Most Australians believe in God, but is that a politically significant fact?
Earlier in the year, I argued that while churchgoers have a consistent bias towards Coalition voting, a dwindling number of Australians were attending church. I was sceptical of the electoral impact of churches like Hillsong.
The Age this morning draws attention to an Australian Journal of Political Science article by University of Sydney academic Rodney Smith which argues more generally against the electoral influence of the churches, at least for the 2007 election.
Smith examined electoral statements from religious groups and found considerable variety in issues covered and perspectives taken. They tend to not specifically recommend a vote, though sometimes a preferred choice is implied. He notes that many church leaders would want to avoid alienating their supporters who do not share their political views. This is an important point I think. Religions are in a spiritual buyer’s market for both believers and attenders, which will tend to put a constraint on their politicking.
Smith also looks at electoral results, showing neither religiously-aligned parties nor campaigns did particularly well in 2007. Labor was able to win without offering them anything.
While Smith’s article is well-researched on its key contentions and offers a sensible analysis, it is a pity that it repeats previous errors by academics concerning think-tanks and religion. For example:
…a range of inter-connected para-church groups such as the National Assembly of Christian Leaders promote aspects of the Christian Right agenda, as do religiously-oriented units within secular rightwing think tanks such as the Centre for Independent Studies (Maddox 2005,Chapters 8 and 10; Smith and Marden 2008, 709–13).
The Government’s Workchoices legislation represented precisely the sort of market deregulation promoted by key Religious Right think tanks.
Let’s be clear about what happened here. For a couple of years around the turn of the century, the CIS employed Sam Gregg to run a Religion and the Free Society program. The Acton Lecture is the only continuing element of that program. The intention of the program was never to promote a ‘Christian Right’ agenda. Rather, it was intended to promote classical liberal ideas among religious people in general and clergy in particular, who we thought were rather too disposed to statist political views. There are no ‘Religious Right’ think-tanks.