Effect Of Religion On Political Participation By Latino Citizens In Us Politics


1.0 Introduction

1.1 Definition of political participation

Political participation has taken on a series of definitions depending on the author or the context. However, for purposes of this paper, political participation will refer to lobbying, convincing others to vote, protesting, voting and related activities. Usually, one of the most prominently used measures of political participation is the amount of people who turn out to vote; in other words, voter turnout. (Tippet, 2007)

There have been a number of reasons available to justify why voter turnout is low among certain groups and much higher in others. For instance, when a country opts to use personalized contact to inform people about the need to vote, then chances are that that country will register high voter turnout. The latter method usually entails visiting potential voters from door to door. Less effective methods include pre-recorded phone messages usually known as robo-calls. (Lilla, 2007)

In certain instances, political participation may be impeded by a citizen’s lack of  awareness on the details surrounding voting. For example, some may not know how to use voting machines or the location of voting centers. Consequently, this impedes their participation. Additionally, people may record low political participation because of certain cultural factors. For instance, it is likely that immigrant communities and ethnic communities may lack the basic language skills required to understand messages from political interest groups. Such persons may require translators and this makes them less effective in achieving their goal.

However, perhaps another more valid cultural factor is a group’s beliefs and values. When these beliefs do not fall in line with politically related ones, then it is likely that these groups may record lower voter turnout. In this case, the most outstanding factor is religion because it forms the basis for most belief systems. (Austin, 2008)

Lastly, low political participation may be caused by missing elements in the political system of a certain country. It is possible to find that certain countries may encourage only certain members of their community to take part in politics while others may be prevented from pursuing this because no one has bothered with them. These groups normally lack models from which they can borrow from thus making them isolated. However, for purposes of this paper, greater emphasis will be placed on the influence of religion on political participation.

1.2 Research question

The research question is: Does religion effect political participation by Latino citizens in the US?

2.0 Frame

This question can be further divided into three major segments as follows

  1. What role does religion play in politics in the US?
  2. How does the importance of religion in politics relate to Latino immigrants?
  3. Do Latinos have poor political participation?
  4. How do religion, Latino immigrants and political participation intertwine in US politics?

2.1 Project outline

There are a series of issues that need to be analyzed critically in order to answer the research question. For example, studies have shown that religion has an important role to play in society. However, there is a need to look at how this importance can be related to the United States. The latter issue shall be covered in the literature review. Secondly, there is a need to look into the extent of political participation by the Latinos in US politics. This means that an in depth coverage of the facts and figures surrounding the civil engagements will also be done. (Mathewes, 2007)Lastly, there is a need to examine some of the factors that could be causing these low voter turnouts. Additionally, the paper will look at how the role of religion is related to the Latinos. In the end, the paper will summarize what the link between political participation, religion and Latino immigrants.

3.0 Theory

3.1 The role of religion in US politics

Avowed secularists, agnostics and atheists belong to the minority group according to research conducted by almost all authors researching this topic. However, one cannot ignore the fact that their numbers in the United States are rising day by day. According to reports made by certain scholars, atheistic ideas are becoming important aspects of US political life. This means that the numbers of people listening to atheists have increased dramatically and also, the numbers of writings on atheist principles and beliefs have become bestseller lists. This could be the reason why the US instated the freedom from religion Act. (Keith, 2007)

In the latter Act, the country’s constitution is recognized as the most important aspect of political life and that it had been established in order to ensure that all US citizens were protected by it. Consequently, it should not be linked to any particular religious establishment because this will sideline the efforts of other parties involved in the political process. While the latter stance may make the US appear very secular, this does not undermine the influence of religion over the lives of Americans.

Religion within the United States is one of the most important social economic factors. Atheists may be trying to bring in other factors to this equation but one cannot ignore the important role that religion has played in American public/ political life. (Rogger, 2007)

For example, almost all presidential candidates affirm that they have a religious inclination. For instance, one of the current presidential aspirants; Democrat Barrack Obama asserted that religion should not be thrown to the periphery when dealing with political issues. Instead, it should be treated with the respect and grace it deserves. He also claimed that public policy should be related to religious principles that can be applied to all religious groups regardless of their affiliation. He believes that individuals who enter publish service should not abandon their religious beliefs at the door. These comments were not the first of their kind. Many other political candidates in past regimes have taken similar stances. (Sorensen, 2006)

It can be argued that the US is a highly religious society compared to their counterparts in developed countries. For example, a visitor from the European continent once asserted that religion was very important in US public life because religious messages could be found almost everywhere. (Miller, 2004)For example, this visitor saw a sign of a bumper sticker found on a milk delivery van informing passers-by about Jesus. Shortly after, the same visitor saw a certain notice pinned on a lawn requesting people to call a free number if they required prayers.

The latter visitor realized that even if the US law required separation of church from state, one could find that religion was part of Americans daily lives. For instance, a poll conducted by The Public Life Group and the Pew Forum found that a whooping seventy percent of Americans would like their president to poses strong religious beliefs. This is the reason why many presidential candidates tend to mention religion in just the right quantities.

However, the particular choice that individuals settled on was also highly different. For instance, when some people were asked about who they would vote for in the previous election where George Bush and John Kerry stood against one another, it had been found that some voters would vote for any individual as long as the depicted some signs of religious beliefs. On the contrary, others claimed that they would vote for President Bush because he was a Pentecostal and not Candidate Kerry because the latter was Catholic. (Cladis, 2007)On the other hand, some people claimed that they were not sure about their preferred candidate but that they would vote for whoever was more religiously inclined. However, other individuals claimed that they did not despise religion but that they did not want public policy to be enacted on the basis of religion.

Certain US citizens feel that religion has intruded into the stance and policy issues surrounding certain controversial topics such as

  • Stem cell research
  • Abortion
  • The Iraq war
  • Educational policies

All the latter features have brought about a lot of controversy because of differing religious opinions. Eventually, this has affected the rate at which people support certain candidates running for political or public office. (Espinosa, Elizondo & Miranda, 2005)

Some research has also been conducted on the link between religion and political participation. One such example is a journal article written by Driskel, R., Embry, E. and Lyon, L. the article is entitled Faith and politics; The influence of religious beliefs on political participation; published by the Southwestern Social science association. The objective for conducting the latter research was to establish whether there was a link between political participation and religion. The Driskel, Embry & Lyon (2008) used denomination and church attendance as measures or indicators of religion. Besides these, they also employed the use of certain behaviors related to religious beliefs, traditions and principles to find out just how related these two aspects were.

The latter authors did not restrict themselves to the two former mentioned factors i.e. religious attendance and denomination alone as indicators of religion. This is because restricting oneself to these factors alone was likely to camouflage the real influence that religion had upon the lives of other people. Consequently, this was the reason why they included other aspects in the study.

Driskel, Embry & Lyon (2008) found that there was a high significance of religious beliefs on political participation. It was found that when individuals identified themselves with a certain religion, then chances were that they would not participate in national politics. However, when one examined the degree of participation in religious activities alone, it was found that this actually increased participation. The latter researchers asserted that types of religious beliefs influence political participation in different ways. Consequently, it is necessary for one to study exactly how this related to a particular group or type of person. For instance, macro religious factors affected politics in that they changed macro political factors. However, micro factors or individually based religious factors had a small effect on political participation. Those who were deeply taken up by their religion were likely to be less enthusiastic about other aspects of their social lives such as politics. Consequently, this latter aspect was likely to participate less in politics. (Thomson, 2006)

Given the latter assertions, it is necessary for one to examine whether the same reasoning can be applied to Latinos. In other words, based in the findings of this former research, one should examine what kind of religion Latinos practice in order to place their political behavior in context.

3.2 Do Latinos record poor political participation?

Research conducted by Leal (2004) found that the overall rate of political participation among Latino citizens was much lower than for other minority groups or immigrant population. This research was done quantitatively among a series of locations within the United States. In this article, the author makes reference to other researches that had been conducted within the US. In previous quantitative work, done by Sclozman, Brady and Verba, it had been found that there was no significant difference between political participation among Latinos and other minority groups. However, Leal (2004) opposes these previous findings by asserting that there were indeed discrepancies between Latino participation rates and political participation among non citizens within the US.

Additionally, the latter author also found that the rate of political participation among Latino citizens depended on the nature of the political activity too. This research found that a large percentage of Latino citizens preferred participating political electoral activities than in political civic groups. Also, the latter author affirmed that political participation in all the latter mentioned categories was likely to be much lower among Latino citizens than among non Latino citizens in ethnic minorities.

In this research, some factors were identified as causative in relation to low political participation. For example, it was found that many ethnic groups including Latinos opt not to take part in political activities because they did not understand politics especially in relation to the United States. It was also found that a substantial number had plans to go back to their home country, consequently, they did not feel the need to engage fully in US politics. On the contrary, Latino immigrants who planned on naturalizing their citizenship were more engaged in the country’s political systems than the former mentioned group.

Ethnic identity among Latino citizens had a large role to play in explaining why Latino citizens recorded lower political participation rates than other immigrant populations. According to this author, if an individual had a strong ethnic identity, then they were more likely to be involved in politics than their counterparts. Consequently, because many Latino immigrants lacked this characteristic, then chances were that their rates of political participation would be low. Additionally, it was found that age was key in explaining why Latino citizens had lower political participation rates than other groups. When individuals were young, they had higher chances of understanding English. Additionally, they were open-minded about the idea of staying in the US and embracing its social, political or cultural aspects. In close relation to this factor was language. Other immigrant populations who spoke English were more likely to participate in politics than those who did not. Since Latinos speak different languages from English, then this could be causing the gap in their participation rates. (Strauss, 2004)

Leal (2004) also affirmed that the latter mentioned factors were more important than previously mentioned ones. For example, it had been asserted that most Latinos failed to participate in political activities owing to some traditional factors such as;

  • Education
  • Length of stay in US
  • Income
  • Other socio-economic factors

The latter author claimed that these were not important predictors of political participation; instead, more emphasis ought to be given to the former mentioned factors such as age, language, naturalization status among others. (Cahill, 2005)

As it can be seen in Leal (2004)’s research, very little attention was given to the role of religion as a determinant factor in explaining political participation. Therefore, there is a need to examine whether this elimination was a deliberate one i.e. whether religion has no part to play in Latino participation in US politics or not. Additionally, there is a need to assert whether this was a miscalculation on the part of the author.

3.3 How the importance of religion relates to Latinos

Verba, Scholzman and Brady found that social economic activities have minimal roles to play in determining political participation. They claimed that one should look at churches as forms of civic associations. In other words, one was able to gain civil skills from church attendance. Consequently, it is possible for these particular church attendants to create their own forms of memberships and experiences depending on these churches. Consequently, one can affirm that the nature of particular church can affect the type of civil skill acquired.

Protestant churches differ from Catholic churches because in Catholic churches, few instances occur when people are taught about civil engagements. Consequently, one ought to look for mechanisms that could assist them in the process of understanding just how a certain system of governance works or how politics is conducted within a certain nation. Accordingly, this could have led to the high cases of poor political participation among members of the Catholic faith. One can apply this argument to Latino citizens owing to the fact that they adhere to the Catholic faith.

However, Marquez, Frances & Wainer (2002) assert that there is a different way of looking at this matter. These authors explain that churches (regardless of their denominations) play an important role in promoting civil engagements. By the very fact that someone is going to church, gives an indication that they should be highly active in their civil engagements. This explanation solves the dilemma created by the latter mentioned assertion about denominational differences. In this regard, if denominations play a large role, then one should be able to see a pattern of varying political participation by denomination across the entire country yet such is not the case.

4.0 Hypotheses

Religion has a large role to play in Latino immigrant lives

Religion causes Latino citizens to participate less in US politics

5.0 Data

5.1 Demographic details

The latter can be used as influential depictions of the importance of religion among Latinos in relation to political participation. In this part of the research, more emphasis will be given to secondary research. This is because the factors under consideration are micro factors thus making it increasingly difficult to collect them through personal research. Examples of useful research here include Patterson, E. (2005) entitled Religious Activity and political participation; The Latin American politics journal. In this article, the author affirms that close to seventy percent of Latin Americans is Catholic, although the Protestant movement is growing by the day. This author believes that most Latin American churches do not encourage participants to take part in political activities. This is the reason why the issue of democracy in Latin American countries is under question. According to the author, Protestant doctrines are highly related to civil engagements and political participation.

If there is a significantly low number of Latin American from other types of religions that are perceived as more open towards political engagement, then one can assert that religion plays a crucial role in determining whether or not people will take part in the country’s political systems. (Dombrowski, 2001)

Demographic analysis will also be important in analyzing civic participation among the Latino owing to the fact that it will give information about previous electoral data on the Latinos. Certain aspects such as the numbers of people who voted in a certain election from the Latin community will be instrumental in understanding this issue well. Additionally, care should be taken to analyze whether these groups are actually passive by comparing the overall Latin population and those who chose to vote. These can then be linked to the religious inclinations.

5.2 Individual level analysis

Marquez, Frances & Wainer (2002) sought to find out whether they could link civil engagements, religion and political participation to the Latino population. In order to establish a relationship, they decided to conduct two hundred and sixty interviews of Latinos from various parts of the country.

Consequently, a similar approach can be used in this particular research. For instance, one can look for representation from a series of faiths in order to affirm that the views collected represent those of the majority. Denominations that can be chosen here include;

  • Pentecostals
  • Catholics
  • Historical protestants
  • Evangelical protestants
  • New Religious Tradition

In these individual types of interviews, participants can be asked about what their church leaders tell them about participation in politics. Additionally, respondents need to be asked about the nature of their political participation. In other words, they should give information about the last time that they had taken part in an election or a political activity. (Rienhart, 2006)

In depth interviews will also be instrumental in determining whether church attendance has a role to play in pushing Latinos to engage in protests, demonstrations or even political rallies. It has been found that a substantial portion of persons who have been engaging in these kinds of activities are usually propelled to do so by some external force such as a  civil association which in this case happens to be the church. (Correa, 2001)

Consequently, respondents will be asked about what they think about the church’s influence. Besides all the above, participants will be asked about what they religious leaders normally encourage them to do beside political participation. For instance, if these citizens are not guided to participate in politics, then their leaders may be telling them to take part on community related activities or other social activities. (George, 2001)

In other words, the research will determine whether the lack of enthusiasm for political activities is related to the process of departing from partisan political activities or whether it can be related to other factors.

6.0 Discussion and Conclusion

The paper has looked at political participation among Latin Americans. It has been found that this group has one of the lowest rates of political participation among minority groups within the United States.

The paper also examined the link between religion and political participation. It was found that the effect of religion largely depends on the nature of the religious activity and that macro factors were more important than individual ones. However, when one relates political participation among the Latin American immigrants and the role that their religion plays, it was found that most Latin Americans are predominantly Catholic. Their leaders spend less time encouraging them to engage in partisan politics and instead focus their energies on the issue of community engagement. Their concern is mostly in communal work and this has a large role in influencing political participation patterns among Latin American citizens in US politics.


Austin, D. (2008): The secular conscience and why belief belongs to public life; Prometheus Publishers, p304-356

Lilla, M. (2007): Politics, religion and the modern world, Knopf Publishers, p 45

Mathewes, C. (2007): A theology of public life; Cambridge University Press, p 167-188

Rogger, T. (2007): Must faith be privatized – religion in pub;lic life; Oxford University Press, p 23

Cladis, M. (2007): Rousseau, Religion and democracy in the 21st C; Columbia University Press, p 78

Tippet, K. (2007) Speaking of faith, Viking Publishers 203-260

Keith, W. (2007) is religion dangerous; Eerdmans Publishing company, p 80-89

Rienhart, J. (2006): Apocalyptic faith and political violence; Palgrave Mc Millan, p 78

Sorensen, K. (2006): Discourses on Strauss; Notre Dame University Press, p 13

Thomson, G. (2006): Opposing views of democracy; Greenhaven Press; p 48

Cahill, L. (2005): Participation, ethics and change; University of Georgetown Press, p 201-270

Strauss, L. (2004): Faith and political philosophy; University of Missouri Press, p 65

Miller, P. (2004): Politics and the first commandment; Fortress press, p 90

George, R. (2001): Law religion and morality in crisis; ISI Books, p 49

Dombrowski, D. (2001): Rawl and religion; New York University Press, p 45

Leal, D. (2002): Political participation by Latino citizens in the United States; British Journal of Political Science, 32, 12, 353-370

Marquez, T., Frances, K. and Wainer, A. (2002): Latino Religion and Civic Engagement: How and Where Do Congregations Encourage Participation; Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association; Aug 28th

Correa, J. (2001): Political participation: Does religion matter, Political research Quarterly; 54, 4, 751-770

Patterson, E. (2005): Religious Activity and political participation; Latin American Politics and Society; 47, 1, 36-79

Gershon, S. & Pantoja, A. (2008): Political Orientations and Latino Immigrant Incorporation; Arizona University Department of Political science

Driskell, R., Embry, E. & Lyon, L. (2008): The influence of religious beliefs on political participation; Baylor University Press, p 54

Espinosa, G. Elizondo, V. & Miranda, J. (2005): Latino Religions and civic activism in the US; ISBN 9788195056