Metro

  • Written by Jordan LaBouff, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Maine
Voting while God is watching – does having churches as polling stations sway the ballot?

Houses of worship may be busier than usual come Election Day as Americans head to the polls rather than the pews.

A 2010 census of religious congregations[1] identified nearly 350,000 churches, mosques, temples and other religious establishments attended by more than 150 million Americans, primarily for spiritual needs and social relationships.

But during elections, such places double as centers of civic life – serving as community polling places. In some electoral districts, houses of worship make up a significant number of all voting places, raising important issues about whether voting in a place of worship influences how people cast their ballots.

Church and state

Voting in religious spaces is nothing new.

Americans have long been casting their ballots in the same place where they or their neighbors worship. In early America, the town meeting house often served both religious and secular functions[2] – with the same space housing prayer meetings, schooling and town business.

Although the separation of church and state has largely moved the practice of religious and secular life into separate spheres, churches have continued to house voting booths.

As urban population densities have grown – more than 500% from 1910 to 2010[3] – election boards have been asked to identify polling sites that are large and empty enough to accommodate voters. They also need to be accessible and rent-free. Since government buildings can rarely accommodate these needs – indeed, less than 1% of polling sites[4] in 2018 were specifically election offices – religious leaders have often offered their buildings as polling sites as a public service.

Although no national data on religious spaces as polling places exists, this arrangement appears to be very common.

For example, 22% of polling sites for the 2020 general election in Minneapolis are houses of worship[5]. In St. Louis[6], 27% of precincts vote in religious spaces and, in one ward, all eight of the polling places are churches.

Priming voters

As a scholar who studies how social situations can influence attitudes[7], I believe where someone votes can subtly but significantly affect how they vote.

Social scientists have long understood that physical and social context shapes the way people think, feel and behave. Without even realizing it, most of us are likely to speak more quietly when talking about the possibility of visiting a library[8] than when discussing plans to dine at an exclusive restaurant.

Each physical setting offers cues that, at least temporarily, prompt people to think and behave in ways consistent with stereotypes about that space. Scholars call this a “priming effect[9].”

Sometimes this happens consciously as people realize that they are influenced by the situation. For example, you might feel serious and reverent while visiting a war memorial. Much of the time, however, people aren’t aware of the subtle priming influences of everyday spaces.

These unconscious influences can be powerful.

For example, people in a business-themed room with briefcases and boardroom tables tended to act more competitive and self-interested[10] in decisions than those making the same decisions in a classroom, researchers found.

Similarly, on average, people who could see a sports drink rather than a bottle of water ran longer on a treadmill[11]. And those hearing French music over supermarket loudspeakers were more likely to buy French wine[12] than when German music was playing.

[Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter and get expert takes on today’s news, every day.[13]]

Ballot bias

These effects extend to the polling booth.

In Arizona’s 2000 general election[14], citizens voting in schools were more likely to support a state sales tax increase to fund education than citizens with similar social and political characteristics who cast ballots elsewhere.

In a related laboratory study, voters shown images of a school encouraged support for education-oriented taxation, whereas images of a church reduced support for stem-cell research.

In 2012, my colleagues and I[15] asked approximately 100 participants from more than 20 different countries to answer questions about their political attitudes and feelings toward various minority groups while standing in front of a cathedral or City Hall in Maastricht, the Netherlands.

Regardless of their own religious identity or beliefs, respondents who could see the church supported more conservative approaches to issues such as immigration, taxes, drug policies, warfare and abortion than those who could see City Hall. They were also more prejudiced toward minorities such as gay men and immigrants – especially those of Arab descent.

Our recent analysis of 2016 election data from Virginia[16] reveals similar tendencies. Controlling for population, county-level religiosity and other factors, citizens casting their ballots in churches were significantly more likely to vote for Republican candidates than their nearly identical neighbors who were voting in secular venues.

This effect was strongest for counties with the highest proportion of religious people. That is, when Christians vote in churches, they seem to be even more likely to vote for conservative candidates than when they vote outside of churches.

Further, which houses of worship are selected may invite more bias into the polling booth. When a single mosque was included as a polling site among more than 50 churches in Palm Beach County, Florida, in 2016, the county’s election board received complaints and threats of violence until they removed the mosque as a polling site[17].

Meanwhile, Christian churches are common polling sites even in communities that are not themselves predominantly Christian[18].

As a result, some citizens who may feel stigmatized and threatened by religious institutions are expected to visit them to vote.

Small influence but tight margins

Although some non-Christian citizens have complained that voting in churches violates their rights, courts have consistently ruled[19] that the availability of alternatives such as absentee voting means that having places of religion serve as polling stations does not represent a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of religion.

In other words, where you are can influence who you are, even when you don’t notice it. Although the influences of physical spaces are small and people are more likely to be influenced by these kinds of peripheral cues[20] when they don’t already have strong opinions on a topic, elections can be decided by fractions of a percent – especially in consequential local races where people may enter the polling booth undecided, and thus be more susceptible to the influences of the space they’re in.

Authors: Jordan LaBouff, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Maine

Read more https://theconversation.com/voting-while-god-is-watching-does-having-churches-as-polling-stations-sway-the-ballot-144709

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

KAI ALECE “Raise ‘Em Up”

Sometimes, a song written by a brilliant, insightful songwriter who’s been flying – and singing - way too long under the radar, rises to meet the sociopolitical moment in unimaginably provocative ways. After hundreds of gigs throughout the Southe...

News Co - avatar News Co

How I tied an 80s Pop Icon to an Alien Abduction

I was playing guitar when I got a message that 80s rocker Tommy Tutone (Tommy Heath) wanted me to use the hook from his 1984 hit "867-5309/Jenny" in a new song.  You might know the song; it's the one with the phone number "867-5309".  It might be...

AV Super Sunshine - avatar AV Super Sunshine

An Unexpected Effect of COVID: Collaboration and Creativity

Who knew? The mentions in the news of the coronavirus hitting American shores were just beginning when my husband and I went ahead with our weekend getaway. It was late February, and we were headed to Chicago, a simple four-hour drive away from o...

Angela Predhomme - avatar Angela Predhomme

COVID-19: A MUSIC INDUSTRY KILLER

Fifty years from now—long after Covid-19 has run its course—what will historians say about how we handled this pandemic? Will they praise us for a job well done? Or will they marvel, instead, at the viral panic that led to such irrational, cont...

David P Hatherill, PhD (aka Dr Dave Smooth Jazz Recording Artist) and John Sack, MD - avatar David P Hatherill, PhD (aka Dr Dave Smooth Jazz Recording Artist) and John Sack, MD

NEW MUSIC AND VIDEO: AV SUPER SUNSHINE “X File: 8675309”

One of the most iconic phone numbers in rock history, 867-5309 began life scrawled under the name “Jenny” on a bathroom wall in 1982 – the year the band Tommy Tutone took the single to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Nearly four decades later, thank...

News Co - avatar News Co

COVID-19'S EFFECT ON THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

The Covid-19 pandemic is affecting the music industry in ways that could ultimately turn it on its head not only during the pandemic but, perhaps, permanently. Since its inception, the business model of the music industry has remained largely un...

Brandyn Cross - avatar Brandyn Cross

Metropolitan Business News

How to Deliver the Perfect Elevator Pitch

Do you struggle with explaining your career with professional or personal contacts, and you want to make a lasting impression? Whether you're looking for a job or building up your network, a wel...

Adam Jacobs - avatar Adam Jacobs

Three Asian Countries That are Leaders in Outsourcing

Would it surprise you to know that three of the top five ranked countries for ease of doing business are in Asia? Would it surprise you more to know that India and China aren’t even in the top 3...

Adam Jacobs - avatar Adam Jacobs

FCB and oOh! help Kiwis vote with dynamic campaign for Electoral Commission

oOh!media and FCB NZ are helping Kiwi voters exercise their democratic rights this general election, via a localised dynamic Out of Home campaign for the New Zealand Electoral Commission. The c...

Lighthouse Communications. - avatar Lighthouse Communications.

MODEL/ACTOR THORN CASTILLO IS THE “NEW FACE” OF SCHICK STYLIST

In 2019, just as his multi-faceted career was taking off, Thorn Castillo heard Robert Downey Jr. offer a sage bit of advice during an interview on photographer/director Sam Jones’ acclaimed multi-...

News Company - avatar News Company

New Research Highlights Opportunities for Sports Betting

Revenue Stream for Sports’ Post-COVID-19 Recovery Strategies New Rochelle, NY, June 1, 2020— Twenty-four states have now legalized sports betting, with more states considering legalization la...

Len Stein - avatar Len Stein

How to make overseas transfers easier?

Mainstream banks can charge as much as $20 just to process a basic international money transfer. Fortunately, today people are not doomed to handling personal finances only through mainstream gl...

News Company - avatar News Company

Writers Wanted


News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion