Honors Theses

Date of Award

Spring 5-1-2020

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis

Department

Political Science

First Advisor

Julie Wronski

Second Advisor

Jonathan Klingler

Third Advisor

Conor Dowling

Relational Format

Dissertation/Thesis

Abstract

Identity is one of the key drivers of American political behavior. Among these identities, be it partisan, ethnic, class, etc., religious identity has been more or less assumed to be one of the more powerful identities. I set out to measure how the threat of Christianity’s decline in the United States impacts the salience of religious identity and feelings towards religion-adjacent policies. Building off of an experimental design from Major et al (2016), I hypothesized that when exposed to data showing the decline of religiosity in the United States, subjects would demonstrate both a stronger religious identity and more conservative positions on religion-adjacent policy. Utilizing survey data from the University of Mississippi undergraduate population, I found that exposure to the information that religiosity in America is declining created no statistically significant alteration in personal feelings towards the importance of religion in their life or on their opinions on American domestic policy that relates to religion. This is in comparison to the original experiment, which measured ethnic demographic threat. Their results showed that threat exposure increased ethnic salience and conservative political policy preferences. My experiment showed no statistically significant difference between the religious identification or policy preferences of those exposed to religious demographic threat.

That said, I found multiple pieces of data which open paths to future research that will allow us to better understand the importance of religion as an identity in American political life. Primarily, I find that gender, being from a rural place, and identifying as a Southerner all have impacts on how you respond to religious threat. I find that although there is usually a correlation between religious identification and conservative policy beliefs, there are some exceptions that can be pursued in future experiments to further flesh out the unexpected results from my experiment.

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