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We’ve written a few times about new research on Asian-Americans and so were eager to see a new chapter in a book on ethnic pluralism and its role in the 2008 election. It’s an intriguing treatise on the amazing diversity in the Asian-American community (composed of at least nine ethnic groups and 11 different religious affiliations).

Asian-American” doesn’t mean one thing. It means many things. According to the chapter authors (So Young Kim and Russell Jeung), Asian-Americans are unique among American ethnic groups in that they do not predictably act as either a racial bloc or a religious bloc. Asian-Americans do not share a religious faith and 27% do not follow any religion per se. And despite their high levels of education and income–they are not particularly politically involved. In fact, Asian-Americans may have lower levels of voting than other ethnic groups (although it is hypothesized this could shift as the various Asian-American groups log in more time in the US and begin establishing a stronger pan-ethnic identity).

What is especially interesting to us is that the authors found patterns in voting among Asian-Americans during the 2008 Presidential elections. Overall, Asian-Americans were more likely to support Barack Obama during the 2008 elections than Caucasian voters with similar incomes and religious affiliations. However, within the Asian-American group, there were subgroup patterns that call out for recognition:

Asian-Americans who were agnostic, atheist, Hindu or Muslim were more likely to vote for Barack Obama (and were also reportedly more liberal).

Asian-Americans who were Protestant and Catholic and more conservative also supported Obama. (You weren’t expecting that were you?)

Finally, Vietnamese-Americans (many of whom are Catholic) were more likely to vote for John McCain.

Another important descriptor the authors use is disenfranchised. Many Asian-Americans feel they are not valued (and truly, they have not been studied to the extent of other ethnic groups in this country) and this is likely an important variable to consider in terms of identification with your case.

Religion, Race, and Barack Obama’s New Democratic Pluralism is a data-dense book with an emphasis on political shifts and ideology based on ethnicity (featuring chapters on mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Seculars, Women, African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans). What is most interesting from a litigation advocacy perspective is that this chapter shows us that we know a lot less than most of us think we know about Asian-Americans. There is not a blanket description of the Asian-American just as there is not a blanket description of American women, African-Americans, American Muslims or Jews, disabled people or other identifiable groups.

It’s a terrific reminder to not assume and to maintain curiosity about those different than us. They can often surprise you.

So Young Kim, Russell Jeung. 2012. Asian Americans, Religion and the 2008 Elections (Chapter 11). In Religion, Race, and Barack Obama’s New Democratic Pluralism, Gastón Espinosa, Ed. Publisher: Routledge.

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Wearing your religion on your face

Monday, February 21, 2011
posted by Douglas Keene

We’ve talked before about mock jurors believing they can ‘see’ who is lying, using drugs, or other negative behaviors litigants (or anyone else!) would want to keep private. Now we have new evidence that some of those jurors may have good radar—at least when it comes to being able to identify certain religious group members!

It’s easy to ‘see’ some religious affiliations, especially those whose faith involves a high degree of integration of religious obedience and daily life. Think of the Amish and other religious groups who are identifiable by attire or facial hair or turbans or robes, or the attire of some Orthodox Jews, Sufis, or Muslims. But most of us are not wearing particular clothing or neat labels identifying religious affiliation. In fact, when asked, many of us even lie about just how often we attend religious services!

Consider, for example, the religious group of Mormons. Think you could pick them out of a crowd? Maybe you think you couldn’t. But the subjects in a recent study could! Even when their hair was removed, eyes and mouth covered, and images were turned upside down.  That’s pretty strange. Here’s how it worked.

Researchers examined the folklore around intuition and found strong perceptions that we can ‘know things’ about people just from their faces. We think, for example, we can identify sexual orientation, age, gender—and we are so frustrated when we cannot, or race. They cite research finding that people (both Mormon and non-Mormon) were able to identify un-labeled Mormon faces at a better than chance rate. This held true both in areas with large Mormon populations and in areas with few Mormons—although Mormons were better at identifying fellow Mormons than were non-Mormons.

Ultimately, the researchers decided to explore what it was about Mormon faces that facilitated identification to the observer. They went to fairly extensive lengths to include plain faces without piercings, extra earrings, or extreme haircuts and kept all photos within a younger age range, so as to make discrimination of Mormons/non-Mormons tough. They also had people simply observe parts of the faces (like the eyebrows) and attempt to identify the person as Mormon or not. (As you might imagine, eyebrows don’t tell you much.)

The researchers concluded that while participants were indeed able to categorize Mormons and non-Mormons more accurately than chance—they were seemingly unaware of their ability to do so. The categorization of Mormons appeared to be drawn largely from the quality of facial skin—since Mormons do not drink alcohol, smoke or drink caffeine. Participants apparently infer overall good health from what they observe of the skin and identify (accurately) the participant as Mormon. So it  wasn’t so much “Mormon” they were identifying, it was the attribution of what they thought of as a Mormon trait—“healthy”.

So what does this mean for litigation advocacy? The point of this post is that we all look at very subtle cues and inform ourselves about people. We make assumptions. We doubt there will be times when you are asking a jury to identify ‘who’s the Mormon’.   But you will be challenged to deal with perceptions that someone has led a healthy or unhealthy life, that they seem virtuous or dissipated.

Many of us have read the research that says we can perceive basic things about people in split seconds. Jurors do that too. They look at you. They look at your witnesses. They look at the parties. And, in the absence of other data, they form conclusions about gender, sexual orientation, good/bad habits, character, and whether you dye your own hair or have it done professionally. You need to control this interpretation by giving jurors understanding for what they see. If you do not, they will make up their own interpretations—and you have no way of knowing what they’ll ‘intuit’.

Rule NO, Garrett JV, & Ambady N (2010). On the perception of religious group membership from faces. PloS one, 5 (12) PMID: 21151864

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democrat-republicanToday’s researchers are finding political party differences consistently on hot button issues. They simply ask if political affiliation is Republican, Democrat, or Independent, and have found it predictive. In case this paragraph is the only part of this post that you read, we hasten to add [spoiler alert!] that while on some cases it is useful to know (especially those involving tort reform issues or other politically linked controversies), there is often no predictive value related to party affiliation.

These researchers commissioned an October 2013 national survey with 2000 respondents (i.e., registered voters interviewed online) to see if Americans see science as relevant to policy making/writing. They were particularly interested in “how political attitudes, along with religious faith and education, impact views about the proper role of science in shaping public policy”. What they found was that, “most Americans view science as relevant to policy, but that their willingness to defer to science in policy matters varies considerably across issues”.

The results of this paper are complex and we are only going to focus on how they found Republicans and Democrats to be different. The survey asked about 16 different issues (with many of them being potentially divisive): embryonic stem cell research, fetus viability, global warming/climate change, gay adoption, childhood obesity and diet restrictions, AIDS prevention, birth control education, legalizing drug use, mandatory health insurance, regulation of coal production, mandatory background checks for gun permits, producing biotech food and crops, regulation of nuclear power, animal testing for medical research, mandatory childhood vaccinations, and teaching evolution and the origins of humans.

And here is what they found:

Republicans and Democrats do disagree across all 16 items surveyed with Democrats much more likely to defer to science across all 16 issues. It is not that Republicans are anti-science. It is that Democrats are very pro-science and willing to defer to scientists strongly on almost all policy issues.

Republicans and Independents have only slight differences in their responses about deference to science on policy issues. What this survey shows is that Democrats stand alone while Republicans and Independents have a more similar  perspective on scientific findings as the foundation for public policy.

What the researchers say is that identifying as Democrat is connected to a strong, pro-science stance but identifying as Republican is not indicative (at all) of being anti-science. Instead, religious beliefs and political ideology (whether you see yourself as liberal or conservative) is more important than political affiliation.

The researchers think the majority of the American public is comfortable deferring to science on public policy issues and indicate that identifying as Republican was only correlated with decreased willingness to defer to scientific opinion on gay adoption and mandatory health insurance and those decreases did not reach statistical significance.

In short, they conclude, if you want Democrats on your side, use scientific research to back up your policy positions.

From a litigation advocacy position, we see this as indicative of the importance of not making assumptions that your Republican jurors will be conservative and anti-science. While it appears you can make the assumption that Democrat jurors will be very pro-science, you cannot make the opposite assumption about Republican jurors. It is far more likely to come down to attitudes, values and beliefs—and not demographic categories like gender, race, and politics.

Blank, J., & Shaw, D. (2015). Does Partisanship Shape Attitudes toward Science and Public Policy? The Case for Ideology and Religion The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 658 (1), 18-35 DOI: 10.1177/0002716214554756

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Changing American Attitudes: Gay/Lesbian Issues

Wednesday, October 22, 2014
posted by Douglas Keene

FL21 Lesbian pride FlagRecently, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed AB2501 banning the “gay panic” defense in California. The story in the Visalia Times-Delta says, Californians cannot claim in court that they were

“acting from panic or passion when they killed someone who they either knew or found out was gay or transgender.  Now they will face the full charges for their crime, just as if they had killed a heterosexual person.  No more “momentary insanity” claims because someone of the same gender (or transgender) made a pass (or you thought they made a pass) at you”.

And it isn’t just California. Attitudes toward gay/lesbian people are changing across America. We see those shifts in surveys by secular polling groups routinely. But when we see them in surveys hosted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), we need to take notice. In June of 2014, PRRI posted a fact sheet on gay and lesbian issues based on recent survey results. In brief, here is what they had to say:

Same-sex marriage:

A majority of Americans favor legal same-sex marriage (53%) while just 41% oppose.

Democrats support legal same-sex marriage (64%) as do Independents (57%), but only a minority of Republicans have support for legal same-sex marriage (34%).

Young adults (aged 18 to 29) support legal same-sex marriage (69%) while senior citizens mostly do not (56% oppose).

Same-sex marriage and religion:

51% of Americans say same-sex marriage is against their religious beliefs, but 45% disagree.

Americans tend to perceive three religious groups as unfriendly toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people: the Catholic Church (58%), the Mormon Church (53%), and evangelical Christian Churches (51%).

Discrimination against LGBT people in American society and workplace protections:

More than 2/3 of Americans (68%) think gay and lesbian people face a lot of discrimination in the US.

72% favor laws that would protect gay and lesbian people from job discrimination. 23% oppose these laws. 75% of Americans think Congress should pass laws to protect transgender people from job discrimination, while 21% disagree.

Morality-Acceptance Gap on Gay and Lesbian Relationships:

51% of Americans say (despite the majority support for same-sex marriage) that sex between adults of the same gender is morally wrong.

Parenting and Adoption by Gay and Lesbian Couples:

58% of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian people to adopt children, and 37% are  opposed.

Nature vs. Nurture Debate About Sexual Orientation:

44% of Americans think being gay and/or lesbian is “something a person is born with” while 36% think it is “due to factors such as upbringing or environment”. 12% think it is some combination of the two (i.e., nature + nurture).

There is more in this fact sheet that we have not covered here. You can find information on the breakdown of attitudes by religious affiliation, attitudes about the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Federalism, a breakdown of attitudes by political affiliation, and attitudes on ordination of gay and lesbian people. Overall, it’s a good primer on where attitudes are now in the United States about wide-ranging issues related to gay lesbian people.

Fact Sheet: Gay and Lesbian Issues. 2013. Public Religion Research Institute.

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Libertarian orientation scaleAfter years of not having a way to measure those who consistently respond in a Libertarian direction, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) has offered us a new scale to do just that. We posted on Monday about their survey of Libertarians and this is the measure they used to determine who was really Libertarian, who tended to lean Libertarian, who was not Libertarian, and who was a mixture of Libertarian and non-Libertarian attitudes. It’s an intriguing scale. But first, some terminology is in order.

Libertarians are–in some cases rugged–individualists and thus notoriously (and probably proudly) difficult for researchers to pigeon-hole or label. A 1984 publication defined libertarianism as composed of two dimensions: personal freedom and government intervention. Since 1984, these current authors say, the “issue agenda has evolved” and they therefore used 9 separate questions to examine three dimensions of present-day Libertarianism: national security and international intervention, economic policy, and personal liberty issues.

Second, they define non-Libertarians as “Communalists”. Why? Because their responses were the opposite of the Libertarian responses on this scale. Libertarians score low in their desire for government intervention at the cost of personal liberties–while Communalists preferred (i.e., scored higher on desire for) government intervention even when it cost some personal liberties.

As you can see in the graphic illustrating this post, 54% of Americans have Mixed Libertarian and Communal attitudes/beliefs. Those who respond consistently Libertarian or Communalist each make up 7% of the population, while 15% lean Libertarian and 17% lean Communalist.

So. With those definitions in mind, the researchers asked the respondents if they would identify with the label “Libertarian”. Thirteen percent did (but their response pattern was less consistent ideologically than those who were identified by the Libertarian Orientation Scale as either Libertarian or Libertarian leaning). Without further ado, here are the questions (from page 7 in the full report) the researchers used to identify the Libertarians in their sample.

Libertarian Orientation Scale items

Each question was placed on a 7-point Likert scale (ranging from 1 to 7) with a low score representing the Libertarian position and a high score representing the Communal position. Thus, the most Libertarian score would be a 9 and the most Communal score a 63 for the total scale. Scores in this sample ranged from 12 to 63. Scores from 9-25 were classified as Libertarians, scores of 26-31 were classified as Libertarian Leaning, scores from 32-42 were classified as Mixed, scores from 43-48 were classified as having Communalist Leanings, and those with scores from 49-63 were classified as Communalists.

The remainder of the PRRI report looks closely at the difference between the groups (i.e., Libertarian, Lean Libertarian, Communalist, Lean Communalist, Mixed) as defined by this measure. It is interesting and easy reading, as well as a nice way to modify your beliefs (aka stereotypes) about this group. While these are not likely questions you can use in voir dire to classify potential jurors based on these categories, it is a clear look at the issues that may be particularly important to those with either Libertarian or Communalist leanings.

Libertarians, like the rest of us, have changed over the years. Thanks to PRRI for bringing our awareness up to date.

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