Were the Pentecostals important to Howard?

Last week, commenter Krystian suggested that flat figures on party support by religious attendance suggested that groups like Hillsong had little influence on support for the Howard government. In the data I have, I can’t directly examine Hillsong, which is buried in the broader category of Pentecostal. But we can roughly estimate the electoral impact of Pentecostal churches.

As the figure below suggests, Pentecostal numbers have been increasing. Between 1996 and 2006, Pentecostal numbers increased by 26%, compared to a 10% increase in other religions. However, they are still a small proportion of all those declaring a religion in the census. In that decade, their market share went from 1.07% to 1.23%.

Source: ABS, census, various years.

However, they are a much larger share of those actually attending church. The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2007 and the 2001 National Church Life Survey suggest the Pentecostals make up 8-9% of churchgoers. About three-quarters of them go to church once a week or more.

The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes had 120 Pentecostals in the survey. In a hypothetical question on which party they would vote for the answers were 37% Coalition, 32% Family First, 20% Labor, and 3.5% Green. In the 2007 election, 60% of Family First preferences went to the Coalition. If the Pentecostals are typical of Family First voters, that would make their effective Coalition vote 56%.

Assuming that religion was a major factor in the political views of Pentecostals, and that they otherwise would have otherwise have had the national average of about 42% vote for the Coalition, I estimate they were worth about 20,000 extra votes for Howard in 2007 (after deducting children from the Pentecostal census total). In a tight election, 20,000 votes could be very handy. But they were hardly worth the political attention they received. Krystian’s assessment was correct.

16 thoughts on “Were the Pentecostals important to Howard?

  1. Thanks for the analysis Andrew! Yeah I would expect that 20,000 voters, depending on how they are distributed across electorates, would have relatively little impact. It may have been a factor in Greenway in 2004, given the tight margin there but that is one seat. I think it’s a very different situation in Australia than the southern states of the US.


  2. I think the perception is that particular religious groups will vote as a block and do whatever their leaders tell them. This is not usually the case in Australia.

    The difference in the US is that the Republicans keep pushing the “values” buttons of Abortion, Gay Marriage, School Prayer, etc… None of these issues are live in Australia because there has been no change on them. In the US they are politically live, but haven’t changed in the last 30 years and are unlikely to change soon.


  3. The Hillsongers aren’t evenly distributed. They don’t live in Brunswick, St Kilda, Yarraville or Richmond – they live in the outer burbs and especially in the growth areas. The areas where seats get redistributed and swings matter.

    From memory in genral religiousity (however measured) is higher in the new growth areas for both muslim and christian.


  4. “What power are you referring to Conrad?”
    The power to be influential in a tight election (as noted) or the power to get Steve Fielding or the like in (and perhaps the power to work as a lobby group).


  5. I’d agree with the implicit assumption behind James’ question -these numbers are evidence that the Pentecostals don’t really have much bargaining power. The total number of votes is not high, and I am not aware of evidence that the Pentecostal churches can (or try to) impose political discipline on their congregations. To the extent that they want otherwise unpopular policies, no party would risk losing larger numbers of other votes to gain the small numbers the Pentectostals might be able to deliver.

    Steve Fielding was a result of unlikely-to-be-repeated preference deals, and his career shows the 2004 panic about fundamentalism was unwarranted. He is a middle-of-the-road muddle-head, not a threat to the secular state or personal liberties.


  6. And if you want to be disturbed about a bunch of extreme loonies holding too much power, aren’t the Greens the bigger concern?


  7. “And if you want to be disturbed about a bunch of extreme loonies holding too much power, aren’t the Greens the bigger concern?”
    No, because the Greens are socially liberal, so they won’t interfere with me there, and no-one will listen to their economic policies anyway (and they almost never get blocked in any case). This is a bit like the Democrats used to be — essentially harmless. Alternatively, if the Pentecostals are anything like the American Christian Right (or Steve Fielding), then they’re probably a bunch of social ultra-conservatives who would want to interfere with things I (or my friends) do, think having wars in funny places I can’t point to on a map is a good idea, and think the most important issue at election time is whether gay people can get married.


  8. Conrad – I really don’t think a small number of religious enthusiasts threaten anyone’s freedoms other than their own. Parts of the soft left got themselves into a semi-hysterical state in the mid-2000s over religion, but the evidence base for their fears is very thin.


  9. AN: I’m not worried about them — alternatively, if their numbers kept on increasing rapidly (say to 500,000), and they vote as a block, they really would have some power.
    CL: Looks like you win the Godwin’s law challenge.


  10. Godwin’s Law doesn’t apply when he he really is a Nazi.

    However, Godwin’s Law itself can be abused, as a distraction, diversion or even censorship, that fallaciously miscasts an opponent’s argument as hyperbole, especially if the comparisons made by the argument are actually appropriate. A 2005 Reason magazine article argued that Godwin’s Law is often misused to ridicule even valid comparisons.

    Looks like you’ve won the bogus use of Godwin’s Law challenge.

    Here’s another liberal in the news:

    Human rights analyst suspended over Nazi memorabilia


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