In some states, as many as 40% of people vote in churches. But what effect does this have on people's voting behavior? Do people lay their votes (unknowingly) at the foot of the cross?
Past research on college students has found that as much as a 25% swing in votes can occur based on imagery that is primed before participants cast their mock votes. Specifically, having people view images of churches, compared to various other buildings, made them 25% less likely to vote in favor of stem cell research.
(they also found using actual voting data that people who voted in a school were more likely to vote in favor of school funding).
Unaware of this research, I decided to conduct a similar study. I had half of my college student participants (ah, what would we do without them!) imagine they were in a church and half in a student center voting for various issues. They didn't know they were in different groups. Then I had them "vote" on various issues. The church voting group was more likely to:
1. oppose gay marriage
2. oppose abortion rights
3. oppose eliminating the death penalty
For each of these categories, there was about 13% increase in the church group towards the more traditionally conservative choice.
So although people might not admit it, there is a decent amount of evidence that voting decisions are impacted by where people vote. This is consistent with a wide range of work showing that what is in the physical environment effects our behavior, even when we don't realize it (for instance, a Budweiser sign increases drinking when alochol is offered, even when people don't report seeing the sign).
It appears then, that for many people, votes are laid down at the foot of the cross. And they don't even know it!
(note: At this point in my study, the results are only marginally significant, so I cannot for certain say they are not due to chance. But the chances of this aren't likely, given that past research has across the board found what I am finding on voting and that priming studies consistently show its effects. I will keep you all posted, but I can't get more participants until January).