Political participation refers to voting, lobbying, convincing others to vote and other related activities. In most cases, the most dominant measure of political participation is the number of people who turn out on voting day. A number of reasons have been postulated to explain why participation in political activity is high in certain groups and low in others. Factors such as lack of awareness, community beliefs and values, cultural factors, and missing fundamentals in a political system have been put forward to explain political participation. In this paper focus will more on religious influence on political participation rather than on all the other factors. Of all these, the cultural and religious factors stand out as the most influential. On a more definite scale, religion is the most outstanding factor as it forms the basis for most belief systems.
This paper attempts an assessment of various denominations such as Roman Catholic, Muslim, Protestant and other minor religious groups. While there has been a lot of research on the influence of socioeconomic and education on political participation and especially turnout, there has been little research focused on the effect of religion. Given the growing relevance of religion in the world, it is necessary for sociologists to study religion in relation to political participation. Discussion on the topic is typically divided into two main strands. One school of thought postulates that religion, especially the major mainstream churches decreases the probability of participation due to theological issues. Secondly religion restricts women participation in politics by assigning gender roles and duties. The other school of thought postulates that participation depends on religious affiliation, tradition or denomination in question.
The United States is a highly religious society as compared to its counterparts in other developed countries. For instance, a visitor from Europe once asserted that religion seemed to be hugely influential in American public life as he saw religious messages nearly everywhere. For instance, he saw a sign of on a bumper of a delivery truck informing pedestrians of Jesus. Later he observed a notice on a lawn requesting passers by to call a toll free number if they were in need of prayers.
There is evidence to suggest that factors that influence political participation such as education, and gender could be neutralized by religious feelings (Barnard, 2010). In a nutshell, individuals who might not vote or otherwise plan to vote or contact a government official due to their socioeconomic, age, or gender, may do so when encouraged by religious leaders and fellow members of their religious community. This is usually due to the esprit d’ corps individuals gain from religious communities. Religion may induce persons to participate in public life. On the flip side, people who might plan to engage in political activity may not do so due to discouragement from leaders and members of their religious communities.
Conway (2000) found high influence of religious beliefs on political participation. They observed that when persons associated themselves with a particular religion, the probability of them participating in political activity reduced. However upon examination of the degree of participation on religious activity only, it was observed that, it certainly increased participation. They asserted that types of denominational or differences in religious beliefs affected political participation differently. Consequently, it becomes essential to study how this relates to a specific type or group of persons. For example, macro religious factors influenced politics by changing macro political factors. However, individually based or micro factors have a small influence on political participation. People who were deeply into their religion were more likely to be of less enthusiasm on aspects of their social lives like politics. This led to this latter group participating to a lesser degree in political activity (Dale & Orum, 2008). It was also suggested that dominant religions tend to be less interested in fostering political participation than less dominant ones. This is due to being no issues of competition between various denominations for members.
According to the data available on the relationship between political culture and religious institutions, some religious institutions are by nature, more attuned with and favorable to democratic ideals than others. For instance, analysts draw a distinction in the political, social, and economic effects of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism and draw a distinction between the political, social, and economic effects of Western Christianity in general and the globe’s principal religions especially Islam. Few theorists are still of the opinion that Catholicism is less attuned to democracy than Protestantism. However, many theorists still argue that Islam is less attuned and favorable to democracy than Western Christianity. Driskell et al. (2008) Postulated that the relatively low political participation of the Latino group is due to their being predominantly catholic. James & Feinstein, (1997) still argue that Islam is less attuned to democracy as compared to Western Christianity. They argued that Islam is not conducive in that it denies the legitimacy of any authority apart from religious authority. This does not only make the state unstable in the Islamic countries, but is also an obstacle to the development of democracy and civil society.
Church membership said True et al. (2004) explains the variation in participation rates between Afro Americans and Latinos. The expectation is that Afro Americans will participate less due to their relatively scantier socioeconomic resources. However, this is not the case as Latinos despite being highly affiliated with religious institutions, do not participate as much. This, he argues is because Latinos are mostly Catholics. Catholic communities tend to focus less on civic training than Protestant communities of which most Afro Americans are.
To show how modal religion impacts participation in politics, a test was conducted to show the differences of the Protestants and Catholics effects participation in politics. The Protestants recorded a higher participation in political matters than the Catholics. For research, the Latino living in America was the sample population. The data collected covered the political activities of the Latino religious groups, their preferences and behaviors. Another sample was taken on the Anglos from the non Hispanic whites. Their political behaviors were also observed, and the trends analyzed. Both the two sample groups had the Catholics, Protestants and the other small religions included in the research. In the Latino sample, the Catholic formed the majority, followed by the Protestants with the other Christians being the least (James & Feinstein, 1997). The Anglos sample had the Protestants as the majority, the Catholic coming second and the other Christians coming last. The results collected included only respondents from the Protestants and Catholic faiths.
The Test focused on the Latinos electrical participation in their voting taking note of the attendances in the recent congressional participation. The groups voting in the presidential election, the number of registered voters and their voting in school elections were also considered. The other focus was in the group’s non election activities, there attendance to political campaigns and public meetings. In both samples, questions that were comparable but slightly different on political issues were asked. The political questions directed to the Anglo sample were mainly on their voting in the congress, and presidential elections. They were also questioned on their voting registrations. On political question such as money donation, voluntary services and rally attendances were also posed.
In both the samples taken, the independent variable considered were the same. They were the standard income and education variables as well as gender and age. Education was taken as an indication of the highest grade attended, and the house hold income to indicate a person’s income (True & Smith, 2004). To find out how religious effects on politics, question asked to respondents included their religious affiliation whether Protestant or Catholic. Their church attendance, their religious experience and the religious faith were also asked. The religious affiliation was the main subject of the research focusing on the political participation of the respondents. This was done on the basis of Catholics and Protestants groups.
Results and Findings
Taking a look at the religious Latinos participation in political issues; age, education and income positively contributed to the participation. The results proved wrong the hypothesis that the Latinos Catholics are less active compared to the Latinos Protestants. Also in the non election participation, the Catholics were found to have a less significant participation. There was no dominance of any religious affiliation. Both the Protestants and the Catholics participated significantly in the political matters. Church membership showed a similar participation to other institutions by belonging to a non political group at the same time related to a non electrical participation. The Catholic affiliation observed to associate with the two identified variables. The Catholics turn out in the congressional elections was positive. Looking at the voter registration and participation in the presidential election, the catholic participation had no impact. The affiliation had a positive turn out in the school and congressional elections. The results indicated that with other factors remaining constant, the people who attended the church on a regular basis participated more than those who don’t go to church. This shows that despite the affiliation, religion encouraged people to participate in elections. However, the Latinos Catholics encouraged political participation more compared to the Protestants (Driskell, Embry, & Lyon, 2008). The church can be considered to be constellating its followers to electrical engagement.
Taking a look at the Anglo participation, education and age were the main predictors of political participation. The affiliation didn’t matter in the non electoral participation. The church attendance didn’t affect the political participation the way it did with the Latinos. Those who attended church on a regular basis were registered voters and participated in the last presidential election. However, most of them didn’t participate in the congressional elections. Education and age played a major role in the electrical participation.
The results contradict the hypothesis at the beginning of the research. The Catholic Church participation was at a higher level in both non electrical and electrical activities. The difference in the affiliation was to a notable significant, but indicated positive participation. The Latino Catholics voted more in the school and congressional elections than the Latino Protestant. The church attendance played a significant role in the electrical participation. The difference between the Protestants and the Catholics was not a result of religious factors. The standard variables resulted to the difference between the affiliations. The significance of the church in political participation is associated with the engagement and civic education. For the Latinos, religion was the main tool used to join people together socially. The church involved itself in sporting activities, work groups and charitable programs. The civic organization for the Latinos is low.
The church plays an important role in the nation’s civic life. In areas which lack civic associations, it still steps in to help in the political and civic awareness. Churches mobilize their members to participate in political activities and voter registration. The difference is that some churches do it more and better than others. The Catholic churches ethnically associates just the same way the other religious institutes do. The difference in the affiliation is not caused by ethnic factors but denominations. The church membership indicated a significant impact in the participation in the political activities and electoral politics. The higher electrical participation in the Latinos is associated with the nature of their parishes (Barnard, 2010). The differences in the political participation Anglo and the Latinos are due to the difference in the acquisition of the civil skills. The difference in the skills can be linked to the Catholic and the Protestants contribution.
Argument and evidence
With the predictors being constant, religious involvement has positive and significant effects in supporting civil liberties and political rights. Religious involvement can be felt when it supports one political party to the expenses of the other. The difference in the affiliations is felt in such a case as the Catholics may be in support of a different party from what the Protestants. Gender paints a different picture in this argument. While men believe that it is allowed to support more than one political party, women are against it. The religious participation also varies with the location. The religious group may be in support of a particular political party, but some regions show more support than others. Income is also another factor, the ones with a higher income were seen to participate more in politics. The decisions they made was influenced by the politicians.
Education impact was the most felt. Those who were learned participated more in elections and were the most registered. They were diverse in their choice of a political candidate and party. The decisions they made was hardly influenced even with their political leaders. The older believers participated more in elections and were the most registered. Civic education and awareness helped in political matters with the informed participating more than less educated. The young believer’s participation in political rally’s and movements were significant. Following the impact of the predictors on the general religious political participation, the results above can be considered to be too general. The predictors had a significant impact in the outcome of the research work. Despites the effects of predictors in the general outcome, the results show that religion has a significant impact on politics.
The population of the members of the religious groups influenced the results of the research. Religious groups with the highest number of members had more impact in political participation compared to those with less number of members. This was evidence in the number of members who participated in presidential and congressional elections. The affiliates with a higher number of members participated more. The groups with the highest number of members also had the majority number of registered voters. Religious leaders with a high number of followers were mostly associated with political parties (Dale & Orum, 2008). This is because they had a significant influence. The politicians reached for the religious groups with large numbers of members. High number of members signified majority support. The religion of the political candidates also influenced the religious group’s participation in politics. Religious groups tend to support the political candidates from their own denomination. The Religious groups with their own candidate in any election were noted to participate more than the other groups. Religious groups have political history in them thus they are expected to take part in political issues.
The objective of this research paper was to find the effects of religious beliefs and religious involvement of communities on political participation especially in the United States. Variations in political participation have been hypothesized to be more of a function of religion than other factors. This paper has further suggested the particularly strong inter relationship between different religions, and further, along inter denominations, in predicting political participation. The research also found significant inter-relations between different religions and denominations in the value they place in civic education. Civic education in religious institutions has a significant influence on political participation as it plays the role of conduits of political information and also recruitment. The paper underscores the importance of religion and associational membership in determining and predicting political participation.
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