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Activating Values-Driven Progressive Voters

Sponsor: Faith in Public Life
Released: 2011-10

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Faith in Public Life commissioned a September 2011 survey of registered Ohio voters’ views on economic issues. The survey, conducted by the Center for Marketing and Opinion Research, measured the impact of religious messages on attitudes related to health care reform, deficit reduction, and SB5, the collective bargaining restriction law.

Knowing that moral values and religious beliefs are key to many voters’ political views, FPL wanted to explore which religious or values-based message frames drove up support for progressive stances on economic issues. For too long, religious messaging has been the domain of the Right, and progressives have not experimented with ways of drawing on values language to achieve progressive victories. Progressive political views are grounded in moral values just as conservative views are, and this first-of-its kind survey outlines a path forward for progressives on how to effectively use faith and values language without negative repercussions from secular voters.

The results of this groundbreaking survey indicate that faith descriptors of political issues can drive up support and suggest potential new strategies to deploy in either electoral or issue contexts. Faith in Public Life has recently created a set of six religious affiliation models that will enable organizations for the first time to use values-based messaging to target voters in Midwestern states by religious affiliation and orientation. It is our hope that the results of this survey, along with use of the religion models, will give progressive organizations new pathways forward to reach out to values-driven voters.

  • White evangelicals demonstrated the biggest opportunity for gain in the progressive position after religious message treatments. After religious messages related to repeal of SB5, white evangelicals in Ohio were 14 points more supportive of the progressive position than those who were exposed only to secular messages. Religious messages even pushed white evangelical support for repeal of SB5 to higher than that of the general population (+28.7% vs. +25.5%, respectively).
  • Religious messages intensified support for repeal of SB5 among middle- and lower-income white Catholics, and white Catholic Democrats and Independents. After religious messages related to repeal of SB5, Democratic and Independent Catholics were 5 points more likely to move support in a progressive direction than those who received only secular messages.
  • Similarly on the issue of healthcare reform for white Catholic Democrats and Independents, secular treatments only made it 11.8% more likely that respondents would change their opinion in the progressive direction, while religious treatment nearly doubled that probability to 18.2%.
  • There is no evidence that religious messages “blowback” to alienate progressive supporters who have no particular religious tradition. Evangelical messages delivered to nonreligious respondents produced no different effect than secular messages.
  • Listeners of Christian radio were particularly receptive to religious messaging. Religious messages related to healthcare reform actually moved this group through the 50% barrier, flipping them from firmly opposed to the individual mandate to slightly in favor of maintaining healthcare reform in Ohio. On SB5, Christian radio listeners exposed to religious messages experienced a 13-point swing in favor of the progressive position.
  • Micro-targeting is important in making the most of religious messages. The white evangelical messages, for instance, were most effective in Central and Southern Ohio. White Catholics were most responsive to the religious messages when not GOP members or not in upper income brackets.
  • Further research can refine effective messages, test non-verbal communications strategies for religious outreach, and examine the impact of progressive religious messages on religious elites and clergy.