Moral Power: How Public Opinion on Culture War Issues Shapes Partisan Predispositions and Religious Orientations
by Paul Goren, University of Minnesota & Christopher Chapp, St. Olaf College
Standard public opinion theories assume that most people base their positions on culture war issues on their religious beliefs, their religious commitments, and their partisan identities. For example, opposition to abortion and gay rights arises from beliefs in the infallibility of the Bible. By contrast, theories of issue-driven change propose that people modify their religious and partisan predispositions based on their views of these issues. To illustrate, abortion and gay rights opponents should become more religious and more Republican over time. We use data from four panel studies covering the period 1992-2012 to see how well these theories explain individual-level change in public opinion over time. Consistent with the conventional wisdom, individuals’ religious beliefs, religious commitments, and party loyalties shape their views of culture war issues. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, but consistent with our theory, opinions on culture war issues lead people to rethink and sometimes change their religious and partisan predispositions over time. These results imply culture war attitudes function as foundational elements in the political and religious belief systems in the minds of voters that match and sometimes exceed partisan and religious predispositions in terms of motivating power.