Religions Powerfully Influence Voting
Islam is not an Exception

By Richard Bruce PhC in Econ from University of California, Davis
Former Instructor at Saint John's University in NYC

Numerous scientific studies have shown that religion is a powerful determinate of voting. Logically it should be. The probability of casting the deciding vote in an election with many voters is very small, so voting should not be influenced by economic self-interest. But as religions normally teach that God knows everything, including how we vote, and frequently teach that believers will be punished if they fail to vote according to religious teaching, religious self-interest should logically be relevant to voting.

Religious self-interest is simply acting in a way that you think is pleasing to God, or any other supernatural beings you are trying to please or placate.

So the empirical evidence and reasoning give us the same prediction, religion is a powerful determinate of voting. When empirical evidence and reasoning tell us the same thing we should pay attention.

We often separate temporal economic self-interest from values, and beliefs. But the monotheists logically sees self-interest and ethics as identical. As God is all knowing and all powerful doing what he wants is in the monotheist's self-interest, but as God is all knowing and all good doing what he wants is also ethical.

Nevertheless, humans in their weakness are frequently tempted by temporal economic self-interest in their normal everyday existence. But as the probability of casting the vote is normally vanishingly small in most elections it is relatively easy to vote with the motivations of a saint, even if you fail to live up to those exalted standards in ordinary life.

Epirical Studies

Numerous studies in political science, particularly those of David Sears, have shown that values rather than economic self-interest determine how people vote. Religion is an important source of values for a large portion of the population. Many researchers have shown that religion is a very important determinate of how people vote and at least one study has shown that it is a very important determinate of whether they vote.

Islam Particularly Powerful

All religions are powerful in the voting booth. Islam has a particularly powerful influence on the behavior of its adherents outside of the voting booth. So it should not surprise us that Islam is also particularly powerful in the voting booth.

The facts bear out this expectation. The case of Malaysia is perhaps particularly impressive. Only a small majority of Malaysia is Muslim, but Muslim teaching plays an important role in the Malaysian government. One might assume that the non-Muslims would ally with the most liberal Muslims and form a mildly Muslim government, but that does not seem to be what happened. In Egypt, we saw more of an alliance between non-Muslims and liberal Muslims, but it was not sufficient. In Malaysia and Egypt and many other Muslim nations, Islam clearly plays a strong role in the democratic politics of predominately Muslim societies.

Hypocracy and Voting

It has been noted that voting for the redistribution of money to the poor through taxes while refusing to give your money directly to the poor is not self-sacrificing charity, and is hypocritical. Voting for laws that restrict sexual expression while violating the strict sexual code of your faith can also be considered hypocritical. This no doubt reduces the influence of Christianity on voting in Western countries.

But all religions, philosophies and ethical codes are not the same. Christ put a big emphasis on hypocrisy, he was perhaps alone among the prophets, holy men, philosophers, and sages of the ancient world. Avoiding hypocrisy is a particularly Christian thing, though it is also important to modern secularists. So hypocrisy may not limit Islam politically the way it does Christianity and secularists. Religion has a powerful influence on voting even among Christians, but religion is even more important in Muslim nations.

Secularists Believe People Should Not Vote Their Religion

Many people in the West have been surprised by the elections in Muslim countries, particularly those that followed in the wake of the Arab Spring. Both the Western people and Western pundits and other experts cling to the idea that voters are not influenced by religion. Many argue that people are not supposed to vote their religion. Somehow they miss the point that people commonly do not do what they are supposed to do. Is is one thing, should is another.

Furthermore, there is very little basis to this particular should. The American Constitution gives people the right to vote, it does not tell them how they are to make their voting decisions. I suspect that other constitutions are the same. The voter can flip a coin, consult a horoscope, the Bible, the Koran, or the teaching of the popes. The voter may be occasionally encouraged to vote as they think best, but if their thought leads them to the conclusion that the Koran is the word of God and they should follow it then the result will still be Muslim voting.

Constitution Guarantees Freedom of Religion

Beyond this, the American constitution guarantees freedom of religion. As voting according to the teaching of the Catholic Church is explicitly required by the Catholic Church how would Catholics be free to practice their religion if they could not vote in accordance with the Catholic faith? This is not an obscure example of a small faith. The Catholic Church has more adherents than any other Christian denomination in America and the world as a whole.

Finally, given that we use the secret ballot there is no way to prevent religious voting.

Taxes and Preaching Politics from the Pulpit

In America there are rules against preaching politics from the pulpit, specifically preaching politics could result in a challenge to the religious organization's tax-free status. But the Bible and Koran can not be altered, at least without almost everyone finding out about it, and the Pope is isolated from government influence by the fact that Vatican City is an independent state. So there is nothing really preventing the faithful from pursuing an opinion of how Jesus or Allah would have them vote.

Most local preachers do not want to preach on politics because they are afraid it will adversely affect contributions. The laity, however, frequently discuss the issues among themselves. There is no way to prevent this short of a radical change in the constitution.

Sheep, But Not Your Sheep

Religious people gather in groups. They are organized by their religious institutions even when politics is not at issue. Many intellectuals see modern man as a mass of isolated individuals easily manipulated by the media. This may not apply to most modern people, the great majority live in families, most have friends. But it particularly does not apply to religious people. Religious people are not isolated individuals, they are rooted in a web of friendships they have developed in their religious institutions. Therefore religious people are not easily manipulated by those outside their religion.

Of course, the religious person aspires to be God's sheep, to be easily manipulated by the Bible, the Koran, the Pope, or other sources of religious authority. But those outside the voter's faith should realize that the believer is a sheep, but not the non-believer's sheep. Believers can be easily manipulated by those with religious authority, but this makes them all the more difficult to manipulate by those that lack religious authority.

Skeptics Often Disappointed by their Successes

Naturally, people do not think they are trying to manipulate. Hitler, Mao, Limbaugh, and Nader think of themselves as the voice of sweet reason, and the religious believer's loyalty to their religion and the sources of revelation as resistance to sweet reason. If the believer would just give up their irrational faith they would see reason.

This expectation is frequently disappointed. People who are convinced to question and reject some of the teachings of their faith frequently reject exactly what the skeptic wanted them to keep, and keep what the skeptic wanted them to reject. But perhaps I digress.

All Religions, but particularly Islam, are Powerful in the Voting Booth

The point is a person's religion is particularly powerful in the voting booth. Furthermore, Islam is particularly powerful compared to other religions. So democracy in Muslim nations will be heavily influenced by Islam. This is what both rational theory and careful empirical studies show. In the last couple of years, the Muslims voters over and over have confirmed the obvious. The West has been surprised because it willfully ignores both its own logic and its own science.

There are a number of other web pages on Islam, religion, and democracy on this site.

Last updated August 2, 2017