Friday, June 12, 2009

Stereotypes of conservative Christians as all political conservatives

I just finished reading Andrew Greeley and Michael Hout's book The Truth about Conservative Christians. In it, they discuss the diversity of conservative Christians as well as stereotypes about them. (BTW, neither author is one). Below is a informative summary statement about the politics of conservative Christians, and it highlights how powerful (and inaccurate) stereotypes are about religous people:

"The additional vote of Conservative Protestants for Republican candidates, over and above that of Mainline American Protestants, is meager--about seven percentile points. Despite the depiction of Conservative Protestants by the media, by frightened liberals, and by the conservative leadership as if they were a massive and disciplined religio-political voting block, they are not. Indeed, we have argued, this image is a stereotype based on overgeneralization and prejudice. It is also a dangerous image because it marginalizes a major segment of American society because of inadequate information, bad information, and often no information at all. There may be alink between Conservative Christian religious convictions and political behavior but it is modest, even by social science standards." P. 69


jeremy said...

Jim Guth has a review of this book in the latest issue of Sociology of Religion. In it, he argues that this finding (and others) are skewed because Greeley and Hout include black Protestants in their classification of "conservative Christians" which makes them look less politically conservative. But if you think about "conservative Christians" as "white evangelicals," the statistics aren't talking about who you think they're talking about.

David said...

I think this passage is a good example of a trap which sociologistis often fall into when trying to refulte alleged popular misconceptions.

First, there are a variety of ways to define "conservative Christians," and some of them would produce larger estimates of the difference (see jeremy's comment).

Second, even a 7% difference in presidential votes isn't trivial. In 2004, Kerry got about 47% of the vote; in 2008, Obama got 53%. That's a 6% difference. Should we call that "meager"?

Third, of course the popular media and people involved in politics present a simplified view. You hear lots of generalizations about groups like "labor," "women," or "young people," all of which are diverse groups that don't march in lockstep.

The interesting question is whether the gap between reality and popular perception or media treatment is unusually large in this case. In order to show that you'd have to offer evidence on the nature of popular beliefs or media treatment.