Finding Data: Church Membership and the Rise of Religious Conservatism

For my final project in my Digital Humanities class, I am interested in investigating the relationships between church membership numbers (1980, 1990) and presidential election results (1980, 1984, 1988, 1992) in Alabama at the county level. Depending on the evident relationships, we might be able to see if the rise of religious conservatism associated with Ronald Reagan continued to influence later presidential elections (or politics more generally) in Alabama. In addition to the Longitudinal Religious Congregations and Membership dataset, other data sources will be necessary for this project.

Potential Data Sources

1980 Presidential General Election Results – Alabama

  • Example data from original source (paid)
  • Example data from Wikipedia (free), taken from original source
  • From this dataset, we can ask which counties supported Reagan or Carter (and by how much), which counties had high voter turnout relative to their respective populations, and we can compare the election results, voter turnout, and church membership numbers over time.

1980 Historical Income Tables: Counties – the Census

  • Example datasets
  • I am interested most in the “Median Household Income by County” and “Percent Change in Median Household Income” tables, 1969, 1979, and 1989.
  • Focusing on the 1979 and 1989 numbers, we can ask to what extent, and in what direction, incomes changed within and across counties over the 1980s decade. If we pair this with the church membership data, we can ask if there was a relationship between membership numbers and economic status.

Reagan-Bush ’84 Campaign Financial Summary – Federal Election Commission

  • Example dataset of Reagan campaign contributions by individual contributors from Alabama
  • While churches and religious congregations are prohibited from donating to political campaigns, these datasets include the contributor’s city and zip code location information.
  • Questions that can be asked include which cities—and respective counties if we map cities to counties—contained supporters motivated enough to support Reagan’s campaign financially and see if these reflect election data. We can also see who, by location, financially supported the opposing candidates. Then we can ask if there are relationships between church membership numbers and zeal for certain candidates, especially over time, as religious political conservatism strengthened or weakened election to election.

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