Who and What Affects the First Estate? An Analysis of Clergy Attitudes on Cultural and Economic Issues

AuthorBrian R. Calfano,Jane Suiter,Elizabeth A. Oldmixon
Publication Date01 Dec 2014
SubjectResearch Article
Research Article
Who and What Affects the First Estate?
An Analysis of Clergy Attitudes on Cultural
and Economic Issues
Brian R. Calfano
Missouri State University
Elizabeth A. Oldmixon
University of North Texas
Jane Suiter
Dublin City University
Since the 1980s, scholars have come to appreciate the role clergy have in shaping the political attitudes and
behaviour of the faithful. Through their leadership in self-selecting religious contexts, they are well positioned
to translate religious values into political values. Given their potential as opinion leaders, this study investigates
the dynamics of clergy opinions. Focusing on clergy in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, it assesses
the inf‌luence of psychological factors on economic and cultural attitudes, while controlling for the inf‌luence of
contextual and personal characteristics. This is done using a question-order experiment embedded in an
original survey. There are three key f‌indings: (1) clergy attitudes are sensitive to cognitive primes that elevate
the salience of interpersonal and institutional concerns; (2) clergy are sensitive to the perceived preferences of
their institutional superiors; and (3) social-psychological factors affect how clergy report their political opinions.
This means that the social-psychological dimension should be considered important alongside existing frame-
works for understanding clergy politics.
Keywords: religion and politics; Ireland; political attitudes; clergy
An important subset of religion and politics scholarship investigates how religious contexts
shape the political attitudes and behaviour of the faithful. This has made congregations a key
locus of study (e.g. Gilbert, 1993; Huckfeldt, Plutzer and Sprague, 1993; Wald, Owen and Hill,
1988). Smith (2005) notes that the salience of congregations begs a question: ‘How is the
context of a particular congregation established?’ This analysis focuses on clergy as an
important component of this. As religious elites, clergy are well positioned to mold the
political tenor of their congregations (Guth et al., 1997). Not only do they often possess the
resources associated with effective political engagement, but their vocation is to provide moral
guidance. When moral guidance is translated into shared political values, clergy have tre-
mendous, albeit uneven, potential to inf‌luence the political preferences and behaviour of
their congregants (Bartkowski et al., 2012; Brown, 2010).
POLITICS: 2014 VOL 34(4), 391–404
doi: 10.1111/1467-9256.12063
© 2014 The Authors. Politics © 2014 Political Studies Association

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