Partisans become more religious when a member of the opposing party is in the White House.
By Tom Jacobs
Donald Trump. (Photo: Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
So what will you do if Donald Trump beats the odds and is elected president? Many Democrats will surely answer “pray.”
Democrats report they pray more often, and attend religious services more regularly, when a Republican is in the Oval Office, and vice-versa.
“When voters’ preferred party or candidate loses, they cannot change the outcome, yet the results may upend their expectations about the world,” writes University of Pennsylvania political scientist Michele Margolis. “Religion may serve as a coping strategy to reduce anxiety, and restore feelings of order.”
Margolis tested this hypothesis using two sets of data. The first came from an online survey of American voters conducted immediately before, and immediately after, the 2012 presidential election. Participants were asked whether they attended a church, synagogue, or mosque in the previous seven days, and whether they prayed alone during that same period.
If you’re recruiting members for your mega-church, you might want to get busy immediately after the November election.
“Republicans, as compared to Democrats, became more likely to report engaging in religious activity in the weeks after the election, as compared to the weeks leading up to the election,” she reports. “Although many Democrats and Republicans alike skipped church and did not pray in the weeks leading up to the presidential election, their behavior diverged immediately afterwards.”
Importantly, she found this trend was driven by Republicans who believed Romney would win. The results rocked their world, and a significant number of them responded by turning to God.
Margolis then examined American National Election Studies data from the 1992, 2000, and 2008 elections — the last three that produced a shift in the party in power — and found similar trends. After the election of Bill Clinton, “Democrats’ religiosity generally declined,” she writes. In contrast, “Republicans became 6 percent more likely to attend church after Clinton took office.”
When George W. Bush took office in 2001, “the results switch direction,” she writes. “The religious gap between Republicans and Democrats that had expanded during Clinton’s presidency actually became smaller when George W. Bush was president.”
But after Barack Obama’s election in 2008, Americans’ behavior shifted yet again: “Democrats became less religious over time, while Republicans became more so.”
The findings provide evidence for “the psychological theory of compensatory control,” Margolis writes. This school of thought contends that “when government fails to provide order and structure, people look elsewhere to fill that void, including to religion.”
Unexpected events, such as an affiliated party losing power, “can create internal dissonance by causing people to lose the desirable feelings of control and order,” she notes. “However, individuals can reduce feelings of chaos and randomness in one arena with increased perceptions of control from another arena.”
In other words, the people may have made a terrible decision that puts our nation in danger, but it’ll be OK so long as God is watching over us — a request that can be made in the form of a prayer.
So if you’re recruiting members for your mega-church, you might want to get busy immediately after the November election. Members of the losing party — particularly those who were stunned by the outcome — may be unusually open to your invitation.