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Religious Priming': Location of Voting Booths Can Sway Decisions

Religious Priming': Location of Voting Booths Can Sway Decisions

"raise questions about how our spaces can influence our attitudes"

Polling places often include schools, churches and some other public buildings. A growing body of research states that the location of where you cast you vote could be influencing those decisions to an extent, a factor called "priming."

A new study from Baylor University found that of those in England and the Netherlands who stopped to take a survey near a Christian church were likely to report themselves as more politically conservative and had a more negative attitude toward non-Christians, compared to those answering survey questions near a government building.

The researchers consider these findings significant because churches and other buildings with some association to religious groups are sometimes the location of voting booths.

"The important finding here is that people near a religious building reported slightly but significantly more conservative social and political attitudes than similar people near a government building," co-author Wade Rowatt, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor, in a press release. "In a close election, the place where people vote — a school, a church, a government building — could affect the outcome . For example, a higher percentage of people voting in a church instead of a school might vote for a conservative candidate or proposition."

Psychologist Jordan LaBouff, lead author of the study, said that these findings "raise questions about how our spaces can influence our attitudes".

The researchers conducting the surveys were careful to make sure those interviewed near churches were not expressly in the area to attend church. The group of 99 participants were diverse with more than 30 countries represented in the demographic and varying religious beliefs.

Priming, according to the press release, is when "stimulus such as a verbal or a visual cue [...] influences a response." The authors specifically looked at "religious priming" but this it is not the only sort of priming they point out. The authors cited a study from Stanford University published in 2008 evaluating a 2000 school funding referendum in Arizona. Those voting in schools were more likely to support the tax than those in churches or other buildings.

A 2010 study of the "polling place priming" effect by researchers at the Boston University College of Law also points out the strong correlation between voting location and its influence on certain ballot issues. With this evidence in mind, the Boston University researchers consider the constitutionality of hosting voting booths in churches due to the "unconscious nature [...] on citizen's decision making" and the First Amendment.

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