Catholics & Politics Index
By Richard Bruce BA, MA, and PhC in Economics
Former Instructor St. John's University, New York City

Vote Your Faith

It is frequently argued that there is something wrong or perhaps un-American about voting your faith. We are told there is separation of church and state, and voting according to your faith is somehow a violation of that principal.

In reality, neither the constitution, nor the law tells us how to vote, they simply give us the right to vote. We have the right to flip a coin, consult a horoscope, vote our selfish economic interests, or attempt to vote the way God wants us too, which is to follow our true self-interest.

Furthermore, the constitution specifically says that we have freedom of religion. If our church, or faith tells us that we should vote in a particular way it would be a violation of our freedom to practice our religious faith if we were prevented from doing so.

Of course, given that our ballots are secret it is hard to see how anyone would deny us this right to vote our faith.

What our Faith Teaches

A central commandment of both Judaism and Christianity is "...you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength..." (Deuteronomy 6:4). This commandment seems pretty all inclusive. It does not seem to leave room for leaving voting out of our service to God.

Furthermore, the Catholic Church gives us direction on issues. In some cases the Catholic Church supports conservative causes, pro-life, opposition to gay marriage, euthanasia, and many others. In other cases the Catholic Church supports liberal causes government help for the poor, regulations to protect the environment, and gun control, particularly pistols.

If we want to keep our tax free status, the clergy can not endorse candidates and parties from the pulpit on Sunday morning. The Catholic Church seems to accept this. The Church probably does not want to be tarred by the scandals of specific politicians. Churches are allowed to endorse or oppose referendums where the voters vote directly on the issues, and the Catholic Church exercises this right.

What our faith does is gives us general moral principles that we can apply to our decisions, including our voting decisions.

How People Vote

In economics we generally assume that people pursue their self-interest. Perhaps the most famous quote from Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations is, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest." This is market behavior.

Frequently people assume that people will behave the same in the voting booth as the market but the voting booth is different. In an election with a large number of voters the probability of casting the deciding vote is almost zero. Therefore the sacrifice of benevolent voting, even if it is contrary to economic self-interest is almost zero. It is reasonable to hope that the butcher, the brewer, or the baker will be benevolent if it does not cost them anything. More generally it is rational for even the selfish individual to vote their values because the cost it so low.

In economics this view is generally attributed to Gordon Tullock and his 1971 article in The Journal of Economic Inquiry, "The Charity of the Uncharitable.".

Tullock makes a theoretical argument based on rational decision making, but strong evidence that people actually vote their values had been provided by David Sears and his collaborators in many published scientific journal articles. Sears and company used multivariate analysis to examine voting. Their equations used both self-interest and values variables to predict how people will vote. The self-interest variable almost always proved to be statistically insignificant. It was the values that predicted voting behavior. So both theory and empirical tests tell us the same thing people vote their values.

When we speak of values we count religious self-interest as a value. If you are benevolent because you hope to win favor with the almighty this might be self-interest but it is counted as a value. Self-interest is sometimes called temporal, this world, self-interest.

It is hard to separate self-interest and values in monotheism. God is all powerful and all knowing so pleasing him is in your self-interest, but he is also all knowing and all good so doing what he wants is also the ethical course of action.

Religion Dominates Democracy

Tullock and Sears have shown theoretically and empirically that values dominate voting and the values of many people are determined by their religion, so religion plays an important role in voting. Furthermore, numerous scientific studies have shown that religion is an important, perhaps the most important determinate of voting. People who attend church regularly are also much more likely to vote which further strengthens the influence of religion at the voting booth.

All of this means that democracy is to a large degree theocracy. But, democracy is not a theocracy of clerics or religious fanatics, democracy is a moderate theocracy of the average voter.

Religion dominates democracy now, and it has also dominated it in the past. The key point is that there are a large number of voters and little chance that one vote will determine the outcome of an election. This is more true now than two and a half thousand years ago in ancient Athens, but it was still true in ancient Athens.

Religious Voting Two and a Half Thousand Years of Success

Over the last two and a half millennia democracy has proven to be a far better form of government than the alternatives. Right from the beginning Athenian democracy fostered a massive burst of artistic and intellectual creativity. Athenian democracy created the world's first market economy, and for two and a half thousand years democracies have always had market economies.

In recent decades developed democracies have had three key virtues. They are economically stable, once a developed industrial economy, always a developed industrial economy. They are politically stable, and third, they never fight wars against one another. So a world of economically developed democracies would be a world at peace. In an era of nuclear weapons this surely an enormous advantage.

So democracy has proven to be a relatively good system of government, far superior to the alternatives, and democracy is largely dominated by religious voters. Therefore, voting your religion is a good thing. It is not un-American, this is how America and other democracies always functioned.


This web page is based on a theory of progress, democracy, freedom, the market and empiricism that you can find here.

Here are a collection of short essays also based on that theory.

Tell me what you think. Here is my contact information..

Last updated May 4, 2020

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