Skip to main content

A Two-edged Sword: The Differential Effect of Religious Belief and Religious Social Context on Attitudes towards Democracy

Abstract

Different components of the religious experience have differing effects on attitudes towards democracy. Using heteroskedastic maximum likelihood models and data from the fourth wave of the World Values Survey for 45 democratic countries, we show that as a personal belief system, religiosity contrasts with democratic principles, generating opposition to democracy while increasing ambivalence towards democratic principles among religious people. Nevertheless, at the group level, religion also serves as a social institution which increases the homogeneity of one’s social network, leading to lower ambivalence, and makes for an active minority group which benefits from the democratic framework, consequently increasing support overall for a democratic regime. This double-edged sword effect explains the mixed results currently found in the literature on religiosity and democracy, and clearly illustrates the multidimensionality of religiosity.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. 1.

    The final countries included in the analysis and their Freedom House scores are: Austria (1), Canada (1), Denmark (1), Finland (1), Iceland (1), Ireland (1), Luxembourg (1), Malta (1), Netherlands (1), United States (1), Belgium (1.5), Czech Republic (1.5), Estonia (1.5), France (1.5), Germany (1.5), Great Britain (1.5), Hungary (1.5), Italy (1.5), Japan (1.5), Latvia (1.5), Lithuania (1.5), Poland (1.5), Slovakia (1.5), South Africa (1.5), Spain (1.5), Bulgaria (2), Chile (2), Croatia (2), Greece (2), Peru (2), Romania (2), India (2.5), Mexico (2.5), Philippines (2.5), Argentina (3), Republic of Moldova (3), Serbia (3), Montenegro (3), Albania (3.5), Bangladesh (3.5), Macedonia (4), Ukraine (4), Tanzania (4), Russian Federation (5), Uganda (5).

  2. 2.

    Since the measure is composed of two items, which does not allow for the utilization of CFA, we use a summary index.

  3. 3.

    Unfortunately, the WVS questionnaire does not include many items that could be used as anchors for other scales.

  4. 4.

    Missing values in the dataset lead to a serious decline in the number of observations available due to listwise deletion. To overcome such problems, for measures derived from confirmatory factor analysis, we use the MPLUS software’s missing command, which uses full information of maximum likelihood from all available data unless all items in the factor model are missing.

  5. 5.

    Independent Christianity may mean different things in different contexts depending on the broader institutional arrangements. Although we coded “Christians” (14 observations from Canada only) as belonging to the Catholic tradition, Manza and Brooks (1997) code unaffiliated Christians in the “Protestant” category, while Mueller (2009) codes them into the "other" category (coding scheme obtained via personal communication, December, 2010). However, because the number of observations for "Christian" identifiers in our dataset is small, recoding them into an "other/independent" category or dropping them from the analysis leads to no substantive changes in our results.

  6. 6.

    The average of the score in our dataset is 1.22, and the range is 1–5.5. Since non-democratic countries were not considered in our analysis, the average is lower than the world average of 3.4.

  7. 7.

    We reran the models using binary measures that specify a country’s dominant religious tradition (as in Norris and Inglehart 2004) rather than the reported percentage of each denomination (as in Barro and McCleary 2003a, b, and Durlauf et al. 2005). The results are robust to this alteration in measure.

  8. 8.

    Effect sizes are comparable, as all individual level variables are coded to vary 0–1, with the exception of age, measured in years (see frequencies table in the appendix).

  9. 9.

    Note that we took the logs in order to constrain the variance to positive values; thus changes in the independent variables predict changes in the logs of the variance.

  10. 10.

    Each model included one religious tradition at a time such that the baseline is all others. For example, the multilevel model that tests for the effect of being a Protestant on support for democracy conditional on the dominance of Protestant tradition in a country is: The multilevel model for attitudes towards democracy is \( {\text{Y}}_{\text{ij}} = \beta_{{0{\text{j}}}} + \beta_{{ 1 {\text{j}}}} \times {\text{X}}_{{ 1 {\text{ij}}}} + \beta_{{2{\text{j}}}} \times {\text{X2}}_{\text{j}} + \sum\nolimits_{q = 3}^{p} {\beta {\text{qj}} + \varepsilon_{\text{ij}} ;} \) where Yij is support for democracy for individual i country j, β0j is the country-level intercept, X1ij Protestant dummy for individual i in country j, X2j is percent Protestant in country j, Since we control for the effect of Protestant identification on support for democracy as Protestantism becomes more dominant, the slope of the Protestant identification (β1j) variable is defined by the equation: β1j = γ10 + γ11 × X2j + δ1j. In alternative models, we also included the “no denomination” dummy, so that the baseline is “all other identifiers”, which did not lead to substantive changes in the results.

  11. 11.

    In fact, a number of predominantly Orthodox countries are also characterized by restricted religious freedoms and by high levels of regulation of religious activity.

  12. 12.

    The multilevel model for attitudes towards democracy is \( {\text{Y}}_{\text{ij}} = \beta_{{0{\text{j}}}} + \beta_{{ 1 {\text{j}}}} \times {\text{X}}_{{ 1 {\text{ij}}}} + \beta_{{2{\text{j}}}} \times {\text{X2}}_{\text{j}} + \beta_{{3{\text{j}}}} \times {\text{X3}}_{\text{j}} \sum\nolimits_{q = 4}^{p} {\beta {\text{qj}} \times {\text{X}}_{\text{qij}} + \varepsilon_{\text{ij}} ;} \) where Yij is support for democracy for individual i country j, β0j is the country-level intercept, X1ij Orthodox dummy for individual i in country j, X2j is percent Orthodox in country j, X3j is religious freedom index value for country j. Since we are interested in the level of support of Orthodox identifiers conditional on the level of religious freedoms in countries as percent orthodox increases, the slope of Orthodox identification β1j is random and is defined by the equation: β1j = γ10 + γ11 × X2j + γ12 × X3j + γ13 × X2j × X3j + δ1j.

References

  1. Aaron, S. J. (2009). Emulating Azariah: Evangelicals and social change in the Dangs. In D. H. Lumsdaine (Ed.), Evangelical christianity and democracy in Asia (pp. 83–131). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

  2. Adorno, T. W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D. J., & Sanford, N. R. (1950). The authoritarian personality. New York: Harper and Row.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Altemeyer, R. (1996). The authoritarian specter. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Alvarez, M. R., & Brehm, J. (1995). American ambivalence toward abortion policy: Development of a heteroskedastic probit model of competing values. American Journal of Political Science, 39(4), 1055–1082.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Alvarez, M. R., & Brehm, J. (1997). Are Americans ambivalent towards racial policies? American Journal of Political Science, 92(2), 345–374.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Alvarez, M. R., & Brehm, J. (2002). Hard choices. Easy Answers. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Anderson, J. (2004). Does God matter, and if so, whose God? Religion and democratization. Democratization, 11(4), 197–217.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Barnea, M. F., & Schwartz, S. H. (1998). Values and voting. Political Psychology, 19(1), 17–40.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Barro, R. J., & McCleary, R. M. (2003a). Religion and economic growth across countries. American Sociological Review, 68(5), 760–781.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Barro, R. J., & McCleary, R. M. (2003b). International determinants of religiosity. NBER Working Paper No. w10147.

  11. Basinger, S. J., & Lavine, H. (2005). Ambivalence, information, and electoral choice. American Political Science Review, 99(2), 169–184.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Beit-Hallahmi, B., & Argyle, M. (1997). The psychology of religious behavior. Belief, and experience. London and New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Ben-Nun Bloom, P., Zemach, M., & Arian, A. (2011). Religiosity and democratic performance evaluation. Democratization, 18(1), 25–51.

  14. Bollen, K. A., & Jackman, R.W. (1985). Economic and noneconomic determinants of political democracy in the 1960s. Research in Political Sociology, 1(1), 27–48.

  15. Bratton, M. (2003). Briefing: Islam, democracy and public opinion in Africa. African Affairs, 102(408), 493–501.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Bratton, M., & Mattes, R. (2001). Support for democracy in Africa: Intrinsic or instrumental? British Journal of Political Science, 31(3), 447–474.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Bromley, S. (1997). Middle East exceptionalism: Myth or reality? In D. Potter, D. Goldblatt, M. Kiloh, & P. Lewis (Eds.), Democratization (pp. 321–344). Cambridge: Polity.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Burris, C. T., & Tarpley, W. R. (1998). Religion as being: Preliminary validation of the Immanence Scale. Journal of Research in Personality, 32(1), 55–79.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Canetti-Nisim, D. (2004). The effect of religiosity on endorsement of democratic values: The mediating influence of authoritarianism. Political Behavior, 26(4), 377–398.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Chaibong, H. (2004). The ironies of Confucianism. Journal of Democracy, 15(3), 93–107.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Dekker, P., & Halman, L. (2003). The values of volunteering: Cross-cultural perspectives. New York: Kluwer Academic Plenum Publishers.

  22. Djupe, P. A., & Gilbert, C. G. (2006). The resourceful believer: Generating civic skills in church. The Journal of Politics, 68(1), 116–127.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Durlauf, S. N., Kourtellos, A., & Tan, C. M. (2005). How robust are the linkages between religiosity and economic growth? Tufts University Discussion Paper Series.

  24. Eisenstein, M. A. (2006). Rethinking the relationship between religion and political tolerance in the US. Political Behavior, 28(4), 327–348.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Fahlbusch, E., Lochman, M., Jan, B., William, G., Barret, D. B., & Mbiti, J. (2005). The encyclopedia of Christianity. Winona Lake, IN: Eerdmans.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Feldman, S. (1995). Answering survey questions: The measurement and meaning of public opinion. In M. Lodge & K. M. McGraw (Eds.), Political judgment: Structure and process (pp. 249–271). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Feldman, S. (2003). Enforcing social conformity. Political Psychology, 24(1), 41–74.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Feldman, S., & Zaller, J. R. (1992). The political culture of ambivalence: Ideological responses to the welfare state. American Journal of Political Science, 36(1), 268–307.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Fernandes, S. (2009). Ethnicity, civil society, and the church: The politics of evangelical Christianity in northeast India. In D. H. Lumsdaine (Ed.), Evangelical Christianity and democracy in Asia (pp. 131–155). New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7(2), 117–140.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Filali-Ansary, A. (1999). Muslims and democracy. Journal of Democracy, 10(3), 18–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Franklin, C. (1991). Eschewing obfuscation? Campaigns and the perception of U.S. Senate candidates. American Political Science Review, 85(4), 1193–1214.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Fukuyama, F. (1992). The end of history and the last man. New York: Avon.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Gibson, J. L. (1992). The political consequences of intolerance: cultural conformity and political freedom. American Political Science Review, 86(2), 338–356.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Gifford, P. (2008). Evangelical Christianity and democracy in Africa: A response. In T. O. Ranger (Ed.), Evangelical Christianity and democracy in Africa (pp. 225–230). New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Gilbert, C. P. (1993). The impact of Churches on political behavior: An empirical study. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Hinnells, J. R. (1997). A new handbook of living religions. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Huckfeldt, R., Mendez, J. M., & Osborn, T. (2004). Disagreement, ambivalence, and engagement: The political consequences of heterogeneous networks. Political Psychology, 25(1), 65–95.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Hunsberger, B. (1995). Religion and prejudice: the role of religious fundamentalism, quest and right-wing authoritarianism. Journal of Social Issues, 51(2), 113–129.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Huntington, S. P. (1996). The clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order. New York: Simon and Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Inglehart, R., & Welzel, C. (2005). Modernization, cultural change, and democracy: The human development sequence. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Jelen, T. G. (1992). Political Christianity: A contextual analysis. American Journal of Political Science, 36(3), 692–714.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Jelen, T. G., & Chandler, M. A. (1996). Communalism, associationalism, and the politics of lifestyle. Review of Religious Research, 38(2), 142–158.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Jelen, T. G., & Wilcox, C. (2002). Religion and politics in comparative perspective: The one the few, and the many. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Karpov, V. (2002). Tolerance in the United States and Poland. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41(2), 267–288.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Kedourie, E. (1994). Democracy and Arab political culture. London: Frank Cass.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Kellstedt, L. A., Green, J. C., Guth, J. L., & Smidt, C. E. (1997). Is there a culture war? Religion and the 1996 election. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, August 28–31. DC: Washington.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Lau, S. (1989). Religious schema and values. International Journal of Psychology, 24(2), 137–156.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Lavine, H. (2001). The electoral consequences of ambivalence toward presidential candidates. American Journal of Political Science, 45(4), 915–929.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Layman, G. C. (1997). Religion, political behavior in the United States: The impact of beliefs, affiliations, commitment from 1980 to 1994. Public Opinion Quarterly, 61(2), 288–316.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Leege, D. C. (1988). Catholics and the civic order: parish participation, politics, and civic participation. Review of Politics, 50(4), 704–736.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Lipset, S. M. (1959). Some social requisites of democracy: Economic development and political legitimacy. American Political Science Review, 53(1), 69–105.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Lipset, S. M. (1981). Political man: The social basis of politics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Lumsdaine, D. H. (2009). Evangelical Christianity and democracy in Asia. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  55. Manza, J., & Brooks, C. (1997). The religious factor in U.S. presidential elections, 1960–1992. American Journal of Sociology, 103, 38–81.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Marsh, C. (2005). Orthodox Christianity, civil society, and Russian democracy. Demokratizatsiya, 13(3), 449–462.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Mehta, P. B. (2004). Hinduism and self-rule. Journal of Democracy, 15(3), 108–121.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Meyer, K., Tope, D., & Price, A. M. (2008). Religion and support for democracy: A cross-national examination. Sociological Spectrum, 28(5), 625–653.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Mueller, T. (2009). Religiosity and attitudes towards the involvement of religious leaders in politics: A multilevel analysis of 55 societies. World Values Research, 2(1), 1–29.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Muller, E. N., & Seligson, M. A. (1994). Civic culture and democracy: The question of causal relationships. The American Political Science Review, 88(3), 635–652.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Mutz, D. C. (2002). The consequences of cross-cutting networks for political participation. American Journal of Political Science, 46(4), 838–855.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Mutz, D. C., & Mondak, J. J. (2006). The workplace as a context for cross-cutting political discourse. The Journal of Politics, 68(1), 140–155.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Norris, P. (2002). Democratic phoenix: Reinventing political activism. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  64. Norris, P., & Inglehart, R. (2004). Sacred and secular: Religion and politics worldwide. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  65. Philpott, D. (2004). The Catholic wave. Journal of Democracy, 15(2), 32–46.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone. New York: Simon and Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  67. Radu, M. (1998). The burden of Eastern Orthodoxy. Orbis, 42(2), 283–300.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Ranger, T. O. (2008). Evangelical Christianity and Democracy in Africa. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Reise, S. P., Widaman, K. F., & Pugh, R. H. (1993). Confirmatory factor analysis and item response theory: Two approaches for exploring measurement invariance. Psychological Bulletin, 114(3), 552–566.

    Google Scholar 

  70. Roccas, S., & Schwartz, S. S. (1997). Church-state relations and the associations of religiosity with values: A study of Catholics in six countries. Cross-Cultural Research, 31, 356–375.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Rokeach, M. (1969). Value systems and religion. Review of Religious Research, 11(1), 2–23.

    Google Scholar 

  72. Rosema, M. (2007). Low turnout: Threat to democracy or blessing in disguise? Consequences of citizen’s varying tendencies to vote. Electoral Studies, 26(3), 612–623.

    Google Scholar 

  73. Rudolph, T. J. (2005). Group attachment and the reduction of value-driven ambivalence. Political Psychology, 26(6), 905–928.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  74. Saroglou, V., Delpierre, V., & Dernelle, R. (2004). Values and religiosity: A meta-analysis of studies using Schwartz’s model. Personality and Individual Differences, 37(4), 721–734.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  75. Scheufele, D. A., Nisbet, M. C., Brossard, D., & Nisbet, E. C. (2004). Social structure and citizenship: Examining the impacts of social setting, network heterogeneity, and informational variables on political participation. Political Communication, 21(3), 315–338.

    Google Scholar 

  76. Schnell, F. (1993). The foundation of abortion attitudes: The role of values and value conflict. In M. L. Coggin (Ed.), Understanding the new politics of abortion. Newbury Park: Sage.

  77. Schwartz, S. H. (1992). Universals in the content and structure of values: Theoretical advances and empirical tests in 20 countries. In M. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 25). New York: Academic Press.

  78. Schwartz, S. H., & Huismans, S. (1995). Value priorities and religiosity in four Western religions. Social Psychology Quarterly, 58(1), 88–107.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  79. Schwartz, S. H., & Sagie, G. (2000). Value consensus and importance: A cross-national study. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 31(4), 465–497.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  80. Shah, T. S. (2004). The Bible and the ballot box: Evangelicals and democracy in the “Global South”. SAIS Review, 24(2), 117–132.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  81. Sniderman, P. M., Fletcher, J. F., Russell, P. H., & Tetlock, P. E. (1996). The clash of rights: Liberty, equality, and legitimacy in a pluralist democracy. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  82. Steenbergen, M. R., & Brewer, P. R. (2004). The not-so-ambivalent public: Policy attitudes in the political culture of ambivalence. In W. E. Saris & P. M. Sniderman (Eds.), Studies in public opinion: Attitudes, non-attitudes, measurement error, and change (pp. 93–129). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  83. Steenbergen, M. R., & Jones, B. (2001). Modeling multilevel data structures. American Journal of Political Science, 46(1), 218–237.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  84. Tessler, M. (2002). Do Islamic orientations influence attitudes toward democracy in the Arab world? Evidence from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Algeria. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 43(3–5), 229–249.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  85. Van de Vijver, F. J. R. (2003). Bias and equivalence: Cross-cultural perspectives. In J. A. Harkness, F. J. R. Van de Vijver, & P. P. Mohler (Eds.), Cross-cultural survey methods (pp. 143–155). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

  86. Van de Vijver, F., & Leung, K. (1997). Methods and data analysis for cross-cultural research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

  87. Verba, S., Schlozman, K. L., & Brady, H. (1995). Voice and equality: Civic voluntarism in American politics. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  88. Visser, P. S., & Mirabile, R. R. (2004). Attitudes in the social context: The impact of social network composition on individual-level attitude strength. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87(6), 779–795.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  89. Wald, K. D. (2003). Religion and politics in the United States. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

    Google Scholar 

  90. Wald, K. D., Owen, D. E., & Hill, S. S. (1988). Churches as political communities. American Political Science Review, 82(3), 531–548.

    Google Scholar 

  91. Wald, K. D., Owen, D. E., & Hill, S. S. (1990). Political cohesion in churches. The Journal of Politics, 52(2), 197–215.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  92. Wald, K. D., & Smidt, C. E. (1993). Measurement strategies in the study of religion and politics. In D. C. Leege & L. A. Kellstedt (Eds.), Rediscovering the religious factor in American politics (pp. 26–52). New York: M.E. Sharpe.

    Google Scholar 

  93. Weightman, S. (1997). Hinduism. In J. R. Hinnels (Ed.), A new handbook of living religions (pp. 191–255). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  94. Widgery, A. G. (1936). Living religions and modern thought. New York: Round Table Press.

    Google Scholar 

  95. Zaller, J. R. (1992). The nature and origins of mass opinion. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  96. Zaller, J. R., & Feldman, S. (1992). A simple theory of the survey response: Answering questions versus revealing preferences. American Journal of Political Science, 36(3), 579–616.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgment

We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers and the editors for their insightful readings and constructive suggestions. All remaining errors are our own.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Pazit Ben-Nun Bloom.

Appendix

Appendix

See Appendix Tables 3, 4.

Table 3 Summary statistics by religious affiliation and country
Table 4 Key summary statistics by country

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Ben-Nun Bloom, P., Arikan, G. A Two-edged Sword: The Differential Effect of Religious Belief and Religious Social Context on Attitudes towards Democracy. Polit Behav 34, 249–276 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-011-9157-x

Download citation

Keywords

  • Religious belief
  • Religious behavior
  • Democratic attitudes
  • Ambivalence
  • World Values Survey
  • Heteroskedastic maximum likelihood models