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Democratic Talk in Church: Religion and Political Socialization in the Context of Urban Inequality

Amy Erica Smith

World Development, 2017, vol. 99, issue C, 441-451

Abstract: In new and developing democracies, levels of education are often low and many citizens lack experience with democratic processes. How do citizens in such political systems learn about elections and develop participatory orientations? Civil society organizations can promote political socialization, yet often fail to reach those lowest in resources. This article proposes that churches constitute an often overlooked instance of civil society, one that is highly inclusive and provides frequent opportunities for interaction. Such socialization can be especially important in low-income and low-education neighborhoods, where access to media and political information through everyday social networks is more limited. A case study of a municipal election campaign in a single Brazilian city reveals that exposure to political information in church is common, especially in evangelical churches and in low-education neighborhoods. Even more frequent than partisan discussion is promotion of non-partisan civic norms encouraging citizens to cast informed votes based on non-clientelistic criteria. Those exposed to civic and partisan messages know significantly more about the local campaign and are more likely to turn out. Messages encouraging a “conscientious vote” boost knowledge most strongly in low-education neighborhoods, helping to equalize political information across the urban environment. This suggests that development professionals take churches seriously as sites of civic education.

Keywords: Brazil; religion; voting behavior; civic education; political behavior; local politics (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2017
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