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Politics and religion intersect in Dixie

By Hastings Wyman
Southern Political Report

August 17, 2009

There is a strong correlation between the South’s religious preferences and its political ideology, according to recent compilations by the Gallup Organization. This conclusion is based on Gallup polls conducted during the first half of this year, which show that the South is the nation’s stronghold of Protestantism -- termed “non-Catholic Christian” by Gallup -- and also a bastion of political conservatism.

Nationwide, Protestants account for 54% of Americans. However, all of the Southern states except Florida have a larger percentage of Protestants. Indeed, all of the 10 most Protestant states are in the South or on its border.

Gallup also found that eight of the thirteen most conservative states, as measured by how much conservatives outnumbered liberals, were in the South. The highest share of conservatives in the nation was 49% in Alabama, followed by 48% in Mississippi.

 

Percentage:

Protestant

 Conservative

Republican

Democratic

Mississippi

           81

               48

44

43

Alabama

80

49

46

40

Arkansas

78

43

35

50

Tennessee

78

43

39

47

South Carolina

75

46

42

44

Oklahoma

75

47

42

47

North Carolina

72

40

37

49

Georgia

72

42

39

46

Kentucky

70

40

36

52

Virginia

67

37

37

49

Texas

58

43

40

42

Louisiana

57

47

41

47

Florida

53

39

38

47

 

The South’s religiosity appears to be an influential factor in moving its political ideology to the right, especially given the importance of such volatile religion-related issues as abortion, gay rights and the place of religion in public life. But the identification of religion and politics is far from exact, as the chart shows.

In any given year, for example, the political views of voters -- in the South as elsewhere -- are strongly influenced by economic conditions. Moreover, the South’s black and white Protestants share a similar religious orientation, but other factors lead voters in the two races to hold very different political views. And the share of a state’s population accounted for by African-Americans often results in making that state even more conservative, as whites react to large numbers of black residents by moving to the right on a number of political issues. This is likely as significant a factor in the Deep South’s conservatism as its strong religious orientation.

Similarly, Catholic voters in the South are influenced by various factors. While the South has relatively few Catholics compared to the rest of the nation, they account for a large share of the population of three Southern states: Louisiana 30%; Texas 26%; and Florida 24%. In Louisiana, Catholics help make the state one of the nation’s most conservative.

In Florida, Catholic voters are influenced by their origins: Cuban-Americans are mostly Republican; other Latinos are mostly Democratic; and native-born Catholics are divided, but leaning Republican. In Texas, Catholics who are Mexican Americans used to be split between the two parties, with a majority going one way or the other, depending on the election. More recently, as the GOP has taken a harder line on immigration reform, these voters have moved more into the Democratic column.

There are few Jews in the South compared to elsewhere in the nation. Gallup found 3.7% in Florida, but much smaller numbers in the rest of the region.

Finally, identifying as conservative does not necessarily equate with being a Republican. In the South, as in the rest of the nation -- actually, in 48 of 50 states -- conservatives outnumber liberals, although moderates complicate the picture significantly and recently they have been voting Democratic. Thus, despite conservatives’ dominant position, Democrats enjoy a decided advantage in party identification in most of the nation, including the South.  

 

 

   
   

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