life-spans.
  • Older generations go to church more than younger generation. 50% of oldest generation goes about weekly to church while about 20% of youngest generation goes about weekly.  “Each decade in an individual’s life adds one more week of church attendance to his or her annual average.”
  • We are becoming more secular, but it is a VERY slow process. It will take a couple of centuries before the U.S. looks like Europe based on current rates.
  • Brief summary of the last 60 years:
    • Oldest generation: those raised in the 1950s, the “Greatest Generation” – they were most religious. They were not especially more religious than today’s young/middle-aged, but the WW2 generation saw going to church as a “civic duty” as much as a religious duty, “like joining the PTA or Rotary.”
    • 1960s happened: decline of trust in institutions both political and religious. Increasingly skepticism as well as sexual/racial liberalism.
    • This caused a political and religious conservative counter-reaction in the 1970s and 1980s. Led to the rise of the Evangelicals and the Religious Right. College-aged students came of age to be more religious and politically conservative and the two became more intertwined together. First aftershock.
    • Then the 1990s and 2000s happened. Young people saw the Religious Right and thought “if being religious means conservative Republican politics, then being religious isn’t for me.” A secular backlash against the original conservative backlash in the 1970s and 1980s. Includes liberal views on homosexuality and other moral issues. Young people see religion as worrying too much about the rules and not enough about spirituality. Rise of the religious “nones.” “Continuing to sound the public trumpet of conservative personal morality may be the right thing to do from a theological point of view, but it may mean saving fewer souls now than it did a generation ago.” Second aftershock.
  • In terms of self-identification, since the 1970s Mainline Protestantism has shrunk the most, Evangelicalism and Catholicism have stayed about the same, “nones” have grown from 7% to 17%.
  • In terms of weekly attendance, Catholics have lost more parishioners over last 35 years – about 25%.

CH 5: Switching, Matching, and Mixing

  • American religious identities are actually fairly fluid and “fuzzy around the edges.” About half of all Americans have either switched religious traditions from their upbringing or lapsed into inactivity.
  • Mormons and Evangelical Protestants do the best job of keeping their children “in the faith” (about a 55% retention rate). Mainline Prots and Catholics about 40% retention rate, Jews about a 25% rate.
  • The most important factors predicting if someone remains faithful to their family religion is “whether a person’s family of origin was religiously homogenous and observant, or not.” Those more likely to leave are children of mixed marriages or less observant marriages.
  • People also switched based on their politics. Americans are more likely to choose a tradition based on their political ideology than pick a political ideology based on their religious beliefs. [For a church, it seems that the best way to promote retention is to remain as politically neutral as possible and stay out of political controversies as much as possible.]
  • About half of Americans today are married to someone who was originally of a different religious tradition. About a third of all marriages are “mixed” religion marriages. (This is between the big families – Catholics vs. Mainline Protestants, e.g.)
  • Growing acceptance of religious intermarriage.
  • Mormons and Jews are most opposed to religious intermarriage (about 65% oppose), while Mainline Protesant, Other Faiths, and none are least opposed (about 20%-30% oppose).
  • Latino Catholics, Black Protestants, and Mormons have the lowest interfaith marriage rate. (About 10%-20% on those.)

CH 6: Innovations in Religion

  • About 90% of church-goers are either moderately or very satisfied with their current congregation.
  • Most of the time, people change congregations because they move! They pick based on theology and beliefs most of the time (60%). But then “social investment made within that congregation” is what keeps them tied to that congregation. Beliefs/theology get them in the door, but “people must find ways to connect with one another if they are to keep coming back.”
  • It’s more common to become friends with those who go to church with rather than switch congregations because of friends you have in those congregations.
  • Married people and renters (not owners) are more likely to switch congregations. Life events and transience lead to more congregational switching. Settling down and owning a home leads to less switching.
  • If religious leaders want to be appealing to young people, they should dial back the conservative political issue focus as its driving many young people away from religion.

CH 8: The Women’s Revolution, the Rise of Inequality, and Religion

  • Women outnumber men 3:2 in average weekly service attendance.
  • Women are more religious by almost every measurable indicator.
  • With a few exceptions, most religious Americans were very quick to adapt to increasing modern gender roles and are indistinguishable from non-religious American in terms of gender equality. “Most Americans today are religious feminists.” Evangelical Protestants, Latino Catholics, and Mormons are the exception.
  • Vast majorities of every religious tradition supports female clergy.
    • Mormons are the only one with less than 50% in support (30% support, 70% oppose). “Mormons … appear to be the only substantial holdouts against the growing and substantial consensus across the religious spectrum in favor of women playing a fuller role in church leadership.”
  • It’s not the upper-class that is secularizing, it’s the lower-class and less-educated. Rich, well-educated are more likely to go to church than poor, less-educated.
  • Religiosity is associated with more interaction with people of different economic strata. Upper-class who go to church are more likely to interact with middle- and lower-class than those who don’t go to church.
  • Religiosity is linked with more conservative views on government help for the poor, but this link is weaker than views on sexual morality.
  • “Highly religious Americans today are somewhat less supportive than the general population of public policies to address poverty and inequality, and they prefer private provision to public action. They have not worked to stem the growth of inequality, unlike past religious people who, as we have seen, often campaigned passionately for greater equality and social justice. On the other hand, their modestly greater giving and substantially greater volunteering, especially for social service, is consistent with their emphasis on private provision.”

CH 9: Diversity, Ethnicity, and Religion

  • Most churchgoers attend ethnically or racially homogenous congregations.
  • Catholicism, Mainline Protestantism, and Evangelical Protestantism all have geographical concentrations in U.S. that correlate with ancestry patterns.
  • Black Protestants are very, very devout and high on religious observance indicators. They are “more evangelical than evangelicals.”
  • Who attends racially/ethnically diverse congregations? Not very many people. About 21% of Catholics, 16% of Evangelicals, 9% of Mainline Protestants, 6% of Mormons, 4% of Jews. (Diverse = critical mass of 20% diverse).
  • Who attends diverse congregations? More likely to be young, women, and Hispanic. Biggest predictors: congregation size, Catholic, county diversity, Latino, west, etc.
  • Anglo Catholicism is hemorrhaging members, but they’re being replaced by Hispanics at a fast rate.
  • Attending church leads to a higher probability of having more racially diverse friendship networks, however, religious attendance doesn’t tend to affect people’s racial views one way or another.
  • “White Americans of the major religious traditions have been catching up to the secular counterparts [on racial issues] – following, not leading.”

 CH 11: Religion in American Politics

  • It’s clear: Republicans tend to be more religious than Democrats. But that has not always been the case. It’s relatively new. It was caused largely by political reactions to two key issues: abortion and same-sex marriage. The glue that holds religiosity and partisanship together is abortion and same-sex marriage.
  • 1950s: not much of a religious partisan divide. People’s political identities were formed at a time when there’s not much partisan difference on moral issues. Then the 1960s and 1970s happened. Abortion came onto the scene as a major issue that caused a fundamental divide based on worldviews. Parties adopted distinct stands, and then religion and partisanship became intertwined strongly.
  • The big shift was between 1982 and 1997. That’s when religion and politics became very intertwined. It’s mostly generational replacement, not people changing their partisan identities.
  • Since the 20th century, though, public attitudes are moving more conservative on abortion and more liberal on same-sex marriage, especially among young people. The glue that binds religion to politics may come undone and cause new coalitions to form.

 CH 12: Echo Chambers: Politics Within Congregations

  • There is little overt politicking over America’s pulpits.
  • When it does happen, it comes more from the political left (Black Protestants and Jews) than the political right.
  • There is little political mobilization through official church channels. Rather, it comes mostly through friendship networks at church.
  • “Religious traditions in which individuals connect faith and politics have more Republicans.”
  • “Religious traditions with more political activity at church have fewer Republicans.”

CH 13: Religion and Good Neighborliness

  • Religious Americans are “better neighbors and more conscientious citizens than their secular counterparts.” They give more money, donate more time, volunteer in the community more, etc. They also belong to more civic organizations, vote, get involved in the community, etc. This holds even controlling for a host of demographic factors. This applies to religious liberals just as much (if not slightly more so) than religious conservatives.
  • There is not much difference between religious traditions. More religious people in each tradition are higher on these indicators than less religious people. Religious commitment is more important than religious tradition affiliation.
  • It’s church networking, social groups, interactions, etc. that drives this neighborliness, not religious doctrine or fundamentalism. Religious liberals and conservatives both volunteer in the community and participate at similar rates despite their theological differences. It comes “through chatting with friends after service or joining a Bible study group” not “listening to the sermon or fervently believing in God.” When it comes to neighborliness, “it is belonging that matters, not believing.”
  • On the other hand, they are also “less tolerant of dissent than secular Americans” and more willing to restrict civil liberties of others.
  • Religious Americans are simply happier than non-religious Americans. This is because they build friendship networks and serve and participate. It’s not due to beliefs. “Theological and denominational differences appear to have virtually nothing to do with the linkage between life satisfaction and religiosity.”

CH 14: A House Divided?

  • All but the most secular Americans support a role for religion in society (about 80-85%).
  • Americans feel warmer toward Jews, Catholics, and Mainline Protestants and feel least warm toward Mormons, Buddhists, and Muslims.
  • “Almost everyone is okay with a Christian church in their neighborhood; highly religious Americans are less sure about a Buddhist temple.”

CH 15: America’s Grace: How a Tolerant Nation Bridges Its Religious Divides

  • Almost all American embrace religious diversity. 85% believe that “morality is a personal matter.”
  • Most Americans have friends and family from other faiths, creating diverse friendship networks. Only about half of our close friends go to the same church as us.
    • Mormons and Latino Catholics have the most non-diverse friendship and family networks, while Jews and Mainline Protestants have the most diverse friendship and family networks.
    • We all have an “Aunt Susan” in another church who we’re sure is going to heaven.
    • We all have a “My Friend Al” – you become friends with and find out that you get along well, then you find out that they’re of a different religion, so you think that maybe that religion must not be so bad after all.
  • Most Americans are reluctant to assign a unique status to any religion as the “one true church,” even their own.
    • About 12% say “one true church,” about 80% say “truths in many churches,” and 7% say “little truth in any church.”
    • Mormons (28%) and Evangelicals (22%) are most likely to say “one true church.” They are a minority, however.
  • “Most Americans believe that members of other faiths can go to heaven, and this is true even in religions that explicitly teach that salvation is reserved for their own adherents.” About 89% believe this.
  • “American’s expansive view of heaven results from their personal experience with people with different religious backgrounds, including their close friends and family. America manages to be both religiously diverse and religiously devout because it is difficult to damn those you know and love.”
    • “Devotion plus diversity, minus damnation, equals comity.”
    • How have we solved the puzzle of religious pluralism where so many nations have not? “By creating a web of interlocking personal relationships among people of many different faiths. This is America’s grace.”

EPILOGUE: A NEW ROUND OF EVIDENCE (Added to the 2012 paperback edition)

  • Looked at people they interviewed in 2006 and compared to re-interviews in 2011. So this is based on panel survey evidence.
  • Religious attitudes are remarkably stable. Economic difficulties didn’t produce more or less devout people.
  • Secularism has grown in the last 5 years, and mostly among young people turning increasingly away from the church. And mostly because of the religion-politics relationship that’s turning them off.
  • Public opinion is more libertarian than in 2006. More economically conservative but socially liberal.
  • The strongest predictor of who turned Tea Party in 2009 (aside from partisanship) is those who want “more religion in politics.” Less evidence that it’s about economics. More about social values and religion.
  • Churches will have to de-politicize if they want to stop the growing secularization of American society and especially among young people.