Religion in American politics -marketing?
October 3, 2006 2:35 PM   Subscribe

To what extent do political organisations in the US use religious issues to manipulate the electorate? Ideas for political research -US perspective please!

I'm considering doing an extended piece of political research on Political parties and their marketing from a historical perspective (although any present day stuff could be useful).

At this stage I would like to focus on American politics as I would like to focus (at least in part) with the issue of religion in politics...and how political organisations use religious issues to manipulate the electorate.

Of course I'm not asking mefi to write my research proposal (I've got plenty of ideas of my own) but I would like an American perspective (I'm a British student). What should I focus on? What examples?

Possible ideas

the Clinton/ Bush election of the early 90s...'highjacked' by the the religious right etc?

The edition of God we trust on currency during the cold war?

Other examples?

I am very open at this stage but would like to concentrate on American politics as religious issues and debate seem much more charged when compared with the relatively secular arena of British politics.
posted by Flamingoroad to Law & Government (17 answers total)
You may find the new book The Moral Rhetoric of American Presidents interesting and useful. The author may also be able to suggest further reading or avenues of research on this topic.

Disclaimer: I know the author, but I would recommend the book even if I didn't!
posted by arco at 2:45 PM on October 3, 2006

Even today, the use of religious rhetoric by the candidates themselves if fairly subdued--more covert than overt.

Your reference to the slogan on the currency makes me think that the early Cold War (1945-60 or so) might be a fertile ground for your exploration. In the Cold War many Americans struck upon religion as the thing that most differentiated ourselves from the enemy. Hence the phrase "godless communism" which was so often used. And it was in the 1950s that (reported) church attendance in America was over 50%, the highest it has ever been. Plus, you would get to look at lots of Cold War propaganda, which is a hoot. (Check for many short films).

A quick start on this project would be to search the speeches of Truman and Ike for references to Christianity, and look at Atomic Cafe for Cold War propaganda.
posted by LarryC at 2:55 PM on October 3, 2006

Unnecessary referenda on gay marriage (in that gay marriage had already been outlawed in those states, or had no real chance of passing/being overturned by the states' courts) to drive conservative (and thus, Republican) voters to the polls in 2004, and in this (2006) election cycle. See especially Ohio ballot issue on gay marriage in 2004, Virginia issue this cycle. (Ohio was the pivotal state in the electoral vote contest.)
posted by orthogonality at 3:29 PM on October 3, 2006

How about this? Compare and contrast the candidacies of ordained persons (Jesse Jackson, Pat Robertson) and consider how religious rhetoric is used and relgious voters are mobilized on both the left and right.
posted by Robert Angelo at 3:31 PM on October 3, 2006

I think an analysis of the effects of using state ballot initiatives to motivate religious voters would be really interesting - see here and here for starting points.

Extending on LarryC's idea, I find discussions of political religious "code" like this fascinating - as a person with no religious background, this stuff flies right over my head until I read about it.
posted by lalex at 3:38 PM on October 3, 2006

Oops, what orthogonality said.
posted by lalex at 3:38 PM on October 3, 2006

Temperance, temperance, temperance.
Past that: Abolition, Kennedy candidacy, manifest destiny, civil rights movement, the drafting of the declaration of independence...

The real answer? It's been used again and again for incredibly different ends. It's kind of like asking when nationalism or class conflict has been used in politics. Often, openly and for whatever ends suit the person using it.
posted by klangklangston at 3:44 PM on October 3, 2006

You'll want to google "Moral Majority".
posted by jellicle at 3:47 PM on October 3, 2006

Of course historically, nineteenth century American Christians were the backbone of the abolitionist movement. Do you want to go that far back?
posted by LarryC at 5:17 PM on October 3, 2006

Another book you should look at: American Theocracy.
posted by bigmuffindaddy at 5:34 PM on October 3, 2006

Consider the career of William Jennings Bryan.
posted by gimonca at 6:04 PM on October 3, 2006

If you're not already familiar with the phrase, look up "dog whistle". It's not inherently associated with either religious values or a particular party, but it has been associated in the popular mind with the religious right in recent years.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 6:29 PM on October 3, 2006

An excellent book for you to consult would be Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, by cognitive linguist George Lakoff.
posted by WCityMike at 7:15 PM on October 3, 2006

Read Noam Chomsky's voluminous writing on the subject, if you haven't already.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:49 PM on October 3, 2006

Many think of terms of the strength of the political right. But, not that long ago, black churches were preaching politics from the pulpit every Sunday (many still do), organizing marches, setting up "mobilizations" to support candidates who would push for this or that. It's nothing new.

posted by Gerard Sorme at 8:24 PM on October 3, 2006

Read God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It
posted by banished at 9:45 PM on October 3, 2006

I answered a closely related question over on Mecha earlier, and recommended Sam Harris' excellent books on the topic. I think you'd find them fruitful, and well researched.
posted by paulsc at 2:28 AM on October 4, 2006

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