Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Rightwing Group Slander Of Liberals Refuted—Part 5E

Abortion and Church Attendance

This continues the abortion section of my argument (based primarily on data from the General Social Survey [GSS]) that it’s not liberals, but ultra-conservative movement conservatives who are far outside America’s mainstream. In contrast, ordinary conservatives and liberals agree much more often than not. This is the fifth of 6 sub-parts. [Links at end of post.] It examines attitudes towards abortion in light of church attendance.

While there are strong correlations between church attendance and abortion attitudes, these have tended to be relatively stable over time. The shifts in opinion are generally modest, and surprisingly uniform at the national level—particularly in contrast to the strong pattern of opinion that remains basically unchanged—regular churchgoers are far less supportive of abortion overall than all other groups, who are relatively close to one another. There are, however, two exceptions, which provide some significant insight.

We begin by looking at the ABThreat Scale:
On the AbThreat scale, nationwide across all time periods, 60.3% of regular churchgoers support abortion in all three cases, compared to 77.9% among frequent churchgoers, 85.3% among rare churchgoers and 86.3% among non-churchgoers. The gap between regular and frequent churchgoers is 17.6%, more than double the 8.4% gap between frequent churchgoers and non-churchgoers. This further undermines the claim that secular Americans are out of the mainstream. What’s more, the gap between regular churchgoers and everyone is growing. In the last timeframe, it was closing in on 20%.

Next we look at the AbAutonomy scale:
On the AbAutonomy scale, nationwide across all time periods, the figures for abortion in all four cases are 17.3% for regular churchgoers, 34.4% for frequent churchgoers, 44.3% for rare churchgoers and 51.5% for non-churchgoers. In this case, the 17.1% gap between regular and frequent churchgoers is exactly equal to the gap between frequent and non-churchgoers. (In the last timeframe, however, frequent churchgoers were closer to non-churchoers—a 15.9% gap—than to regular churchgoers—a 17.4% gap.)

However, the relative percentages again show regular churchgoers to be farther removed: 34.4% is 99% higher than 17.3%, but 51.5% is just 50% higher than 34.4%.

Furthermore, as Robert Friedman pointed out in an earlier comment on this series, church attendance appears to be overstated on opinion polls. This makes it quite likely that if we could weed out the false churchgoing reports, this group would diverge even further from the rest of America, since the false churchgoers are probably more similar to frequent or rare churchgoers in their attitudes.

Two Telling Shifts In Opinion

With only two exceptions, the shifts in opinion for all attendance groups for all options were within two percent of the average opinion shift for all groups. The first exception was regular churchgoers on the AbThreat scale, dropping 8.1% in support for abortion in all three cases—5.9% greater than the average 2.2% drop. The churchgoers’ level of support was already low—63.9% compared to the next-lowest level of 78.2%. It dropped to 55.8%, compared to the next lowest level of 75.1%. This is due to a 13.7% drop in the white South, compared to a 5.9% drop in the rest of the country:
As we can see, this drop was due to something surprising—the fact that white Southern regular churchgoers were about 8 points more supportive of abortions in this category than their counterparts outside the white South. This gap has now closed. And the closing of that gap produces far and away the largest change over this period of time.

It’s hard to believe that this change was caused by secular humanists—to put it mildly. But if this change is hard to square with the “blame liberal secular humanists” narrative, the next change is even more at odds with it. You see, it seems that they’re getting slightly more conservative.

The second exception was non-churchgoers on the AbAutonomy scale, decreasing in support for all 4 cases by 0.5%, compared to an average 4.9% increase in support—the exact opposite of what the conservative narrative would have us believe about those godless heathen secular humanists. This is entirely due to a 2.6% decrease outside the white South, compared to an average 3.6% increase—as gap of 6.2%:
Within the white South, they were relatively normal, increasing 1.1% more than the average, which was skewed sharply lower by the regular churchgoers:
The most plausible explanation for this shift is that the expanded ranks of new non-churchgoers are more like their parents or former selves, and less like the pre-existing non-churchgoers. But this is sheer speculation.

In contrast, the first shift seems easy to account for: the refrain equating abortion with murder has often been repeated in churches. This would account for reducing support for abortions resulting from rape, or threatening the life or health of the mother or the fetus: If abortion is murder, there are no extenuating circumstances.

This is, however, an extreme minority position, much like opposition to welfare state spending. We’ll consider the fringe nature of this position, among other things, in the last abortion post.

Links To Previous Parts

Here again are links to the previous parts of this series:
    Part 1: Introduction. Overview of argument and data.
  • Part 2: GSS Spending shows conservative support for the welfare state, and high levels of cross-ideological agreement.
  • Part 3 shows shifts in party identification consistent with the historical record of race as the primary impetus for white Democrats shifting to the Republican Party.
  • Part 4 looks at the partisan shifts through the lens of religion.
  • Part 5A “The Big Picture—Parties, Abortion and Race Over The Years” began the 6-part look at abortion.
  • Part 5B A big-picture snapshot of abortion attitudes.
  • Part 5C Changes in abortion attitudes over three time-spans.
  • Part 5D: Abortion, party and ideology over three time-spans.


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