Perceptions of the Presidency: Civil Religion and the Public's Assessment of Candidates and Incumbents

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Title: Perceptions of the Presidency: Civil Religion and the Public's Assessment of Candidates and Incumbents
Author: Woolley, Donald Patrick
Advisors: Anne L. Schiller, Committee Member
Ronald C. Wimberley, Committee Chair
Randall J. Thomson, Committee Member
Alexander J. DeGrande, Committee Member
Abstract: Robert Bellah introduced the concept of American civil religion more than thirty year ago. While interest has waxed and waned over time, there has been an increase in the level of attention paid to civil religion in the United States since the beginning of the 21st Century. Much of this interest has been rhetorical however, and very little actual research has taken place. This study examines the relationship between the civil religious beliefs of the American public and the public's perception of the presidency. Randomly selected subjects from stratified samples in Raleigh, North Carolina were collected during two separate, yet similar, studies in 1984 and 1998. Data from then 1984 Reagan-Mondale presidential contest are used to examine presidential electoral preference for candidates who are seen as more civil religious. It is contended that the candidate who is seen as more civil religious will have an electoral advantage. Further data collected during the fall of 1998 are used to look at the relationship between civil religious beliefs and feelings of outrage or betrayal at the perceived actions of President Clinton leading to his impeachment trial are explored. In this case it is contended that the stronger a member of the public's feelings of civil religiosity, the greater their feelings of outrage. It would appear from the results of these studies that the lens of civil religion is used by the public in their perception of the presidency. It would also appear that the traditional view of American civil religion has changed since Bellah's original thesis. The implications of these findings, in terms of theory methodology and policy are discussed.
Date: 2005-01-16
Degree: PhD
Discipline: Sociology

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