September 10, 2020
Religion has been a part of politics and campaigns since George Washington ran for the Presidency. No candidate has ever run as an atheist and many political pundits said Kennedy couldn’t win the White House as a Catholic. And let’s not forget Jewish candidates. None have run for President, but Joe Lieberman was the Democratic nominee for Vice-President with Al Gore. They lost.
But are the two partys’ rank and file different in their religious beliefs? Using the time-series surveys from the General Social Surveys (GSS), I have selected several religious beliefs, that I believe most folks would count as significant religious behaviors.
Those beliefs are “pray once a day,” “life after death,” “fundamentalist,” “belief in God (with no doubts)” and attend religious services at least once a week. This is an arbitrary selection, and I don’t know how you feel, but unless you become a monastic monk, I don’t think you could get anymore religious than this. Let’s start with attending services once a week as shown below.
In general, the Republicans have a significant edge on this measure, with a percent decline of weekly attendance over 44 years of only 4%. Democrats on the other hand, declined by 17% over the same time frame. Independents also declined in attendance by 12%.
In a belief of life after death, we have a slight increase among all partisans over time. Both Democrats and Independents had a consistent attitude over life after death, but at 10% lower level over recent years than Republicans.
When it comes to daily prayer, all three partisan groups show some consistency since 2000 and have similar numbers when it comes to daily prayers. Some 30% or more of both major party’s say they pray daily since 1983. That surprises me, but the Pew Charitable Trust found that 55% among all American adults pray daily, compared with 25% in Canada, 18% in Australia and 6% in Great Britain.
There are some surprises in the fundamentalist category. In the seventies, more Democrats considered themselves as fundamentalists than Republicans. This began to change in the 1990’s, which I have previously pointed out was pivotal period between the “Religious Right” and the GOP.
As you can see, this also led to a decline in Democratic fundamentalist identification. Now 29% of Republicans call themselves fundamentalist as compared to 24% of Democrats.
Finally, we have the real test of a God fearing religious practitioner: the belief in God with no doubts. As you can see, Republicans have over the past thirty years shown a consistent belief that God exists, with 70% believing in the Almighty, while the Democrats began to waver in 2006, that continued through 2018, culminating in a 10% drop during that period.
So which party has the more religious rank and file? As you can see, it really depends on what you believe is the single most important element of religiosity. Some people may believe that praying everyday and attending religious services every week are the hallmarks of a true believer.
But if you don’t believe in God, without any doubts whatsoever, your prayers and attendance at services doesn’t really matter. (And who are you praying to?) The Democrats are losing this most important aspect. The recent, but significant decline on this issue has disqualified them. And consequently, I have to award the Republican Party the winner of the “most religious” American party.
Now excuse me, it’s time for my prayers…be safe.