Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Faith, Politics and Charity - Part of the hackneyed stereotype that liberals hold about conservatives is that we are selfish to a fault and care little, if at all, about the less fortunate. Among other things, progressives cite conservative opposition to increasing the minimum wage as prima facie evidence that conservatives are cold, heartless and mean-spirited - certainly not the types who would make charitable contributions. But evidence cited in an opinion piece in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) belies that misperception.

In his piece entitled "Charitable Explanation," Syracuse University Professor Arthur C. Brooks details the variances between what he describes as "Giving America" and "Non-Giving America." Citing the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, Professor Brooks notes that "Americans who weekly attend a house of worship are 25 percentage points more likely to give than people who go to church rarely or never." To be sure, the generosity of the churched extends beyond contributions to religious causes. Professor Brooks also points out that religious people are "10 percentage points likelier than secularists to give money to explicitly non-religious charities."

He goes on to cite data from the General Social Survey (GSS) that indicate that people who oppose government income redistribution (a typically conservative position) "donate four times as much money each year as do redistribution supporters." The GSS also suggests that proponents of increased government social spending "are less likely to give food or money to a homeless person than people who oppose greater welfare spending."

In summing up what can be gleaned from the available data, Dr. Brooks provides the "money quote."

As you have probably noticed, the values predicting private charity in America tend to smile on the political right. Conservatives are twice as likely as liberals to attend a house of worship regularly; conservatives are one third as likely as liberals to say the government should "do more" to reduce income inequality... Furthermore, there is a fringe on today's political left that goes beyond simple neglect of charity, and openly condemns it, claiming it lets governments off the hook from having to pay for services. So while there may be nothing inherently charitable about political conservatism, today's conservatives do outperform liberals on most measures of private giving. (Emphasis added.)
Stereotypes aside, none of this should shock or surprise us. As we will see in the next post, this variance in charitable giving between liberals and conservatives has been observed repeatedly, and represents a fairly durable and reproducible finding.

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