Are conservative evangelicals antidemocratic?: elite level examination of the Southern Baptist Convention



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Texas Tech University


Conservative evangelicals have been labeled antidemocratic by many sectors of society. If the antidemocratic charge were true, it would apply to a large segment of American society. Evangelicals constitute approximately one-quarter of the population and conservative evangelicals make up the vast majority of this group. This alone makes the antidemocratic charge a quite serious one to deal with given the number of people it involves.

The antidemocratic charge may stem from policy disagreements between liberal and conservative groups within American society. At times, those who disagree with conservative evangelicals assign the antidemocratic label to them because they do not agree with conservative evangelical policy preferences. This strategy allows for the vilification of conservative evangelicals by calling into question their basic commitment to democratic ideals.

In order to correct for possible bias, this study constructs a definition of democracy that is neutral on preferred policy issues. If a person is committed to guaranteeing all Americans freedom of expression, freedom of association, and universal adult suffrage, this constitutes commitment to basic democratic ideals. Individual policy preferences may vary, but allowing one's opponents to have these democratic rights should be the true measure of whether or not one is democratic. If someone is allowed to fairly compete for the public's attention and support, they might persuade the public to support their position. If they fail, they can reorganize and come back for another try by availing themselves of their democratic rights.