Are Conservatives generous?

It’s been mentioned to me a few times (mostly by my conservative counterpart on GCP, Elgin Hushbeck) that conservatives are more generous than liberals. This is a claim I haven’t investigated previously, but it is definitely one which is apparently backed up by research in the USA.

On closer examination, however, I find that the situation might not be quite as the headlines taken off that and similar pieces of research claim. An article in Huffington Post, for instance, brings out the facts that one such study merely looks at tax deductible contributions, and rightly enquires whether this is a sound basis for assessing charitable giving; in particular it notes the fact that payments to churches are all considered charitable, and raises one issue involving the Knights of Columbus which casts doubt on the charitable nature of payments to churches.

In fact I’d be inclined to go much further than the article. What churches spend on evangelism, on the upkeep of buildings, on the teaching of religion, on the presentation of worship services and for the most part on personnel is not the kind of charity which liberals typically have in mind (which is payments to or for the benefit of the poor, the homeless, the sick, the disabled and those generally cast out of society). Most churches I know do not actually spend a very high percentage of their income on such objectives. I would therefore be inclined to disallow as “charitable” maybe 70-90 percent of giving to churches. In point of fact, I split my own giving, which currently goes about 30% to the church, 40% to charities for those target groups and 30% to education (which doesn’t necessarily satisfy my criterion). Although I do give rather more than 10% of my disposable income, the church doesn’t get a tithe of it.

A study reported in the Washington Post raises another problem with the research which is commonly used; it is based on a test of social conservatism rather than political conservatism. When purely political stance is taken into account, the study they quote reveals that political conservatives and political liberals give about the same amounts, but of course not necessarily for the same purposes; it is then arguable that the political liberals’ contributions are higher, as part of the political conservatives’ giving is for church purposes rather than strictly charity. Again, I note that while I’m politically liberal, I’m socially significantly more conservative in the way I act myself – I don’t, for instance, like the ease with which divorces are available, and I frown on people bringing children into the world without considering how they will be supported and brought up (not that I’d want to prevent other people doing these things, merely that I think they shouldn’t).

I don’t know of any comparable studies done in the UK. I fancy that the statistics might be somewhat different, as of our main churches, the Methodists have traditionally had a close relationship with the Trade Union and Cooperative movements (and thus with the Labour party), a very significant number of Catholics are left-leaning (locally to me they have provided several longstanding Labour councillors) and even in the Anglican church, which used to be called “the Tory Party at prayer”, I know a lot of left-leaning people, particularly clergy. Even if, as seems likely, churchgoers here give more than non-churchgoers, I suspect that the US assumption of churchgoers being politically conservative may not hold good, or at least not as good as it does in the States.

I therefore arrive at the conclusion that no, political conservatives are not more generous than political liberals. I wouldn’t want to argue that they were less generous, though…

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