Perry’s God Strategy May Be Effective. Science Explains Why.

By The Intersection | August 9, 2011 12:31 pm

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., a research scientist and policy watcher, who encourages the scientific community to get engaged in the policy-making process

This week Texas Governor Rick Perry took part in a prayer rally in Houston Texas.  In doing so, he may have found a recipe for success in the 2012 Republican Presidential primaries, if he chooses to run.  According to attendees, his brief remarks and his role in organizing the event garnered their admiration, which bodes well for the Governor.

Perry’s solution to America’s problems?


In his comments to the congregation, Perry laid it out quite clearly,

“I tell people, that “personal property” and the ownership of that personal property is crucial to our way of life.

Our founding fathers understood that it was a very important part of the pursuit of happiness. Being able to own things that are your own is one of the things that makes America unique. But I happen to think that it’s in jeopardy.

It’s in jeopardy because of taxes; it’s in jeopardy because of regulation; it’s in jeopardy because of a legal system that’s run amok. And I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God and say, “God, You’re going to have to fix this.”

I think it’s time for us to use our wisdom and our influence and really put it in God’s hands. That’s what I’m going to do, and I hope you’ll join me.”

Science tells us that Perry’s message combined with the current political and economic turmoil may drive voters in his direction.  Professors Aaron Kay, Adam Galinsky and their colleagues examined whether changing political climates can drive religious belief, especially faith in a controlling or interventionist deity.

Their work was published last year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.  The authors conducted experiments in several different laboratory and field settings, including college campuses in Malaysia and Canada.  They sought to determine how external systems of control could compensate for one another.  They found that perceptions of decreased government stability led to increased beliefs in a controlling God.  Conversely, beliefs in an interventionist God diminished with perceptions of a stable government.

“Although there are undoubtedly multiple causes of religious belief, one cause may be that when people perceive their government as unstable, they turn to God or other religious deities to fulfill a need for order and control in their lives,” says Aaron Kay, an associate professor at Duke University.  Indeed, that seems to be the sentiment among those who attended Perry’s rally.

Penny Nance, President and CEO of Concerned Women for America, wrote in an Op-Ed at

“…thousands of participants will be doing the same [falling to their knees] and asking for God to have mercy and compassion on our great nation.  The problems facing our nation are indeed “beyond our power to solve.” She continues, “I’m going to join with my brothers and sisters to proudly proclaim that the hope for our nation is in the saving grace of Christ.”

I speculate that an electorate that turns to God will also embrace candidates who share that response.  Perry leaves no doubt that he is in their camp.  In a message from the Governor to the attendees of the prayer rally, he says,

“Right now, America is in crisis: we have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles.”

I believe that Governor Perry, whether intentional or not, has chosen a political platform that capitalizes on the behavior described by Kay and Galinsky.  Bush had a similar approach, so why wouldn’t another Texas Governor follow his path?

As former head coach of the Texas Longhorns Darrel Royal once said, “Dance with the one who brung you.”

Apparently, Perry’s dance with conservative Christians is paying dividends.  Based on a recent Rasmussen poll, he has already attracted 12% of support among Iowa Republicans and he hasn’t even announced his candidacy.  This puts the heat on Michele Bachman and Mitt Romney, who hold only 22% and 21% respectively.

He has already tapped into Tea Party support in Texas.  His strong play for the Christian vote will help him there, as well.  In 2010, the Tea Party polled at 81% Christian, 57% also consider themselves part of the Christian conservative movement.

One has to wonder, though, whether Perry truly believes that God is the answer for America’s economic problems.  In April, Perry held a three-day prayer vigil to bring rain to his state of Texas.  The AP reported on June 29 that the U.S. Agriculture Department had designated 213 of Texas’ counties as disaster areas due to drought and the remaining 41 also qualified for federal assistance.  In recent days, Perry has been pushing for additional support from Washington, D.C.

The true answer is apparently something Perry and the Tea Party rail against: the federal government.

Follow Jamie Vernon on Twitter, Google+ or read his occasional blog posts at “American SciCo.”

*Image courtesy of VERONICA ZARAGOVIA/AFP/Getty Images.


Comments (20)

Links to this Post

  1. Teavangelicals? Joke, right? Not so fast. « Palomino Road | August 10, 2011
  1. Jay Fox

    So the plan is to pray for a better economy? I guess that’s cheaper than some of the other plans. Seems to me plenty of folks are doing that right now without benefit of political party affiliation. I don’t see any results. Did the rains ever come?

    If the GOP resorts to putting a theocrat on the ticket, we could save a lot of time and money by just awarding the office to Obama again. He’d win anyway.

    Not saying he’s the better man, just that a lot of folks will not vote for a theocracy.

  2. Cathy

    He needs to ask Sonny Purdue how well praying for rain worked in Georgia’s droughts a few years back. (Hint: It didn’t, unless God’s prayer hotline has a 14 month delay.)

  3. Chris Winter

    Those folks who refuse to vote for a theocracy — will they vote Democratic? Will they vote third party? Or will they just stay away from the polls?

    It’s a crucial question.

  4. Chris Winter

    Cathy wrote: “(Hint: It didn’t, unless God’s prayer hotline has a 14 month delay.)”

    “A thousand ages in Thy sight are but an evening gone…” – some old hymn.

  5. William Furr

    Except that Perry’s true god is Mammon. The faith of all those poor Christian fools is twisted against them in the service of greed.

    Not to mention, what would Jesus have said about personal property? Matthew 19:21: Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

    Not that bible quoting ever works against bible thumpers. They too adept at applying their knowledge of the bible in the service of motivated reasoning.

  6. I was very disappointed in this post.
    God will not fix problems, people will. To an atheist this is the most ridiculous thing you could go for. The fact that Perry is getting recognized and supported for it is because there are so many religious individuals in this nation.

    A man who uses his political position to influence the word of god in a nation that is bound by the Constitution with a clear definition of the SEPERATION OF CHURCH AND STATE makes this whole thing unconstitutional. Of course, no one cares, because it benefits the majority, even if it goes against the document that founded the country.

    This is utter insanity. I’m very upset about this whole situation.

  7. RJK

    “. . . Being able to own things that are your own is one of the things that makes America unique.”

    What a load of garbage. Unless by “America”, he meant “The Americas (North and South), plus most of the rest of the world”. Do residents of the US really believe all of the delusional jingoism your politicians seem so fond of spewing? What kind of people believe they live in the only nation to enshrine individual property rights?

    “. . .But I happen to think that it’s in jeopardy.

    It’s in jeopardy because of taxes; it’s in jeopardy because of regulation; it’s in jeopardy because of a legal system that’s run amok. . .”

    And up is down, hot is cold, and right is wrong. Argh!

  8. Rabidmob

    How odd right? As if God were to support the ownership of personal property.

  9. SLP

    I must love seeing the golden words just dripping from my (virtual) pen today.

    #5 I’m one of those bible thumpers. And I’ll match anyone’s life with mine because I’m working toward something greater than myself if only in this world.

    We are commanded to have abundant life not only in the great bye and bye but now and everyday. But personally I believe you have the most abundant life by helping others. Not just with money but helping them grow, become all they can be both in the physical world as well as the spiritual one.

    If you care about people, it’s called Love, then you have joy that no coin on this earth can purchase. And the greatest evil of this current government for the past several decades is it’s slowly stripping the the opportunity for people to experience that joy.

    But hey, I’m a fool. Good for me.

  10. Incredulous

    It might be effective. While being religious is not likely to be a selling point for everyone in the nation as a whole, it is important enough that all the candidates for years have worn it on their sleeve. Even Obama, who doesn’t have the appearance of being especially devout in worship has at least made a pro-forma appearance to be. In a way, it makes it great for debate. If you are for me, you are a good guy, and if you are against me, you are going against God.

    I don’t think that being religious or atheist will be an issue anyway. They will all profess some degree of religious faith. I don’t think at present an atheist could get elected.

    Also, please stop trotting out the separation of church and state. It doesn’t keep people from having religion and as long as there is that pesky Constitution, they have the right to their beliefs no matter how much you would like it to be the Freedom From Religion ™.

  11. Dave
  12. Mark

    I wonder how serious he is about leaving it in God’s hands. Serious enough to tell all his fellow believers to stay home next election day and pray for God’s help, rather than trying to solve it themselves by voting?

  13. Jeff

    To answer your question Chris, I always vote for 3rd party candidates in the presidential election, but if this religious nutjob is on the GOP ticket, I will vote for Obama. In my state, it probably wouldn’t matter though.

  14. Incredulous

    #12 Mark,

    Well, at least here in Texas, it has been more in line with cut everything and pray over the survivors.

  15. Johnny

    Perry is going to win the primary if not the presidency. Prepare yourselves.

    I can change one word in what Perry said, and you’ll all agree with the statement.


    And I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to Science and say, “Science, You’re going to have to fix this.”

    I think it’s time for us to use our wisdom and our influence and really put it in Science’s hands. That’s what I’m going to do, and I hope you’ll join me.”

  16. George Holland

    Whether you agree or not the Christian Conservatives are a huge voting block. They elected George W Bush twice. We are supposed to have separation of chuch and state but we never have. That is why JFK was our first Catholic President and we have never had a Jewish or Mormon President.

  17. A Scientist


    You are correct in that many of us and others would agree with the statement if he replaced “God” with “Science.” The difference is simple: putting our problems in the hands of Science means that our problems would be solved by talented scientists working countless hours towards a common goal. Instead of spending six hours asking something else to solve our problems, like during his prayer day, we would use the best possible information and technology to solve the problems ourselves. Unfortunately the percentage of elected scientists in our government is abysmal so our country has never put problems like this in the hands of Science and has chosen to put it in the hands of those who can argue the loudest.

  18. ColinC

    I’m pretty conflicted about this message. Government seems to be the problem in a lot of the things that are going wrong (and before anyone starts throwing bricks it is also necessary to the preservation of our way of life), but I don’t think that God solves human problems even if God existed. That whole free will thing, right?

    Now, whether Jesus would have told us to become good communists or not, I won’t get into. Wiser philosophies and empiric results have taught us that society functions most prosperously when individual rights to life, liberty, and property are not infringed. The government should only sparingly ever try to take any of those three. In the U.S. we kill too many people, we lock up too many people, and we take away too many things from people. I’m willing to bet that Perry will never argue that God is the solution to locking up too many people and killing too many people with government sanction.

  19. John

    Yes the message is to everyone who does not subscribe to his totalitarian image – be afraid, very afraid.


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