Which party do churchgoers support?

People who regularly attend church (or synagogue, mosque etc) are likely to be more influenced by religion than those with only a nominal religious affiliation. On the theory that most religions tend towards cultural conservatism, I’d expect frequent churchgoers to be more likely to support the Coalition than Labor.

The figure below, which looks at people who say they attend a religious service once a week or more, confirms this hypothesis. The more interesting aspect of it is that there appears to be almost no trend in this over 40 years.

Sources: 1967, 1979, Australian National Political Attitudes Survey; 1990-2007 Australian Election Survey.

If we put the 1967 Labor result down to the complexity of dealing with the DLP in that year (broken down results: 30% Labor, 9% DLP), and put the 1990 Coalition result down to some rogue factors, we have virtually flat lines over four decades.

Given all that’s been going on in changing religious observance, along with wider social and political changes, this aspect of religion and politics seems extraordinarily stable.

12 thoughts on “Which party do churchgoers support?

  1. Andrew, what percentage of the religious say they attend once a week?

    As you say its interesting, even surprising, to see a trend that is so flat over 40 years given the demographic changes, etc…


  2. Interestingly, it would also indicate that the effect of an increase in evangelical Christian Churches, such as Hillsong Church, has had little impact on Coalition support relative to Labor support.


  3. M – I’ll get the figures, but tight on time this weekend.

    Krystian – Hillsong and other evangelical churches are still fairly small in total numbers compared to the mainstream religions.


  4. Depends what you mean by ‘evangelical’: I believe the term originally described a trend within Anglicanism, and many members of mainstream protestant denominations will self-identify that way (or at least, share core evangelical beliefs).

    Charismatic megachurches are another kettle of fish entirely.


  5. Krystian – I will check the numbers when back in Melbourne, but I don’t think there was ever much evidence for it. A combination of Hillsong’s effective marketing and paranoia about religious influence in politics.

    Leon – Yes, I should have chosen better terminology.


  6. I agree that there is widespread Catholic disobedience on sexual matters.

    This simply means that Catholics are sinners – which they always have been. They’re just as “disobedient” on the Church’s social teachings regarding materialism, money, justice etc. One could even argue that the bourgeoisification of Catholics following the success of the decades-long upward mobility project of Catholic schools has made them more “disobedient” regarding lucre than sex.

    The survey is interesting. One would have expected a balancing out of political affiliation now that the old Irish/protestant class divisions have disappeared. The principal reason for the strong support for Labor – and this probably holds true for Catholics in the US with respect to the Democrats – is that over the past 40 years the Church’s catechesis and cultural agenda has waded into and sought to sacralise formerly secular theatres of contention: industrial relations, the environment, the politics of poverty (not merely its amelioration), race and gender questions etc. One could even say that these subjects have come to dominate ecclesiastical contributions to discourse in the public square.

    Naturally, bourgeoisified Catholics have come to see these modern emphases as being reflected in the rhetoric and aspirations (if not the reality) of modern “social democrat” parties. From a Catholic point of view, this is certainly wrongheaded – as the Church itself believes and insists that these supposed goods cannot replace – but must co-exist with (and indeed are meant to compliment) – the Church’s holistic worldview.

    Pollsters also tend to set a very low bar, definitionally, for making claims about what Catholics are alleged to believe. Nominal Catholics who have no meaningful association with the Church and who do not even attend Church are counted as Catholics on the narrowest of baptismal bases. I wouldn’t be surprised if a survey of those who attend Mass found a somewhat more balanced split between ALP and Coalition support.


  7. Andrew,
    I wonder if the DLP block really warrants being bracketed with Labor throughout the whole period.
    It was one of the charges levelled by old “liberal Catholics” like Max Charlesworth against Santamaria’s Movement and the DLP that they provided a vehicle through which upwardly mobile Catholics could switch their allegiance from Labor to Coalition. The argument is dubious (it depends on blurring the distinction between causes and consequences) but up until 1972, the preference flows were not.


  8. Alan – You are right that it would not warrant such inclusion, but in the surveys I have it disappears into the ‘other party’ category after the 1960s, so I have only combined for 1967. While I am sure there were DLP voters who did not really have a Labor/social democrat worldview, on balance I decided that leaving them out of the labor churchgoers was more misleading than putting them in.


  9. It’d be nice if you could get rid of the major confounding variable here. Churchgoers tend to be old. Old people tend to be conservative. So you can’t claim that it’s churchgoing that’s causing the conservatism.


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