A “Prejudice” for the Thinking Classes: Media Exposure Political Sophistication and the Anti-Christian Fundamentalist [Bolce; De Maio]
Louis Bolce; Gerald De Maio
Abstract: Research on attitudes toward Christian fundamentalists shows that antagonism toward this group has become a significant factor since the early 1990s in structuring candidate preferences and issue positions concerning the place of religion and religiously informed moral conviction in public life. In view that religious outgroup animus as a driving force in voting behavior was thought to have been laid to rest by President Kennedy’s triumph in the 1960 election, the rise of political anti-fundamentalism in the contemporary era can be viewed as a rather remarkable development. This paper explores how information conveyed in news media helped inform popular evaluations of fundamentalists and instruct anti-fundamentalists on how to make use of these judgments politically in the culture wars. Our thesis is that attitudes toward Christian fundamentalists can be considered in large measure as a reaction to messages about this group carried in media, filtered through individual differences in political attentiveness and predispositions. Using the insights of schema theory and political communications studies on impression formation, we argue that, in response to the relentlessly negative coverage of Christian fundamentalists in the mainstream press, persons most attentive to media during this time frame, other things equal, would be more likely to feel antagonistic toward fundamentalists and more inclined to hold negative stereotypes of members of this group, despite their greater commitment to tolerance and anti-prejudice norms in the abstract. Data from the 1988-2004 American National Election Studies (ANES) show significant media effects, which increased over time, particularly among the sophisticated segment of the public. Our findings illuminate how variation in media attentiveness and individual differences in political and cultural predispostions conjoin to determine whether and the degree to which non-fundamentalists feel antagonistically toward Christian fundamentalists. The significant media effects indicate to a trained eye that anti-fundamentalism has become a fashionable prejudice for the thinking classes.