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Archive for November, 2012

UNL political science class to reveal poll on campus political views

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Are University of Nebraska-Lincoln students more liberal or conservative? Who did students support in the 2012 presidential election and Nebraska’s Senate race? What do they think of their professors’ politics? What is students’ perception of the Benghazi attacks?

The Political Science 230: Elections, Political Parties, and Special Interests class at UNL not only created its own poll using knowledge learned in class about political surveys to answer these questions — the class has analyzed the data and will be sharing their findings at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29 in Unity Room 212 in the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center.

The poll received more than 2,000 responses and provides a representative sample of the student body’s political attitudes and opinions. It was created by 32 students in the class, who developed survey questions, programmed and promoted the poll and analyzed the answers. The poll was sent out to the entire student body and has a wide variety of questions ranging from basic political knowledge and attitudes to opinions on domestic and foreign policy issues, including:

– Who students supported in the 2012 presidential and Senate elections;

– Breakdowns of ideology and partisanship among students;

– Views on issues of the day, including Lincoln’s Fairness Amendment and the Middle East; and

–  Opinions about campus issues, such as class size and funding for student organizations.

The students will be open to questions after their presentation.

Coverage: Lincoln Journal Star | Daily Nebraskan |

How devout are we? Study shows evangelicals surge, Catholics wane

Monday, November 19th, 2012

The percentage of Americans who say they are strong in their religious faith has been steady for the last four decades, a new study finds. But in that same time, the intensity of some religious groups has surged while others – notably Roman Catholics – has faded.

Among the risers: Evangelicals, who have become more staunchly devout since the early 1990s. Meanwhile, Catholics now report the lowest proportion of strongly affiliated followers among major American religious traditions.

The drop in intensity could present challenges for the Roman Catholic Church, the study suggests, both in terms of church participation and in Catholics’ support for the Church’s social and theological positions.

“On the whole, the results show that Americans’ strength of religious affiliation was stable from the 1970s to 2010,” said Philip Schwadel, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist who authored the study, which is to be published in the journal Sociology of Religion. “But upon closer examination, there is considerable divergence between evangelical Protestants on the one hand and Catholics and mainline Protestants on the other.”

Schwadel modeled data from nearly 40,000 respondents to the General Social Survey from 1974-2010 and created a measure for Americans’ strength of religious affiliation over time.

Overall, the proportion of Americans who said they were “strongly affiliated” with their religion increased from 38 percent in the 1970s to a high of more than 43 percent in the mid-1980s. That number slid to 37 percent by the end of the ‘80s and has remained stable ever since, the study showed.

The big changes, however, came within the nation’s various denominations and religious traditions – most noticeably between Catholics and evangelicals. Since the 1980s, an intensity gap emerged between the groups, the study found. By 2010, about 56 percent of evangelicals said they considered themselves strong adherents to their faith. For Catholics, it was just 35 percent, four percentage points lower than mainline Protestants.

“Sociologists have been writing about declines in mainline Protestantism for the last few decades,” Schwadel said. “The tremendous decline in Catholics’ strength of affiliation, though, was somewhat surprising.”

Schwadel’s analysis suggests the changes are related to “period-based” effects – the popular discourse, political events or other occurrences that can lead to changes among certain groups of people during a specific time period.

In Catholics’ case, the study shows an abrupt decline in strength of affiliation starting in 1984 and ending in 1989. The findings suggest this could be in reaction to publicity around sex abuse scandals involving priests at that time, as well as the growing number of Latino Catholics responding to the survey. Prior research has shown Latino Catholics to be unlikely to report a strong religious affiliation compared with other Catholics.

Meanwhile, evangelicals’ strength of affiliation began to swell in the early 1990s, following the growth of their presence in the public sphere during the prior decade, the study shows.

“Social change of this sort often occurs across generations, in response to generation-specific socialization processes,” Schwadel said. “Still, the analysis shows that changes in strength of religious affiliation occur largely across time periods, suggesting more rapid, and potentially more ephemeral, forms of social change.”

The study also found that though there has been a steady deterioration in strength of religious affiliation over time among Catholics, strength of affiliation was less strongly associated with church attendance among younger generations. This means that declines in Catholics’ strength of affiliation do not necessarily lead to equivalent declines in their church attendance.

“That could be seen as good news and bad news for the Catholic Church,” Schwadel said. “Younger Catholics are not being driven away from going to church, but they do still feel less strongly committed to their religion than they did a few decades ago.”

The study also found:

– Similar to evangelicals, African American Protestants report a high proportion of strongly affiliated members – about 57 percent in 2010.

– Mainline Protestants’ devoutness fell to lows of roughly 30 percent in the late 1970s and late 1980s before gradually climbing to 39 percent in 2010.

– The proportion of Americans who say they adhere to no religion climbed from about 6 percent in the 1970s and 1980s to 16 percent in 2010. The increase is roughly equivalent in the decline of people who say they were “somewhat” or “not very strongly” affiliated with their religion over the same time period.

Contact: Philip Schwadel, associate professor of sociology, 402-472-6008 or

UNL experts alert: Election Day and beyond

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Looking for clarity on any number of political races — before or after Tuesday? University of Nebraska-Lincoln experts are available to discuss the presidential, Nebraska U.S. Senate and other campaigns with members of the media:

-  John Hibbing, Foundation Regents University Professor of Political ScienceNebraska’s U.S. Senate race, Congress.Hibbing is a nationally known expert in political psychology, biology and politics, political behavior, public opinion and legislative politics. For reporters, he can provide insight into this year’s national and statewide campaigns, including the races for U.S. Senate in Nebraska and the presidential campaign, and can provide reaction and analysis on campaign-trail developments. Reach Hibbing at 402-472-3220 or

-  Kevin B. Smith, professor of political scienceNebraska’s U.S. Senate race, presidential race, political messaging. Smith focuses on public policy, public administration, American politics, and biology and politics. He can discuss the dynamics of this year’s U.S. Senate race and other major races, including the presidential campaign. He can analyze broad aspects of these campaigns, including the effectiveness or lack thereof of political advertising. He also can discuss differences between liberals, conservatives and moderates in the context of the 2012 election, and how developments on the campaign trail may be interpreted by these different groups of voters. Reach Smith at 402-472-0779 or

-  Dona-Gene Mitchell, assistant professor of political science: Public opinion, effects of campaign information on voters over time. Mitchell’s expertise is in American political behavior, public opinion and political psychology. She researches and teaches in the areas of how opinions are formed via information, campaigns and time, and the lifespan of information effects. She can discuss the effectiveness over time of campaign messaging on voters or how long unfavorable information may affect politicians and elected officials. Reach Dona-Gene Mitchell at 402-472-5994 or

-  Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, Willa Cather Professor and Chair of Political SciencePublic opinion, political behavior, political psychology. Theiss-Morse researches Americans’ attitudes about numerous aspects of the American political system and about their fellow Americans. She is currently analyzing politicians’ use of heated rhetoric and how it affects the effectiveness of democracy. Reach Theiss-Morse at 402-472-3221 or

-  Ronald Lee, Professor of Communication Studies: Politics, public discourse, rhetoric, race, religion. Lee’s expertise is in contemporary political discourse. His research delves into the rhetorical construction of presidential legacies, the discourses of poverty, the mythical use of American place in national politics, and the use of race in post civil-rights-era political discourse. Reach Lee at 402-472-2255 or

-  Damien Smith Pfister, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies: Political rhetoric, culture, digital media in politics.Pfister researches the impact of digital media on public deliberation and culture, including how blogging and social networking has challenged traditional patterns of communication during political campaigns and controversies. His current research includes the content of presidential campaign ads from 1952 to 2012 and the Obama administration’s use of digital media. Reach Pfister at 402-472-0646 or