A “Prejudice” for the Thinking Classes: Media Exposure,
Political Sophistication, and the Anti-Christian Fundamentalist
Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio
Baruch College/City University of New York
Research on attitudes toward Christian fundamentalists shows that antagonism toward this group has become a significant factor since the early 1990s in structuring candidate preferences and issue positions concerning the place of religion and religiously informed moral conviction in public life. In view that religious outgroup animus as a driving force in voting behavior was thought to have been laid to rest by President Kennedy’s triumph in the 1960 election, the rise of political anti-fundamentalism in the contemporary era can be viewed as a rather remarkable development. This paper explores how information conveyed in news media helped inform popular evaluations of fundamentalists and instruct anti-fundamentalists on how to make use of these judgments politically in the culture wars. Our thesis is that attitudes toward Christian fundamentalists can be considered in large measure as a reaction to messages about this group carried in media, filtered through individual differences in political attentiveness and predispositions. Using the insights of schema theory and political communications studies on impression formation, we argue that, in response to the relentlessly negative coverage of Christian fundamentalists in the mainstream press, persons most attentive to media during this time frame, other things equal, would be more likely to feel antagonistic toward fundamentalists and more inclined to hold negative stereotypes of members of this group, despite their greater commitment to tolerance and anti-prejudice norms in the abstract. Data from the 1988-2004 American National Election Studies (ANES) show significant media effects, which increased over time, particularly among the sophisticated segment of the public. Our findings illuminate how variation in media attentiveness and individual differences in political and cultural predispostions conjoin to determine whether and the degree to which non-fundamentalists feel antagonistically toward Christian fundamentalists. The significant media effects indicate to a trained eye that
anti-fundamentalism has become a fashionable prejudice for the thinking classes.
Paper prepared for presentation at the Sixth Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture, November 2-4, Tampa, Florida, 2007.
E-mail addresses: Louis_Bolce@Baruch.cuny.edu, Gerald_DeMaio@baruch.cuny.edu
Objecting to someone because of his religious beliefs is not the same thing as
prejudice based on religious heritage, race, or gender.
--Jacob Weisberg, Slate, December 20, 2006
A while back when we first began investigating the anti-Christian fundamentalist1 phenomenon in contemporary America, it quickly became apparent that there was probably more to the pattern of hostility expressed toward this group than we initially thought. We knew some segments of the public did not think highly of Christian conservatives. After all, we both teach at a university in New York City, read the opinion pages of the New York Times, subscribe to several highbrow periodicals, listen regularly to NPR, catch political news shows on network, cable and public television, are conversant with social science literature on prejudice, intolerance, and the anti-democratic personality, have seen Inherit the Wind, and Elmer Gantry, and one of us, on occasion, even tuned into “Now with Bill Moyers.” Anyone with a college degree or a little exposure to American social science or popular culture would have little difficulty figuring out that many college professors and other assorted illuminati are not all that favorably disposed toward Christian conservatives, particularly if these folks are also conflated in the cosmopolitan mind with rural America (Gimpel & Karnes, 2006; Jelen & Wilcox, 1995). At the very least, one would have picked up the idea that elites have notions that Christian fundamentalists are “rustic ignormanuses,” “a menace to western civilization,” “obstacles to science and progress,” “merchants of hate,” “jihadists,” and, according to some, “highjacking the nation’s public policy” with the aim “to Christianize America” (see, for example, Mencken, 1926; Shipley, 1927; Lewis, 1992; Wills, 2004; Calame, 2006; Foxman, 2005). What surprised us was when we discovered that many non-elites also harbor prejudices towards Christian fundamentalists and utilize this antagonism to orient their political behavior. This paper addresses the issue of how information carried in media has helped to inform these judgments and instruct anti-fundamentalists on how to make use of them politically in the culture wars.2
Political Anti-fundamentalism among Mass Publics
It has been axiomatic in American social science since Converse’s (1964) famous statement on the nature of mass belief systems that while it is true that a significant fraction of the public evaluates political parties and policy issues on the basis of group benefits, it is also true that most citizens do not typically evaluate social groups, particularly religious groups, on the basis of their members’ political dispositions, or draw conclusions about the ideological orientations of political parties on the basis of the theological orientations of groups who support the parties’ candidates. Groups are generally not salient to the political thinking of the mass public. In most situations, as Converse (1964, p. 238) observed, “contextual information giving a group clear political relevance is lacking.” We just assumed, from our reading of the constraint literature, that mass publics lacked the interest to notice and competency to assimilate information in the current news environment about a religious community and then utilize these messages to make political judgments of not just the group, but policy issues, political organizations, and politicians cognitively associated with the faith tradition. Fundamentalists have carried a lot of cultural baggage since the Scopes “Monkey” trial (Larson, 1997), some transfiguring into archetypal proportions, but until the Clinton era, having a political identity was not one of them (Bolce & De Maio, 1999b; see Shields, 2005, for a penetrating analysis of the popularization of anti-fundamentalism as part of a larger intellectual assault on orthodox Christianity beginning during the Progressive era and continuing into the present).
Converse, of course, was describing the salience of social groups in mass political belief systems in most situations. A period marked by sustained electoral conflict rooted in religious-based political polarization along a secularist/traditional axis is certainly not one of the typical situations Converse had in mind when he made this observation. This is all the more true, when the situation is also characterized by intense negative information flow spotlighting a culturally marginalized group, the group is linked in elite discourse with other polarizing cultural symbols, and when there is a news consensus concerning the meaning and relevance of the new information about the group to ongoing partisan battles in the current political environment. Almost any group, even ones located in cultural backwaters, can become politically salient to mass publics under extraordinary circumstances such as these. Anti-fundamentalist perspectives have filtered into the belief systems of significant segments of the mass public. Increasingly, moreover, anti-fundamentalist animus has become affectively joined with other cultural symbols and imbued with political impacts (Bolce & De Maio, 2007a, 2006.)
At present, roughly 18% of white non-fundamentalists hold intensely antagonistic feelings toward Christian fundamentalists.3 This figure has held steady since ANES first included a thermometer item toward this group in its survey instrument. The percentage of anti-fundamentalists is almost 20 times larger than the proportion of Whites who admitted feeling this antagonistic toward Blacks in ANES’s 2004 survey.Their 16o mean rating of Christian fundamentalists was 20o colder than average scores that Whites gave to illegal immigrants throughout the 1990s.4
Although, as noted, the prevalence of anti-fundamentalism at the aggregate level has remained remarkably stable over the past two decades, its quality has changed significantly. Prior to 1992, Christian fundamentalists were on the periphery of political thinking for most Americans. Anti-fundamentalism, for example, was not a defining attribute of partisanship among the mass public. The sources of antagonism during that era were rooted in historically based cultural and religious cleavages -- attitudes toward scriptural authority, sectarianism, and indicators of cosmopolitanism such as high educational attainment and urbanism (cf. Shields, 2005). Anti-fundamentalism today includes a political dimension as well.Since the first Clinton election antagonism toward Christian fundamentalists has become a fairly reliable predictor of candidate preference, party evaluations, and attitudes toward a myriad of domain related policy issues such as the separation of church and state (Bolce & De Maio 2007a, 2006). Clearly, significant segments of the populace believe that they have learned enough about fundamentalist Christians to pronounce severely negative verdicts against them and to utilize this information to draw conclusions about other objects in the political environment.
Although negative reference group associations can be engendered from disagreeable face to face encounters with outgroup members, the consensus seems to be that outgroup animus is learned from exposure to the attitudes held toward the group from significant others in one’s social milieu and from exposure to negative information about the group conveyed in cultural media (Duckitt, 2003). Whether acquired during pre-adult socialization or in adulthood in response to depictions of the group in media, negative reference group associations are value-laden and tend to reflect the norms dominating the individual’s information environment. Outgroup attributions consist not only of mental pictures of the group but affect driven moral judgments of these images.
It is generally assumed that outgroup stereotypes are embedded on a group schemata, affectively weighted, and stored in memory. The schemata can be evoked (or primed) from cues in the information environment. When triggered, relevant parts of memory are activated and mediate how individuals process the new information, which in turn influences what individuals think about the group (Conover, 1988; Fiske, 1998).
Most representations of groups in elite discourse consist willy-nilly of little more than stereotypes, positive and negative, which are packaged into self-contained bundles and embedded in cultural frames of references to provide news consumers context and meaning. Some stereotypes – “the good ole boy,” “welfare Queen,” “soccer mom,” “NASCAR Dad,” “the Bible-thumper,” for example, -- have become personified as archetypes in American culture. As Zaller (1992) observes, “the information that reaches the public is never the full record of important events and developments in the world. It is, rather, a highly selective and stereotyped view of what has taken place” (p. 7).
While in most instances “culturally-given and elite-supplied” characterizations of groups tend to reinforce pre-existing stereotypes, on occasion new frames of reference can jolt individuals to think outside of the schemata and lead them to them to see its members in a different light; see, for example, Zaller’s (1992, pp. 9-13, 316-319) observations about the significant shift in racial attitudes and views toward gays in response to changes in cues carried in elite discourse. Such opinion shifts typically come about when elites repudiate previous elite-given stereotypes, or when symbolic or face to face encounters with the group reveal its members “out of character” or as possessing more textured qualities than preconceived, but only if the individual is not emotionally committed to the pre-existing outgroup schemata. Individuals utilize this new information to cognitively distinguish among outgroup "types" and reevaluate the whole group (Christian fundamentalists) on the basis of a multiple schemata (say, the bigoted bible thumper from "down in the boondocks" as compared to the Baptist Republican suburban housewife imploring the local school board to permit middle schoolers to sing student selected Christian carols at this year's Winter Holiday Pageant).
In the case of some individuals, especially persons whose outgroup preconceptions are driven by intense fear, psychological need, or (ideologically movitated) animus, new - even countervailing information -- does not necessarily lead to cognitive differentiation and the formation of multiple schemata of the group. For these individuals, positive counterstereotypes tend to be dismissed as anomalous, whereas non-positive new information and controversies involving the group are assimilated into the pre-existing group schema, which “saturates all it contains with the same ideational and emotional flavor” (Allport, 1954, pp. 20-21). The result of the assimilation is greater contrast between the individual (i.e. the ingroup) and the disliked other – “them.” The individual’s reaction to new information about an outgroup thus depends, in large measure, on the degree to which the new information fits into the individual’s worldview of the group and the intensity of the animus or perceived threat driving the individual preconceptions of group members.5
Media and the Marginalization of Christian Fundamentalists
According to data contained in the 1997 ANES Pilot Study, a survey designed to investigate the impact of threat on prejudices toward Christian fundamentalists (Bowers, 1998), nearly three of ten white non-evangelicals characterized Christian fundamentalists as having the group trait “intolerant” (values 6-7 on ANES’s 7 point tolerance scale). Four of ten indicated that fundamentalists were a threat to civic peace (1 and 2 on ANES’s “CFs should live in peace” item). More than a third held the view that fundamentalists have extremely inegalitarian attitudes regarding women’s role in society by locating fundamentalists at 6 or 7 on the ANES’s “equal role for women” scale (7 being “a women’s place is in the home”), a “fringe” attribution wholly at variance from the “egalitarianism” of non-fundamentalist men (=2.29) and the actual gender role attitudes of their white Christian fundamentalist counterparts (=3.30), whom empirical research shows can be more accurately characterized as “soft patriarchs” rather than authoritarian Neanderthals (Wilcox, 2004). Since people do not intuitively know that Christian fundamentalists are “intolerant,” oppose women’s equality, and are a menace to public civility, respondents holding these views have formed impressions of fundamentalists based either on information picked up from personal contacts with group members and/or from information conveyed about fundamentalists in news stories and other media.
It is our view that anti-fundamentalism is much more likely to be an artifact of images conveyed about the group in political and cultural media than engendered by encounters with group members. While some individuals might have formed negative impressions of Christian fundamentalists as a result of powerfully threatening (or annoying) face to face confrontations with pro-lifers at demonstrations outside abortion clinics or when subjected to aggressive proselytizing from individuals also thought to be “acting like fundamentalists,” it is highly unlikely that the general cultural phenomenon of anti-fundamentalism and its concentration in distinct segments of the public (e.g., Jews, secularists, moral relativists, college professors) are the result of multiple individual-level negative experiences with actual fundamentalists – anymore than it is likely that symbolic racism is the white response to disagreeable encounters with welfare recipients at shopping malls or in lines at checkout counters in liquor stores (cf. Gilens, 1999). Most citizens have not had significant personal contacts, let alone political discussions, with enough fundamentalists to form strong negative opinions about the entire group; and for those who have had face to face contacts with fundamentalists, the evidence suggests that the experiences have been generally positive, or at least not negative (Woodberry, 1998; Pinsky, 2005). Studies on religious activists indicate, for example, that the animus felt by religious liberals toward religious traditionalists is generated less from confrontations with conservatives in various political arenas than from cues picked up about traditionalists from “newspapers and other media” (Wuthnow, 1996). It is evident that quite a few individuals have formed some extremely unflattering impressions about fundamentalists from sources other than personal contacts with the group.6 Fortuitously, there is an emerging research on media coverage of fundamentalists using different search methodologies and guided by different theoretical interests which sheds light on what news consumers could have learned about this group during this era of increased religious polarization. These studies spanned the years that included the televangelist scandals, Pat Robertson’s failed bid for the GOP presidential nomination, the disbanding of the Moral Majority, the rise and decline of the Christian Coalition, and the religiously polarized elections of the Clinton years and Bush era.
Kerr and Moy (2002) and Kerr (2003), based on analyses of random samples of national television and newspaper articles with regional controls for the years 1980-2000, found that “intolerance,” “violence-proneness,” “racism,” and “cultural imperialism” turned up as among the most frequent and dominant frames of Christian fundamentalists. Lichter, Lichter, and Amundson’s (2000) examination of The New York Times’ and Washington Post’s and three leading weekly news magazines’ (Time, Newsweek and US News & World Report) coverage of religion between 1969 and 1998 report that fundamentalists and evangelicals were identified as embracing the “Christian Right” political agenda in stories concerning the political role of churches, science and religion, sexual morality, gay rights, and stories organized around themes of intolerance. Bolce and De Maio’s (2007b) analysis of coverage of opposing camps in the new religious divide by the Times and the Post for years 1987-2004 (and the Los Angeles Times, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for the years 1990 through 2000) found that despite the mountain of evidence and numerous studies by social scientists documenting the alignment of seculars with the Democratic Party and traditionalists with the Republican Party since the first Clinton election (e.g., Layman, 2001), content analyses of these newspapers indicate that until the 2004 election cycle the establishment press focused almost exclusively on the latter phenomenon, the political mobilization of religious conservatives and the threat that politicized fundamentalism poses to democratic pluralism. Moreover, while seminal studies on protagonists in the opposing camps of the culture wars point out that elites and activists on both sides of the religious divide are equally militant in their zeal to impose moral truth claims on the American public and equally culpable in expressing intolerance toward one another (see, for example, Wuthnow, 1988; Hunter, 1991), mainstream media since the 1980s framed the bulk of their reporting thematically around the “militancy” and “intolerance” displayed by activists associated with the traditionalist or “Religious Right” side of this conflict. This news consensus was evident in the conflation of evangelicals and fundamentalists with spokespersons of organizations labeled Religious or Christian Right and by repeated attributions to evangelicals and fundamentalists in news stories as having the group traits of being intolerant, extremist, violent prone, and holding antediluvian views about women’s role in society (cf. Kerr & Moy, 2002; Kerr, 2003).7
We are unaware of any systematic analyses of news coverage of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians demonstrating that the establishment press conveyed generally neutral or positive images of these groups during this time span. A possible explanation for the negativity turns up in data from the Williamsburg Charter poll of mass and elite opinion on church-state issues. A majority of television news directors and newspaper editors polled in this survey said that evangelical and fundamentalist Christians have "too much power and influence" and a third indicated that both religious groups are a "threat to democracy." In contrast, none of these media elites perceived secularists as threats to the stability of the social order, and only four percent thought nonbelievers and secularists wielded too much influence over public life (Jelen & Wilcox, 1995, pp. 46-47). In view that a majority of the media elites in this poll also felt that “religious people are intolerant,” it is easy to see how political activism by religious conservatives (particularly when compared to the secularist left) would appear threatening to the values of the media establishment, and therefore warrants intense scrutiny.
The Christian fundamentalist emerging from the growing empirical literature on conservative Christians is at variance with the Christian fundamentalist portrayed by the establishment press. The fundamentalist/evangelical Christian as the Religious Right frame in news accounts on religion and politics, for example, is factually misleading in much the same way as press narratives repeatedly linking Blacks with welfare and violence in stories about poverty and crime(e.g., Gilens, 1999). While it is true that active members of Religious Right organizations are drawn disproportionately from conservative Protestants, and that committed Christians are significantly more likely than the public at large to have religiously informed traditionalist views on the contentious values issues, there is a social science literature which empirically disputes the factual basis of the stereotype that all or even most evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are strong supporters of the Religious Right and its cultural agenda. Indeed, studies going back to Buell and Sigelman (1985) indicate that the image of fundamentalists as “an army that meets every Sunday” is at best an overgeneralization (cf. Greeley & Hout, 1999). In his analysis of 1996 data from the Religious Identity and Religious Right Survey, Smith (2000) found that “one half of conservative Protestants have not heard much about the Religious Right. More than two-thirds do not consider themselves of supporters of the Religious Right” (p. 207). Research on Religious Right activists in the Republican Party also demonstrates that the stereotype of Christian fundamentalists as the Religious Right is misleading. Wilcox, Rozell, and Gunn’s (1996) study of the composition of Christian Right activists among Virginia Republicans found, for example, that a smaller percentage came from fundamentalist churches than mainline ones.8
With respect to the tag that conservative Protestantism promotes religious and racial bigotry (Lipset & Raab, 1978, pp. 437ff.), recent evidence indicates that whatever was the case a generation or more ago is not true today. According 2004 ANES thermometer data, for example, Christian fundamentalists’ ratings of Catholics, Jews, Blacks, and Hispanics ranged between 68o to 71o, and statistically were no different than how other religious groups evaluated one another and Blacks and Hispanics. The ANES data are in accord with Greeley and Hout’s (2006) analysis of General Social Survey (GSS) data, which also “acquits them of the charge of racism” (pp. 60-61). In addition to examining the racial attitudes of theologically conservative Protestants, Greeley and Hout provide a nuanced take on one of the long-standing propositions in American social science, namely, the association of this faith tradition with intolerance. Their analysis (pp. 62-64) of respondents’ answers to Stouffer style tolerance questions reveals that while significantly larger percentages of conservative Christians turned up less supportive than their peers when it came to “protecting” the First Amendment liberties and academic freedom of the target groups—ranging from 9 to 17 percentage points on the battery of questions, these differences, in the opinion of Greeley and Hout, were a matter or degree, not substantive, and overall “were modest.” Conservative Protestants were least tolerant toward allowing racists to teach in public schools.9
Not only do many fundamentalists tend not to have the negative characteristics that their critics believe, but in a number of respects they compare favorably to their non-fundamentalist peers. For example, despite the stereotype that fundamentalism pushes men toward authoritarianism and exaggerated notions of masculinity that “can lead to abuse, both physically and emotionally,” (Roberts & Roberts, 1998), compelling empirical evidence points to the opposite. Wilcox’s (2004) analysis of three large national surveys found that religiously committed, theologically conservative Protestant men are more loving, affectionate, and spend more time socializing with their wives and kids than their counterparts in mainline churches and among the unchurched. Committed conservative Protestant husbands, moreover, were the least likely among their peers to commit domestic acts of violence and most likely to have wives who reported being happy with their marriages. Yet theologically conservative Protestantism not only begets norms and behavior tendencies found to promote healthy, stable, happy marriages, scholars have uncovered strong evidence showing that this religious worldview also engenders other civic virtues that produce desirable social benefits. Brooks (2006, pp. 46ff.) found that conservative Protestants (including fundamentalists) track significantly above the national norm in terms of giving money and volunteering their time to charitable organizations and activities, not just to religious organizations but to secular charities as well; theological conservatives were the most charitable of all groups tested.
The discussion above is not meant to give the false impression that there are no Christian fundamentalists who fit the image of the fundamentalist of media lore. It is an attempt to correct some misconceptions that have crept into the public conversation about ordinary fundamentalists via the press’s coverage of the culture wars. Most readers could summon in an instant (without a single prime) pictures in their heads of a handful or more of prominent televangelists and assorted spokesmen for Religious Right groups given to “Gantryism,” invective, and looking ridiculous to smart opinion. This paper concerns these individuals only insofar as they affect popular images of rank-and-file Christian conservatives. We also acknowledge that group stereotypes do not originate ex nihlo; there is always a partial truth to a stereotype. Greeley and Hout (1999), for example, found that one in seven fundamentalists back the full agenda of the Religious Right, and according to Smith (2000) a third or so of fundamentalists could be considered “supporters” of the Christian Right, which means, according to Rozell (1997) and Shields (2007), that since the mid-1990s they were as likely to be engaging in civic dialogue as in extremist politics. What is important to keep in mind is that studies on grass root level Christian conservatives indicate that the “typical” fundamentalist Christian mainstream media consistently presents to the public is not the complete fundamentalist, but a one-dimensional version. The remaining portion of this paper examines the extent to which media are implicated in shaping popular impressions of Christian fundamentalists among identifiable segments of non-fundamentalists between 1988, the year when ANES first began testing attitudes toward this religious group, and 2004, the most recent ANES dataset containing items assessing anti-fundamentalism.
If an individual did not personally know Christian fundamentalists but instead was dependent on news accounts and other cultural media to discover what type of people they are like, we have a pretty good idea what news consumers were told about fundamentalists during this period under study, but what difference would this information make in how non-fundamentalists judged members of this group? In other words, what would social science theory predict about the likely impression the mass public, particularly the sophisticated segment of it, would form of Christian fundamentalists given the pattern of images conveyed about this group in the press and other media, and the paucity of news stories carrying countervailing themes? The prejudice literature (e.g., Duckitt, 2003) and research on opinion formation (e.g., Zaller, 1992; Kinder, 2003) suggest two competing hypotheses concerning how the attentive public should respond to the images conveyed about fundamentalists.10 On the one hand, since attentives are likelier to possess large stores of political information and more cognitively equipped to critically evaluate the political messages they encounter, they should be more inclined than others to know that the views expressed by spokespersons for groups (e.g, Al Sharpton, National Council of Churches, Abe Foxman, and Pat Robertson) do not always represent rank-and file viewpoints, and therefore less apt to mentally conflate the political style and policy concerns of Blacks, mainline Protestants, Jews and conservative Protestants with the occasional wacky, paranoid, or intemperate pronouncements of “leaders” claiming to speak on these groups’ behalf. Sophisticates, moreover, could be expected to be more sensitive to elite norms against labeling whole groups (e.g., fundamentalists) from a perspective that uncritically accepts a stereotype or unfairly marginalizes them, much in the same way as “sophisticates” are less apt to internalize anti-black stereotypes (or admit to holding them) despite their prevalence in mass media (Gilens, 1999).
On the other hand, since sophisticates would more likely have filed in memory a repository of Menckenesque-type images of fundamentalists rooted in popular lore readily accessible to contextualize (and reinforce) the incoming negative information stream described above, and are more sensitive to elite attitudes concerning Christian Right intolerance and its threat to the norms of democratic civility (cf. McClosky & Zaller, 1984), we could expect that they would be more receptive to anti-fundamentalist messages conveyed in popular media and therefore more likely to harbor antagonistic sentiments toward fundamentalists (and entertain negative stereotypes of this group).
ANES 1988-2004 survey data show that the latter expectation is more consistent with the facts. These data permit us to examine the effects of exposure to the information environment during this era of heightened media scrutiny of politicized fundamentalism.
Table 1 displays mean thermometer scores toward Christian fundamentalists partitioned by respondents’ level of political awareness for the 16 years spanning this study. To put these scores into perspective, the difference between the respondents’ average score toward the other social groups common to the ANES datasets during this period and their mean rating of fundamentalists are presented below the unadjusted or raw mean thermometer score. The -14o score in the first column of row two indicates, for example, that political attentives in the 1988 ANES survey on average felt 14o warmer toward other groups in this survey than toward Christian fundamentalists (41o -55 o =
-14o); among the less aware, (row 4, column 1) the difference was 6o. (For comparison purposes we are also presenting thermometer evaluations toward Catholics and Jews.)
Table 1 about here
What is glaringly apparent is how differently the public, particularly the sophisticated portion of it, evaluates these three historically significant religious groups. Politically attentive respondents evaluated fundamentalists negatively every year ANES tested public opinion toward this group (on average they felt 11o to 15o colder than they felt to all other social groups common in these survey years). Further, the thermometer scores of the political attentives were always significantly more negative than the average ratings of fundamentalists by less attentive respondents (by 6o to 9o, p<.001).
Jews and Catholics, on the other hand, were always rated significantly above the average group score for each year that ANES tested feelings toward them. Also, the evaluations of political attentives were always more positive than the average scores of the less sophisticated. On average, sophisticates felt 24o colder toward fundamentalists than toward Jews and 22o colder toward this group than toward Catholics.
As illuminating as the mean relative thermometer evaluations are, they mask the depth of hostility expressed toward Christian fundamentalists by a significant segment of politically sophisticated non-fundamentalists, a deeply felt animus that is virtually absent in the attitudes of politically aware non-Jews and non-Catholics toward Catholics and Jews. Throughout this time span, anywhere between three-tenths to a third of attentive non-fundamentalists could be classified as an anti-fundamentalist.11 In 2004, for example, roughly a third of the politically sophisticated expressed this amount of antipathy toward Christian fundamentalists; 11% of them gave this religious group the lowest score permitted, 0o. Attentive non-fundamentalists were over twice as likely as their less sophisticated counterparts to fit our anti-fundamentalist criteria. None of the politically sophisticated gave Catholics and Jews a 0o score, and only a handful, based on the pattern of their absolute and relative thermometer scores, could be labeled anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic (3.5% and 1.5%, respectively). Intense anti-Catholic or anti-Jewish animus was not an attribute of the worldview of politically sophisticated Americans during this era.
Clearly, many politically attentive respondents and not an insignificant portion of their less attentive counterparts had picked up notions about Christian fundamentalists that inclined them to intensely dislike this group. We suspect that some of this animus was triggered by cues presented to these individuals from the information environment.
Sophistication and Anti-Christian Fundamentalist Stereotypes
Data from the 1997 ANES Pilot Study and the 1996 American Jewish Committee Religious Right Survey (AJCRRS) enable us to find out about what other impressions segments of the public, particularly the politically sophisticated portion of it, have formed about Christian fundamentalists, in addition to thinking of fundamentalists as influential actors in the GOP. As noted earlier, the 1997 ANES Pilot survey instrument was designed to investigate anti-Christian fundamentalist prejudice. The AJCRRS poll included in its survey instrument a standard indicator of outgroup prejudice, whether the respondent would vote for an otherwise qualified person as his/her party’s presidential candidate if the nominee was a Christian fundamentalist. The data provide insights into how variation in attentiveness to political media during this period of heightened press coverage of Christian fundamentalists influenced what people learned about this group.
The data displayed in table 2 indicate that political attentives were significantly (p<.001) more likely than less attentive respondents to learn (or buy into the notion) that Christian fundamentalists are intolerant, occupy the “extreme” right pole on the ideological spectrum, intensely oppose women’s equality, and have “too much influence” in society. Attentives were also significantly more likely than others to mentally conflate fundamentalists with the Religious Right in their political belief systems.12 Given the sorts notions that have flocked together and piled-up in the minds of political sophisticates it is not surprising that over four in ten them said that they would oppose an otherwise qualified individual nominated as their party’s presidential candidate if that person was a Christian fundamentalist.
-table 2 about here-
Predispositions as Mediators of Anti-fundamentalism
If media coverage of Christian fundamentalists during this time span had the effect of politicizing perceptions of this group, how citizens react toward fundamentalists will depend to some degree on their political predispositions. As Zaller (1992) notes, “predispositions mediate people’s responses to elite information” (p. 23). We expect self identified liberals and Democrats, for example, who are more likely than conservatives and Republicans to see fundamentalists as political opponents, to evaluate this group more negatively, other things equal. We also expect that affect toward fundamentalists will become polarized over time in response to the increased volume of political stories depicting fundamentalists as influential actors in the GOP. Finally, we hypothesize that we will see greater polarization in the attitudes of attentive partisans than less attentives. Politically aware Republicans and Democrats, for example, are more likely than their less attentive counterparts to possess larger amounts of contextual information and have the cognitive ability to connect this information to their own political predispositions. We expect that similar dynamics will be operative when religious and moral variables are substituted for partisanship as mediating factors. These expectations are confirmed by data displayed in Table 3 which show that variations in attentiveness to media and individual differences in predispositions conjoin to determine whether and the degree to which non-fundamentalists in these two samples feel antipathy toward Christian fundamentalists.
Table 3 here
The figures in Table 3 represent differences in the adjusted thermometer ratings toward Christian fundamentalists among respondents in opposing partisan, ideological, moral, and religious camps, partitioned by level of sophistication, for the years 1988 and 2004, the first and last years ANES collected thermometer data on this group. Positive scores indicate that respondents representing the conservative or traditionalist side in the pairing felt more positively (warmly) toward fundamentalists than those falling in the “liberal” camp. The higher the value, the greater the difference in the “warmth” expressed by “traditionalists” toward fundamentalists in the respective pairing. The figures in the first row show, for example, that in 1988 politically attentive Republicans felt on average 13o warmer toward fundamentalists than Democrats did, and 33o warmer sixteen years later. On the other hand, less attentive Republicans felt only 2o warmer toward fundamentalists than did their Democratic counterparts in 1988 and 17o warmer in 2004. When “fundamentalists” are refracted through the prisms of other opposing predispositions and filtered through higher or lower levels of sophistication, we find comparable response patterns. Differences in adjusted thermometer ratings for highly attentive political and cultural adversaries are accentuated while differences among less attentive counterparts are diluted, and polarization between opposing camps in each pairing increases over time, with the widest gulf separating the attentive clusters. Clearly, the interaction between individual differences in predispositions and variations in attentiveness to media during this time span resulted in a varied but predictable array of reactions to fundamentalists. The effects led many individuals to remain (or grow more) antagonistic toward this group and prompted others (e.g., traditionalists and Republicans) to reappraise fundamentalists by shedding older preconceptions and updating their group schema with images more pertinent to ongoing political and religious alignments, with the result of becoming more favorably disposed toward members of this group.
Anti-fundamentalism: A Multivariate Test of a Sophisticated Prejudice
As noted, a frequent depiction of fundamentalists in news stories is that these conservative Protestants have, as group properties, the characteristics of being hard right ideologues, hostile to women’s equality, and intolerant. We have already seen that while fundamentalists are more ideologically and culturally conservative than the general public, there is a tendency, particularly among the sophisticated segment of the population, to overcategorize this group, that is, (mis)perceivefundamentalists as being more monolithic and “extreme” than members of this group actually are (cf. Greeley & Hout, 2006; Smith, 2000). Obviously, exaggerated perceptions of fundamentalists are strongly related to feeling antagonistic toward them.
To find out whether and to what degree media effects, that is the effects of paying attention to (and absorbing) political media during this highly charged culture wars era remain implicated in stimulating anti-Christian fundamentalist prejudices when the impacts of additional factors that could foster anti-fundamentalism are also considered, we created an anti-Christian fundamentalist prejudice measure from four items in ANES’s 1997 Pilot Study and regressed it on attentiveness and other predictors in an OLS regression model. The prejudice measure was constructed from factor scores of discrete items designed to assess exaggerated attributions to Christian fundamentalist positions on political ideology and equal role for women. The construct also included ANES’s item assessing respondents’ willingness to ascribe to Christian fundamentalists the group trait “extremely intolerant,” and an adjusted thermometer item folded at the upper or positive end to the midpoint to allow only escalating degrees of negative anti-fundamentalist affect to vary. (See note in Table 4 for details about the creation of this variable.) Our measure captures the key components of prejudice set forth in social science literature: intense negative affect, negative stereotyping, and exaggerated outgroup attributes, i.e., overcategorization (see Duckitt, 2003; Sears, 1988; Judd & Park, 1993; Allport, 1954).
The predictors include standard demographic indicators along with variables that are theoretically important to the study of religiously based-political divisions in contemporary America, some already demonstrated above as being associated with anti-fundamentalist stereotypes and affect. To this end, we created two indices, one assessing respondents’ moral relativism, and the other their level of religiosity.13 We expect relativists and seculars to display higher degrees of prejudice than their traditionalist counterparts (see Layman, 2001; Knuckey, 2005) on the increased salience of political cleavages along these lines).
To capture “contact effects,” that is to find out whether living in proximity to fundamentalists mitigates against the formation of anti-fundamentalism, we created a variable assessing the percentage of evangelicals residing in counties selected in the ANES 1997 Pilot Study using data collected by the Glenmary Research Center (see Jones et. al., 2002; Campbell, 2006). We expect that respondents living in counties with the lowest concentrations of evangelicals will display higher levels of prejudice. Respondents in these counties would have had less opportunity to personally know fundamentalists and therefore it is likely that whatever impressions they had formed of this group would have been influenced largely from information picked up from external sources. Self-reported partisanship and ideology, along with items ascertaining respondents’ abortion attitudes and feelings toward gays were included to tap into the politicized character of anti-fundamentalism in this era. Given this context, respondents taking the Democratic or liberal positions on these items should be more receptive to anti-fundamentalist messages carried in media. ANES’s tolerance item was added to the model to find out whether respondents who averred that it is important to “tolerate people who choose to live according to their own moral standards even if they are very different from our own” would be less inclined than those on the opposite pole to express antagonism toward fundamentalists (and their values). We included two measures evaluating media effects, a direct measure assessing exposure and absorption following Zaller (i.e., sophistication), and an indirect measure to gauge negative fallout stemming from the mental conflation of fundamentalists with Religious Right groups (assessed by an adjusted thermometer item toward the Christian Coalition, folded to the midpoint to allow only negative affect to vary, v961043). We expect the effects of both items to be significant, and in the expected direction. In light of the findings reported in table 3, we also added three items to test for interaction effects (attentiveness x party id; attentiveness x abortion attitude; and attentiveness x moral relativism.) Other interaction terms were considered but were dropped from the model because of collinearity (e.g., ideology x attentiveness).
-table 4 about here-
As the results demonstrate, political sophistication emerges among the most important predictors of anti-fundamentalist prejudice, even after adjusting for the effects of the other predictors in the model. By itself, attentiveness accounted for almost a quarter of the explained variation in the prejudice measure. Given the repeated association of fundamentalists with Religious Right organizations in mainstream news and the negativity that the press displayed toward these political groups it is not surprising to find substantial conflation effects. Hostility toward the Christian Right was the most important factor stimulating anti-fundamentalist prejudice. The premier culture war issue, abortion, turned up significant, with effects in the expected direction. On the other hand, the results indicate that living in counties with high concentrations of evangelicals inhibits an individual’s tendency to form anti-fundamentalist prejudices, lending support to Woodbury’s (1998; cf. Pinsky, 2005) finding that contact with fundamentalists fosters positive (or at least non negative) attitudes toward this group. As hypothesized, all the interaction terms were significant. Attentive Democrats and Republicans, for example, displayed significantly more polarized attitudes than did their less attentive counterparts. The relatively high adjusted R2 (.59) indicates that the model did a pretty good job accounting for variance in our prejudice measure.
The tolerance item had the opposite effect than we hypothesized, that is, we did not expect that holding the view emphasizing the importance of being tolerant to persons having moral values different from one's own would be significantly related to
anti-fundamentalism. What this suggests is that because cultural liberals are significantly more likely than traditionalists to stress the importance of tolerating people with value systems different from their own, the prejudice these individuals expressed toward fundamentalists indicates either that they are unaware that this specific case (i.e., that the moral values of Christian fundamentalists are different from their own) and the general principle (i.e., “tolerating moral values different from one’s own is very important”) belong in the same belief system, or that they are unwilling to extend this norm to at least one prominent group with value orientations different from their own. This phenomenon could represent a contemporary example of Allport’s (1954) “militant tolerance,” a form of outgroup prejudice driven by intolerance toward groups labeled as being intolerant, a syndrome which embodies the same “overcategorizing and … hidden psychodynamics” as classic forms of racism and anti-Semitism (p. 429). Though ironic, these results are not surprising. They reflect a long-standing finding in social science literature (see the classic Prothro & Grigg, 1960; McClosky, 1964, studies), which show that although many Americans are willing to support anti-prejudice norms in theabstract, many abandon this value when asked to apply this standard to visible outgroups.