Interests, values, and party identification between 1972 and 2006

Michael Hout, Andrew Greeley

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Conservative Protestants developed political clout just as two other major political trends emerged in the United States. The South realigned with the Republicans and party loyalty once again dictated the outcome of presidential elections. The conventional wisdom emphasizes values as the common thread in religious and regional realignment. Voters with strong religious identities and those in red states have distinct values that guide their political choices. They supposedly look past their personal and family concerns to express those values in voting and they identify with the party they vote with most of the time. By this reckoning, the Republican Party has grown since the 1980s and the Democrat Party has waned because Republican candidates have articulated the concerns of values voters better than Democrats have. The values thesis misses the role of growing inequality and partisanship based on pocketbook issues like tax rates and social spending. The either-or nature of the public discussion in electronic media and mass market nonfiction books more or less requires a onecause explanation. So, if values shape political trends, class issues must be beside the point. But in real life there are many paths to the voting booth. Some voters get there by consulting their values, but others go the way their family budgets (or stock portfolios) tell them to go. Income matters as well as values. Interests and values affect politics independently. The influence of one does not preclude the influence of the other. Let us suppose for the moment that society is composed of two value groups-traditional and progressive-And two economic classes-Affluent and poor. The traditional group and the affluent class tend to identify with the Republican Party and the progressive group and the poor class with the Democrats. Among voters who find their value group and economic class in agreement- Traditional affluent people and progressive poor people-politics is straightforward. For the others-traditional poor people and progressive affluent people-political signals are mixed. In the aggregate, we would expect strong majorities of the consistent combinations but close to even splits among those whose values contradict interests. That is, pretty much, what the evidence shows. In recent years, 70 percent of affluent abortion opponents, for example, identified with the Republican Party (versus 30 percent of the entire electorate), and 47 percent of poor abortion supporters identified with the Democratic Party (versus 34 percent).1 We focus in this chapter on voters' party identification (for voting results, see Greeley and Hout 2006). Party identification is an important factor in the political changes of the last thirty years because people have tended more and more to vote along party lines. We present evidence that trends that were important for voters in general were stronger among conservative Protestants. We find that both interests and values played significant roles in the growing Republican identification of conservative Protestants. Family income and attitudes about the economy, taxes, and government regulation sway the party preferences of conservative Protestants just as much as church attendance and attitudes about abortion and homosexuality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEvangelicals and Democracy in America
PublisherRussell Sage Foundation
Number of pages26
ISBN (Print)9780871540126
StatePublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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