Study: For ardent believers, economic issues are a matter of faith
Most people who strongly believe that God has a plan for them believe the government does too much.
September 21st, 2011
06:00 AM ET

Study: For ardent believers, economic issues are a matter of faith

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) - People who believe God is very engaged in their everyday life tend to see conservative economic policy as an article of faith, according to a study published Tuesday by Baylor University.

Paul Froese, co-author of the Baylor Religious Survey, says that those who believe in a more hands-off God tend to believe in more than one way to fix America’s economic woes. But those who believe in a more active God tend to believe there is “one truth” when it comes to fixing the economy.

Forty percent of those surveyed said they “strongly agree” that God has a plan for them. Among that group, 53% believe the government does too much, with 44% believing “able bodied-people who are out of work shouldn't receive unemployment checks."

Compare that to the 15% percent of those surveyed who said they “strongly disagree” that God has a plan for them. Just 21% of those Americans said the government does too much, while only 24% said able-bodied people shouldn’t receive unemployment checks.

Froese, a sociology professor at Baylor, said conservatives “have so conjoined their religious faith with economic conservatism that economic conservatism has become a matter of faith. It is very hard to sway those people with a counter argument.”

The study also found that 20% of Americans believe God is in control of the economy. According to Froese, those who believe God is in control also tend to believe that a hands-off approach is the economy's only possible fix.

“Lack of government regulation, low taxation," he said. " That kind of conservative economic world view, for people with an engaged God, is almost synonymous.”

This coupling of belief systems began in the 1980’s said Froese, when the Republican Party began to court values voters who selected their candidates based primarily on social issues. Over time, the value voters began to go along with the economic teachings of Republican leaders of the time.

“Those kinds of voters who are driven by their faith tend to think that there are these ultimate truths out there and that everything else is wrong,” said Froese. “If you find a part of a leader you are in agreement with on these faith statements, then their discussion on the economy must also be right.”

This split between how more and less religious people view economic policy is evidenced by political rhetoric, he said.

“When Obama is talking, he is always talking about looking at anything that works: ‘I want to make compromise. I want to do things that pragmatically have immediate results,’” he said.

In contrast, Froese said the rhetoric of candidates like Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry is shaped by their belief in an involved higher power.

“’“Have faith in God. Don’t regulate. Lower taxes. There you are seeing a distinction in the almost philosophical outlook and how you understand economic theory,” he said.

The findings of the study are based on 1,714 self-administered surveys nationwide among adults 18 and over. The surveys were condcuted by the Gallup Organization in three waves, in 2005, 2007 and 2010.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Economy

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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.