Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Mapping Belief
Over at Pharyngula, P.Z. Myers put up a map showing "religious adherents as a percentage of population." The darker the color, the greater the percentage of people who identify themselves as a member of one of the 149 religious bodies that participated in a survey by something called the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. (Can't be a very big association, can it?) The most strongly affiliated regions are Utah, north Texas, western Oklahoma, northern Iowa, southwestern Minnesota, and much of the Dakotas. (It looks like North Dakota is the strongest of all.) The least affiliated region is the northwest, especially Oregon and northern California.

I'm intrigued by some of the ways in which this map doesn't at all match what seems to be our political reality. Take Ohio, for example, which is currently in the throes of a theocratic drive that would make an Iranian mullah proud. Based on that, you'd expect it to be one of the most heavily religious states in the Union. However, only two or three counties show up in the most heavily affiliated category--and the whole southern tier of the state shows up in the least affiliated category. West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida--all show less affiliation than you'd expect, whereas Massachusetts, despite its liberal reputation, looks comparable to Mississippi.

I'm intrigued also by my home region, at the micro level. If you look at the southernmost tier of counties in Wisconsin, from left to right, Grant and Lafayette counties are in the heaviest group. They're part of a broader swath of dark red that runs up the Mississippi on the Iowa side--a region that, despite its religiosity, contains several of the few rural counties in the country that went Democratic in the 2000 election, and was strong for John Kerry in 2004. The next county to the left, Green, is where I was born. It actually shows less religious affiliation than most of its neighbors, although I'm not sure why this should be true. Dane County, where I live now, is directly above Green, and despite the presence of so many godless liberal types in and around the University of Wisconsin, its figure is comparable to the rest of the counties in southern Wisconsin. The Fox Valley area, which sits at the base of the "thumb" formed by the Door Peninsula jutting out into Lake Michigan, is widely perceived as the most Republican area of the state, and this map backs it up. It's no surprise, then, that Mark Green, who is currently representing that region in Congress, is also the Republican candidate for governor this fall. However, the heavily Republican Milwaukee suburbs don't show the high percentage of religious affiliation you'd expect there--if religious affiliation equals stronger Republican support. Perhaps it doesn't, or not in the ways we often think.

The weirdest little spot is right in the center of Wisconsin, where Adams County shows the lowest percentage in the state. (Adams County is one of Wisconsin's more enigmatic places--it was the home of our famous cannibal, Ed Gein, and people whisper about its general weirdness.) Its eastern neighbors, Marquette and Waushara counties, show a little higher, but less than their surrounding neighbors. Green Lake County, right next door, is a little island of dark red. I have no idea how to explain this.

The map makes no distinction regarding denominations or types of religious belief--it only distinguishes the number of people who consider themselves affiliated, so it's difficult to draw any conclusions from it that have much to do with contemporary politics. It doesn't conform all that well with the red-state/blue-state map from the 2000 and 2004 elections, except in the most general way. I'd be interested in your thoughts as to why this is the case.

Recommended Reading: Orcinus on what Michelle Malkin's latest column has to do with the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Quote of the Day: In the Pandagon story linked in my second paragraph above, Amanda contemplates Ohio's proposed law making it a felony for Ohioans to go out of state for an abortion. "I wonder if Congress will pass something like the Fugitive Slave Act, to assist Ohio in tracking down its female property and returning them to their rightful owners after they escaped mandatory pregnancy."

(Edited a bit since first being posted.)

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