Non-Voters: It's All In God's Hands

A man praying. (Image credit: stock.xchng)

People who believe that God is involved in worldly affairs are less likely to participate in national elections than others, according to a new survey.

The study, which included nearly 1,700 U.S. men and women with an average age of 53, suggests that a person's view of God is a variable that determines whether he or she will donate money to a campaign, read political news, or even vote.

"It can be reasoned that if one believes God determines worldly affairs, then there is little reason for individuals to participate in civic events," study leader Robyn Driskell and her colleagues write in the June issue of the journal Social Science Quarterly. "God is taking care of things."

Religion vs. religion

Overall, about 58 percent of citizens age 18 and over voted in the 2004 presidential elections, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Evangelical and black Protestants on average were least likely to "get out the national vote" in the 2004 elections, the study finds. The researchers say both denominations espouse the view that God is active in world affairs, so the lower political engagement makes sense.

The researchers found that a person who views God as more inactive and less involved in the world is more likely to engage in political activities. Jewish respondents and mainline Protestants, who commonly take this inactive-God view, scored higher on political participation than evangelical and black Protestants. Catholics also scored higher than Protestants.

Specifically, individuals who prayed about "general world concerns" or who believed that "actively seeking social and economic justice is important in being a good person" showed at least 5 percent higher scores on political involvement.

So while the belief in God in general is not a predictor of voter participation, the researchers say, whether this God is involved in worldly affairs does impact voting patterns. 

The results are part of the nationally representative Baylor Religion Survey, 2005.

Politics and religion

Though the separation of church and state has remained a pillar of national jurisprudence since the concept was added to the U.S. Constitution in 1791, research consistently reveals religion's significant role in political and social behavior.

For instance, past research has shown that people who are the most avid churchgoers or otherwise active in their churches also are more likely than others to register to vote, vote, campaign and attend political speeches. Other studies revealed no link between church attendance and more demanding forms of political involvement, such as running for office or holding leadership positions in local politics.

Also, "churches were an instigating force for both political and social movements such as the civil rights movement and, more recently, Christian conservatism," Driskell writes.

Another study, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found individuals who voted inside school buildings were more likely to support an educational initiative than those who cast ballots at other civic locations. The PNAS researchers suggest the same dynamics could extend to other locations, such as churches, and other ballot measures, such as support for gay marriage or stem cell research.

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.