Christians neither more nor less likely to vote for the far right than nonreligious

June 3, 2021

A woman lights a candle in the Church of St. Nicholas in Leipzig, Germany. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

Christians are not more likely to vote for far right political parties than nonreligious voters, but not necessarily because their religious values make them more tolerant or pro-social, according to new research from Europe.

In a study published April 24 in Social Science Research, a researcher from Stockholm University used data from the 2016 European Social Survey, covering 17 countries characterized by both Christian heritage and stable democracy, to investigate the relationship between Christian affiliation and votes for populist, far-right political parties in Europe. Results indicate that, in the majority of countries examined, Christians are in general not more likely to vote for far-right parties than the nonreligious — but they are not less likely to align themselves with these parties either.

According to Weiqian Xia, author of the study and a doctoral candidate in the University of Stockholm's department of sociology, one surprising aspect of the study's findings is that theoretical factors deemed relevant in prior literature, including tolerance toward immigrants, caring and benevolent values and level of social inclusion rarely explain why Christians do not vote for radical right parties. 

Although authoritarian and morally conservative value orientations tend to be a commonality between Christians and the far right, Christians might avoid affiliations with the radical right given an enduring connection between religion and the mainstream right. This is notably not the case in some Eastern European countries, Xia pointed out, such as Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, where some far-right parties have a good working relationship with the church and receive a larger share of support from the Christian population.

"Building from the findings and limitations of the current study, one interesting question for future research is how radical right parties can breach into the Christian voting base of mainstream right parties, which has been stable in postwar European politics despite declining in recent years," Xia told The Academic Times

One strategy, Xia said, could be the promotion of traditional morality and the role of religion in politics. On the other side, mainstream right parties could stabilize their base by becoming more restrictive on issues such as immigration.

Another surprising finding in many countries, Xia explained, is that people who attend church at least once per month demonstrate markedly different voting behavior compared to peers who attend church less regularly or are nonattendees. For example, in Germany and the United Kingdom, those who regularly attend church services are less anti-immigrant, while the opposite is true in France, Italy, Poland and Slovenia. Marginal church attendees were also found to be more anti-immigrant in seven countries, but less so in Lithuania. 

Xia believes it could be argued that the far right has improved voting access among those who are less attached to churches, in addition to evidence from the study indicating that marginal members tend to demonstrate more anti-immigrant, authoritarian and morally conservative values.

"Future study could focus on how strengths and positions of parties affect the choice of Christian voters," Xia said. "Another interesting topic is to explore how core church members and marginal members can interpret Christianity differently. Marginal members are shown in many cases in this study to be more anti-immigrant (which is against the official position of churches in many countries), and also support radical right parties more."

The study, "Mediators explaining radical right voting patterns of Christians in Europe: Attitudes toward immigrants, values, or social capital?," published April 24 in Social Science Research, was authored by Weiqian Xia, Stockholm University.

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