Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Religion, Marriage Equality and Regional Differences in the USA

I found something interesting online today and thought I would share.  It is a study of religiosity in the US by state.  This Gallup polls asked people if religion played an important part in their daily lives and ranked the states by the percentage who said yes.  You can look a table of top ten most religious and ten least religious.  And if you scroll down they have a nice map.

A couple of things jump out from the table and map.  

First, the four New England States (VT, NH, ME and MA) are the four least religious states in the country.  As of now, all four of these relatively secular states recognize marriage equality.  

Second, on the map, it is shocking how highly correlated being dark green and being a former slave state is.  The old confederacy sticks out like a sore thumb as the most religious part of the country by far.  

Third, in an earlier debate in related threads, LTG predicted that Iowans would soon overturn the marriage equality ruling of their supreme court in large part because of Iowa's supposedly high levels of religiosity (he referred to it as being "in the bible belt" among other things).   Iowa is more religious than New England and California.  But one would never in a million years confuse Iowa for the Deep South with regard to religiosity.  Iowa is merely average - indeed if you look at the table on page two of the link above, Iowa is 26th out of 50 in terms of religiosity (California is 39th).  To give him credit, LTG was not suggesting that Iowa was like the Deep South.  But Iowa's perceived religiosity was an underlying theme of his arguments in these related threads.  What's interesting about this map is that it suggests that except for the extremes - New England vs The Old Confederacy - religiosity, at least measured as broadly as it is here, may not be the dominant factor.  If it were, we would not expect the less religious California to have seen such a rapid voter backlash while the Iowans with more average levels of religiosity sit patiently by.  The lesson may be that institutional differences between California and Iowa are the decisive factor (see our conversation about the rules for amending the respective state constitutions) rather than differences in religiosity and - if memory serves - this was the conclusion that LTG and I more or less converged on in our debate earlier.  


The Law Talking Guy said...

I'm not sure I read the map the same way. Seems to me that the level of religiosity in the West is as low as in New England. What's really interesting is the way the map parallels the red/blue distinction. Almost all the battleground states are "average" religion. Obama won only three states that were above average (VA, NC, IN) and those were pretty close.

The interesting thing also is that states with large African-American populations are also represented as "religious." That's probably why Maryland, Michigan, and Illinois are "average."

Of course the results are overstated on the map. With a 3-5% margin of error, you can see that Kansas (70%), Utah (69%), Missouri (68%), and Iowa (64%) are not all that different in terms of religiosity. They do differ from the deep South with its 74-85% range. But Iowa and similar 60% states are also quite different from the truly Blue states hovering in the 50s or below where gay marriage is succeeding.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Looking at that survey, one thing that occurred to me is that religion is more of a private matter in New England. People tend not to make a public spectacle of their religious commitment. To many New Englanders it may seem rather prideful to claim that you make religion a large part of your life. But one thing you notice when you drive around is that there sure are a lot of little churches out there...

I suspect the religious commitment in New England is stronger than the survey suggests. Although perhaps their public "religiosity" is smaller. I have a feeling Iowa might have a similar attitude toward religion, but I am not sure.

Raised By Republicans said...

The margin of error is sloppy yes. But as LTG points out, the difference between Iowa and California remains distinguishable. Yet, a court ruling in favor of marriage equality in California (supposedly a "truly blue" state) saw a well funded and organized backlash against it. Iowa (supposedly a hotbed of religious conservatism similar to Utah) did not. My point in this post was that the religiosity of the states may not be the dominant factor in exactly that slushy category of states that are more religious than Massachusetts and less religious than Alabama.

Dr. S. I think you are on to something important about religiosity in Iowa (and Minnesota for that matter). The common view in the upper Midwest is "My religion is my business. Your religion is yours. I'll leave you be and you leave me be and we'll all be happy."

There is a second dimension at work here: insistence on cultural conformity. The Old Confederacy politics are characterized by politicians who really push for state enforced social conformity. Such politicians are not nearly as influential in the upper Midwest.

The Law Talking Guy said...

RBR - don't discount the heavy African-American influence here. One of the few things white and black southerners have in common is very high church attendance, and blacks continue this pattern outside the south. What we can't distill, therefore, is the level of 'religiosity' among white people. That may be more similar across much of the country than the map would let on. I note with interest that some of the whitest states have the lowest levels of religiosity (Alaska, Vermont, Maine).

Raised By Republicans said...

LTG, I don't believe whether the religiosity is from white people or black people one way or the other was really the point I was trying to make.

Regardless of the racial make up of the citizens in these states, it seems that there is something significant at work here besides religiosity. I think we were right to conclude in our other threads that it is the institutional differences. A backlash in Iowa would be futile because of the institutional constraints on amending the constitution so even if there were the potential for a backlash, it was not mobilized as it was in California.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I want to make that point, however, because discussion of culture needs to be clear. If the religious difference is driven not by any difference in the white majority, but by the presence or absence of a highly religious African-American subculture, the data would need to be interpreted differently.

Religiosity, without more, is not a perfect proxy for measuring conservative/fundamentalist christianity. What I mean to say is that the map you have shown and the accompanying data are quite compatible with the idea that Iowa and the South have much the same religious culture. I don't think that's actually true, but these data don't really show us one way or another. What I want to know is this: what % of the Iowa electorate is evangelical/conservative/fundamentalist? These data don't really show it, because you have to factor in the highly religious black community that may be much more malleable in the end on gay issues because they produced the SCLC, not the KKK.

I think the answer is going to be as follows: not as much as the deep south, but way, way more than the northeast or the far west (the blue state strongholds). If a simple majority vote could play out in Iowa, it wouldn't be anywhere near as close as it was in CA. So I wouldn't be so sanguine about the institutional barriers to constitutional amendment winning out.

The question for Iowa is whether a majority of individual Democrats are willing to stake their seats on gay marriage. It is noteworthy that the legislature did not authorize gay marriage, and might still vote it down even now. There will be immense pressure to take a vote even from within the Dems own caucus.

Raised By Republicans said...

OK, let's have the "Iowans are backward and it's only a matter of time before they show it" debate again. Now LTG asserts that any differences in religiosity between Iowa and the Deep South are due largely to the presence of African Americans in large numbers in the South.

You are arguing that white people in the Deep South have similar religious views to white people in Iowa. I just don't think that argument has much merit.

Consider this: CNN's 2008 exit poll in Alabama reported that 47% of its respondents reported being "White Evangelicals/Born Again". 92% of them voted for McCain.

CNN's 2008 exit poll in Iowa however, reported that 31% of respondents were "White Evangelical/Born Again." Of that group, 65% voted for McCain.

CNN's 2008 exit poll in California (for the sake of comparison) reported that 17% of respondents were "White Evangelical/Born Again." Of that group, 70% voted for McCain.

What does this tell us? Well, not much that's very conclusive. BUT it does seriously undermine LTG's assertion that White religiosity in Iowa is similar to that in the Deep South. Clearly, at least in the 2008 election, Iowa has about a third fewer "White Evangelicals" than does Alabama (that's a HUGE difference). Furthermore, even within that group, support for Obama among White Evangelical Iowans was about 400% higher than it was among the same group in Alabama.

Compared to both Alabama and California, Iowa has a 14% "advantage" in "White Evangelicals" over California but Alabama has a 16% "advantage" over Iowa in this regard. So Iowa is about midway between California and Alabama in terms of raw numbers of this type of voter. But Iowa's evangelicals VOTE much more like California's evangelicals than like Alamaba's. There is both a qualitative and quantitative difference in voting behavior between Iowa's Evangelical community and Alabama's.

I can speculate that the higher levels of support for Obama among Iowan White Evangelicals may indicate that their version of religiosity makes them more open to "the other" than their co-religionists in Alabama.

It's also worth noting that the earliest any anti-equality backlash can even start to occur in Iowa is 2012. That's IF LTG is right that the Democrats will back a constitutional amendment -twice! or lose their majorities in both houses of the Assembly - even though the current Democratic leadership has clearly stated it's a non-starter. Consider this: Gay marriage in Iowa has simply not been a big deal. There are no reports of anti-gay protests at any court houses issuing the licenses. There are no anti-equality editorials from the major newspapers. Indeed, the biggest newspaper in the state, the Des Moines Register, hailed the state supreme court decision as "courageous and reassuring." We'll know more in the fall of 2010 when the Assembly is up for reelection but I doubt this will be the dominant issue for that election. By then, people will be used to it and they'll probably just want not to talk about it at all.

The Law Talking Guy said...

"You are arguing that white people in the Deep South have similar religious views to white people in Iowa. I just don't think that argument has much merit. "

Please read my post, don't just sound off. I distinctly said that I did not believe this.

Here are my words again, RBR:
"What I mean to say is that the map you have shown and the accompanying data are quite compatible with the idea that Iowa and the South have much the same religious culture. I don't think that's actually true, but these data don't really show us one way or another." (emphasis added).

Get it? I was arguing that the Gallup poll on religiosity *doesn't* show the difference between Iowa and the South that you claimed it showed, for a variety of reasons.

Jeez, get off the soapbox and read people's posts when they are trying to be nuanced.

Now the new data you showed ARE much more useful. These polls show that White Evangelicals are 17% of CA electorate, about 1/3 of the Iowa electorate, and nearly half of the southern electorate.

We can now argue about how big a deal is that third of the Iowa electorate. I suspect that these voters are even more prevalent in off-year elections, being rural and older. So it's a very big deal - although not the impossibility you would see in the South where the combination of white and black evangelicals would be a majority. The CA battle is totally different in how it is waged.

Raised By Republicans said...

Sorry, LTG, I missed the one part of your post that mitigated what you were saying. My bad/Mia Culpa.

But let's continue on with the data analysis nevertheless.

Raised By Republicans said...

LTG, I think you are right about the older, more rural character of Iowa's Evangelicals. But I hope you also will concede that the label "Evangelical" is not nearly as predictive of voting behavior in Iowa or California as it is in the South.

What this means is that, in Iowa, the White Evangelical core of the Religious Right, may be more prone to internal division. This MAY lead them to be less enthusiastic about using the state to enforce social conformity. It is somewhat more likely that they will be harder to organize.

As for the increased share of the electorate in off year elections. I wouldn't count on it. Democrats in Iowa are a weird bunch too. They tend to have higher incomes relative to the rest of the population than Democrats in a lot of states would and they tend to have more education and/or social capital (i.e. they're members of groups like unions etc), making them more likely to vote than you might otherwise think.

Where turnout in off year elections is likely to fall off in Iowa is among the huge percentage of voters who are registered Independents (about a third of voters). It's unclear where that group would land on the marriage equality issue though.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I think you can guarantee that on a gay marriage issue the turnout advantage is for the right, not the left. Their hate is stronger than the mild tolerance of the centrists who would be needed to hold onto the current measure.

That being said, the GOP may decide over time that this is not the battle they really want to fight. Perhaps, like abortion, they will prefer to rail against it rather than do anything about it.

Raised By Republicans said...

"Perhaps, like abortion, they will prefer to rail against it rather than do anything about it."

LTG, something else to think about. The Republicans may want to use this issue to get out the vote in a national election. In which case they may want to save it for 2012. If they do that, they may have waited so long that the issue has lost punch.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Indeed, I agree, RBR. The 'gay marriage' issue is deflating as we speak. My guess is that in 2012 it will be useful for turning out the base, but that is not their political problem. Sure, if they had done a better job on turning out the base (McCain was not really "one of them" you see) they would have won Indiana and North Carolina. So what? The real GOP problem is in Colorado, Ohio, Florida, and Virginia. The Rove strategy of turning out the fundies just doesn't cut it anymore. Every year, a cohort of aging Republican voters dies and is replaced by a (smaller) cohort of young Democrats. This has been happening for a decade now, and will likely continue. It is killing the party, literally.