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 FoxNew.com:
“…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.
*Image courtesy of VERONICA ZARAGOVIA/AFP/Getty Images.
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