Religious Rhetoric, Public Opinion, and Economic Policy


Hey everyone!

Yes– I know. A little late to (finally) get started on blogging about my Monroe Project… HOWEVER, better late than never, right? Anyways, given the title of the post and my project, I bet you all are SO EXCITED to hear about the fascinating research I’m doing this summer.. okay, okay, I understand if you aren’t, but I feel as though I owe it to you all to give you some background on what I’m looking at.

Basically, I’m performing an experiment to examine the effect that religious rhetoric and language-framing has on public opinion regarding economic policy– more specifically, the issue of income tax reductions. This project appeals to me in many ways; primarily, though, I’m interested in the religious aspect.

I’m not a very religious person. Actually, maybe it would be more accurate to say that I’m not exactly a spiritual person. That said, I hold a relatively in-depth interest in the many ways in which religion intersects with American politics and American political society. Past studies and experiments regarding religious rhetoric have been performed in other areas of the political sphere– namely, abortion policy, civil rights, and anything involving social policy in general. What has not been studied, however, is the potential influence that religious rhetoric has on economic/fiscal policy– hence, my research project.

To conduct the research, I have two versions of a survey, and will distribute/collect data from 100 of each version. The control version features a passage from President Bush’s 2001 State of the Union speech that proposes a reduction in income tax and is free of religious rhetoric. For the treatment survey, I took the same passage and “spiced it up” with what can be considered religious rhetoric– basically, I slipped in phrases such as “moral,” “God,” and a saying or two in the form of “God helps those who help themselves.” The questions featured on both versions of the survey are identical, and are meant to provide relatively reliable data for the purpose of answering the following questions:

1) Are those participants primed with religious rhetoric more or less likely to support a reduction in income taxes, or does the priming seem to make little to no difference at all?
2) Secondly, are those who denote themselves as being more religious more susceptible to the religious priming than others, and thus more likely to respond favorably to the concept of a reduction in income tax after reading the passage including religious rhetoric?
3) Does the level of education of the participant have an effect on their susceptibility to the religious priming of the tax cut policy?

Long story short, it should be interesting to see what I find.. if anything, that is. I’ll remain hopeful.

Another blog post soon!

–Kirstie Brenson


  1. Adam Lerner says:

    Kirstie! This is really exciting! Way to carve out a niche with respect to finding a potential relationship between such disparate things as religious view and economic policy! Very cool!

    So- for some questions. How are you selecting your subjects? How are you going to make sure the participants don’t already have deeply-entrenched economic opinions that no amount of rhetoric (of any kind) could budge? Or are your questions going to separate the questions of religion and economics and see if there’s some sort of correlation between them?

    Are you going to include any background research like looking at studies that may correlate views on religion to economic policy (or, more generally, political party)? How about looking at the history of religious rhetoric in speeches addressing economics?

    Also, it’s funny that you posted this when you did, because yesterday I ran across this fascinating article that may or may not be useful to you:

    I’m excited to hear what your results show!

  2. Andrew Bessler says:

    This sounds really cool Kirstie–I can’t wait to find out what you come up with.

    The one question I have for you is this: since our current two-party system features one party that is self-described as much more religious than the other, and both parties have relatively disparate views on economics, how are you controlling for the crossover effect of party affiliation? That is, since a substantial segment of the population affiliates with one party or the other, how do you determine whether it is the religious rhetoric affecting the economic views, or the statistical correlation between religiosity and party affiliation?

  3. memcnabb says:

    Kirstie, this sounds very interesting. I am excited to see your results.

    In your blog, you state that you are collecting results from 100 of the original and the one containing religious rhetoric. My question then is are you using a random sample of people? If so do you intend to survey them about personal information in order to determine if any discrepancies in opinion might have other factors? Or have you chosen participants from a very narrow pool of people to eliminate other influences?