Seeming Religious May Affect How Trustworthy Candidates Appear

New research suggests the declaration of “in God we trust” may be modified to “we trust those who say they believe in God,” a finding that has special significance during an election year.

In fact, new research discovers talking directly or subtly about religion has become part of the American way in political campaigns.

The study suggests including religion in campaign speeches feeds a belief that those who are religious to some extent are trustworthy and viewed more favorably.

The findings, by Drs. Scott Clifford of the University of Houston Department of Political Science and Ben Gaskins of Lewis & Clark College appear in the journal American Politics Research.

“Their religious identification reflects a powerful, widespread, but often subtle and unconscious bias in American society against those who do not believe in God,” Clifford said. The researchers note that there has been only one openly atheist congressman (Pete Stark, D-Calif.), who lost in 2012.

Clifford and Gaskins said their study shows the challenges for non-religious candidates vying for public office.

Using national survey polling data, the researchers assessed the willingness of voters to support an atheist candidate, the favorability of candidate Hillary Clinton depending on whether she is viewed as religious, and the view that a religious candidate is trustworthy.

“Our findings suggest that not demonstrating religiousness is a significant roadblock for winning public office in the United States, and being perceived as religious increases the level of trust instilled in politicians by voters,” Clifford said.

“For Republicans (showing religiousness) will reinforce their existing support, but Democrats can expand appeal to moderates and conservatives with displays of religiousness.”

Findings included:

  • believing atheists are moral increases willingness to vote for such a candidate;
  • 27 percent of respondents said atheists cannot be moral;
  • majority said they would not vote for an atheist;
  • mormons were 28 percentage points less likely than those with no religious affiliation to vote for an atheist;
  • Jewish respondents were no more or less likely than those with no religious affiliation to vote for an atheist.

Additionally, resaerchers found that candidate Hillary Clinton was viewed more favorably and perceived to be more honest if she also was thought to be religious. That view was held most notably by non-liberals, who also indicated they were more likely to vote for her.

Source: University of Houston