August 24, 2005


The Political Power Of The Pew: A new study shows how churchgoing affects voting preferences (Robert J. Barro, 8/22/05, Business Week)

A forthcoming article in the Quarterly Journal of Economics -- "Strategic Extremism: Why Republicans and Democrats Divide on Religious Values," by Edward L. Glaeser, Giacomo A.M. Ponzetto, and Jesse M. Shapiro -- develops a model to explain why religion and politics are so intertwined. In the model, politicians sometimes cater to extreme positions, such as the ardently pro-life views of the Religious Right or the ardently pro-choice views of the secular left. A successful appeal yields a large response by the targeted group in voter turnout or campaign contributions. This part is straightforward. The new idea is that a successful appeal has to be somewhat private. Otherwise, catering to an extreme -- say, pro-life -- has the downside of encouraging too much voter turnout and campaign contributions from the opposite pole -- pro-choice.

THE GLAESER ET AL. STUDY analyzes which groups end up with sizable political influence. The membership cannot be too small because then any perceived catering to the group loses too many votes from the bulk of the population relative to the small number gained. But the membership cannot be too large, because then targeted messages are impossible. The research shows that the most effective groups comprise a little less than half the population. The membership also has to be cohesive enough to facilitate private communication. U.S. churches fit with both characteristics. U.S. labor unions fit once upon a time, as well, but have since become too small.

The study applies the theory internationally by examining how monthly attendance at formal religious services predicts self-described right-wing orientation. The data show that more religious people are more likely to be right-wing. However, the link between religiousness and political outlook is weak when countries have very low or very high religious participation. For instance, whether in Scandinavia and Russia, where few people attend church, or highly religious nations like the Philippines and Bangladesh, an individual's attendance predicts little about political orientation. Instead, religiousness predicts the most about politics in countries where roughly half the population attends formal religious services at least monthly -- places such as the U.S., Turkey, India, and Argentina.

Pretty hard to argue that given his own openness and the efforts of the Democrats and the media to portray him as extremist that George W. Bush's appeal to the religious has been private.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 24, 2005 6:14 PM

The reason why the abortion positions are so polarized is that the issue has been decided from on high by the Supreme Court. Therefore the normal constraints forced on legislators by practicality and popular will are gone. When Roe v Wade is eventually overturned the position of both parties will quickly gravitate much closer to the national consensus.

Posted by: b at August 24, 2005 7:18 PM

How can both pro-life or pro-death be considered extreme? Is anyone pro-nothing?

The only reason church-goers are trending conservative is because the Democrats have become anti-religious (due to their extreme pro-death position). Before Reagan, more Christians were Democrats because they gravitate toward social programs to help the poor and the like. But the Democrats are against things like home-schooling and for things like abortion, which forces Christians to vote Republican.

Posted by: Randall Voth at August 25, 2005 3:06 AM

All of Europe is pro-nothing--except its Muslim immigrants.

Posted by: oj at August 25, 2005 8:43 AM

Randall. On abortion, I'm pro nothing.

Abortion isn't a matter for the courts or the legislature and should be removed from public debate. The spectacle of the Congress of the United States of America debating whether or not it should be made legal to kill an unborn child is distasteful in the extreme and we can't call ourselves civilized if we can't protect the weakest among us without the assistance of a court ruling or an act of congress.

I believe an abortion is nobody's business other than the people directly involved, the pregnant woman, the putative father of the child, possibly other members of the family, and their physician.

What I'm very anti, are abortion clinics on every street corner and the PC propaganda of pretending an unborn child in just a mass of undifferentiated cells and removing it has no more emotional or moral impact than removing tumor or cyst.

Public opinion should be swayed so that abortion is seen as the last resort, not as a convenience for those who through carelessness or stupidity have failed to take the appropriate measures to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.

Posted by: erp at August 25, 2005 10:28 AM


So the child being aborted isn't a person whose interests are involved?

Posted by: oj at August 25, 2005 10:41 AM

erp -- that was the Republican's attitude before Reagan. All it got them was 40 years in the wilderness.

If it's not the job of Congress and the President to debate moral issues, then it is no longer government by the people and for the people. Distasteful topics never get discussed unless a courageous man like President Reagan makes it an issue.

It had the side benefit of electing his party and changing the face of Congress and the judiciary for decades.

Posted by: Randall Voth at August 25, 2005 10:52 AM

erp: Congress will debate the matter, but their decision will only apply in the very limited cases of federal jurisdiction--most of the action will (and should) be on the state level.

One of the major problems with the "debate" on abortion is the inability to actually face what's going on. It's all well and good to say that medical choices should be between a woman and her doctor, but how does that apply to cases where a woman from California flies to Kansas to get a partial-birth abortion?

Posted by: b at August 25, 2005 11:55 AM

Of course the child's a person and a person to be protected, but abortion cannot and should not be declared either legal or illegal. The example of a woman going from one state to the other for a partial birth abortion is exactly why I don't think this is a matter for the law. This is a matter for the medical community to come to a consensus.

Abortion is being kept in play by the left because it's the one hook they have to women to scare them. Kennedy's mantra of bloody backstreet abortions which we'll no doubt hear again during the Roberts' hearings, is what keeps women voting Democrat.

In the bad old days birth control was not only verboten by most religions, it was a forbidden subject between doctors and patients. That kind interference by the law should never have been tolerated then and we shouldn't tolerate the law dictating our medical decisions now.

In today's world, it's pretty easy to prevent pregnancy and the obscene number of terminated pregnancies can't all be the result defective birth control devices. It's obvious from these numbers that it's become far easier for millions of women to have an abortion than to go through the bother of birth control.

If Republicans want to reach women, this wouldn't be a bad place to start.

Posted by: erp at August 25, 2005 12:48 PM


That person just should have no legal protections? We did that with blacks and the Nazis with Jews.

Posted by: oj at August 25, 2005 1:40 PM

>It's obvious from these numbers that it's become far easier for millions of women to have an abortion than to go through the bother of birth control.

And the ubiquity of abortion has completely removed the obligation of modern men to worry about birth control. One would think that more "women's rights" advocates might consider this...

Posted by: at August 25, 2005 2:03 PM

Posted by at August 25, 2005 02:03 PM: coming as you do from the left, you don't realize that women's groups don't give a tinker's damn about women.

Their goal, like the goal of all the special interests on the left, is world socialism. Haven't you ever wondered why NOW isn't agitating for Islamic women's rights? The left has thrown in their lot with Islamic terrorists who share their goals of destroying capitalism, free trade, and all the freedoms we have as our birthright.

It's true that modern birth control has removed much of the responsibility from men, removed also is their right to make decisions about their unborn children. This whole issue needs a gigantic public relations initiative to reacquaint the public about just how far we've deviated from sanity.

oj. Are you talking about the legal rights of the unborn as they pertain to inheritances, etc.? Those laws are already on the books, or do you hold that any and all abortions should be criminal offenses.

If that is your position, I think it's unrealistic and unenforceable and gives Ted Kennedy more opportunities to sing his song about back alleys.

Posted by: erp at August 25, 2005 2:41 PM


Not any and all--a mother has rights even against her child, but most.

Posted by: oj at August 25, 2005 2:49 PM

oj, we agree that abortions should only be the very last resort. Where we disagree is that the law be involved.

Not bad for a start.

Posted by: erp at August 25, 2005 6:16 PM

If the child has no rights they're frequent.

Posted by: oj at August 25, 2005 6:28 PM

erp -- you seem to be saying that abortion is wrong even though it has no moral implications vis-a-vis the victim. If there is no victim, then there is no crime and then abortion at all times is just peachy.

No law, no restrictions, no problem. But don't go around lecturing people about abortion if there is no victim.

I personally believe abortion is murder and, therefore, is wrong in all cases. But I am not a fantasist who believes we will ever legislate perfection, so I'm okay with oj's point that the woman can murder her child in certain situations.

But, if there is a victim, then the law is required to define both the victim and the crime; and especially in this case because the victim is helpless and blameless.

Posted by: Randall Voth at August 25, 2005 6:34 PM