Why, then, does religiosity relate to conservatism at all? One possibility is that there is some type of organic connection between being a religious person and being a conservative person. Perhaps the traits, moral standards and ways of thinking that characterize religious people also naturally lead them to prefer conservative social outcomes and policies. Another possibility, however, is that this relation really has to do with the messages from political and religious discourse, and how some people respond to these messages.
Two pieces of evidence support this latter explanation…
The evidence comes from a new paper we have out in Political Psychology. Here’s the abstract:
Some argue that there is an organic connection between being religious and being politically conservative. We evaluate an alternative thesis that the relation between religiosity and political conservatism largely results from engagement with political discourse that indicates that these characteristics go together. In a combined sample of national survey respondents from 1996-2008, religiosity was associated with conservative positions on a wide range of attitudes and values among the highly politically engaged, but this association was generally weaker or nonexistent among those less engaged with politics. The specific political characteristics for which this pattern existed varied across ethno-religious groups. These results suggest that whether religiosity translates into political conservatism depends to an important degree on level of engagement with political discourse.
Malka, A., Lelkes, Y., Srivastava, S., Cohen, A. B., & Miller, D. T. (2012). The association of religiosity and political conservatism: The role of political engagement. Political Psychology, 33, 275-299.