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Ask Professor Burge 20: Education and Religiosity, LDS and Women, and Romney


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/07/06

Professor Ryan Burge‘s website states: “I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science as well as the Graduate Coordinator at Eastern Illinois University. I teach in a variety of areas, including American institutions, political behavior, and research methods. My research focuses largely on the intersection between religiosity and political behavior (especially in the American context). Previously, I have completed an appointment as a post doctoral research fellow at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale, Illinois. While there I was an adviser on issues of survey methodology and polling, as well as providing data collection and analysis.

I have published over a dozen articles in a number of well regarded peer reviewed journals including Politics & Religion, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Review of Religious Research, the Journal of Religious Leadership, RepresentationPoliticsGroupsand Identities, the Journal of Communication and Religion, the Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture and the Social Science Computer Review. 

In addition, my research has been covered in a variety of media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, Vox, 538, BuzzFeed News, Al-Jazeera, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, The Daily Mail, Deseret News, World Magazine, Relevant, and C-SPAN. I am the co-founder and frequent contributor to Religion in Public, a forum for scholars of religion and politics to make their work accessible to a more general audience.

Finally, I am a pastor in the American Baptist Church, having served my current church for over thirteen years.”

Here we talk about college, the LDS, and Mitt Romney.

*Interview conducted October 12, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Now there is a myth, semi-myth, in the secular communities, the idea of entrance and completion of college-level education leading to fewer people identifying with a religious belief system. This isn’t entirely true. Individuals who go into college are more likely to both become atheist/agnostic and/or Protestant/Catholic. The main difference is that those who do not have college are more likely to be nothing in particular. Is there a phenomenon of more crystallization of the belief structures more than anything there?

Professor Ryan Burge: I think the things that are making people atheists, agnostics are not the college experienced. I think for a lot of these people who are already believing that way before they go to college and then they go to college. They find themselves because they break from the structures that they were raised in the church, their family and their community and their parents and all these things. So, I think that being more likely to go to college also means you’re more likely to be exploring your faith, exploring your values, exploring your sexuality, exploring your gender identity, exploring all of these things. So, I don’t think it is college necessarily. And by the way, I had other scholars, coming by that I published on this, and they showed the same thing, that it does not make people more religiously liberal or more likely to be unaffiliated. In fact, it is not the college. We’re starting to believe that it is not that going to college that causes people to become more liberal. It is because people are already liberal. They want to go to college.

So, it is something before all this. Some deep held belief or values that you have are more likely make people go to college, but also more likely to be politically liberal and more likely religiously unaffiliated. It is not that college accelerates any of that. If it does, it doesn’t do it by a lot. Instead, it just reinforces this journey that you’re already on by putting you in rooms with people who are diverse from you politically, religiously, racially, all of these things. I think that helps you on that journey. But you are going to get there anyway. They’re being turned into atheist long before they go to college and going to that philosophy class, gives them ammunition. But they already were trending that way anyway. You can’t blame college for any of that stuff.

Jacobsen: What is the gender gap among the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints members?

Burge: Yes, so, the gender gap is really important in this election because there’s been some polling that shows the gender gap is larger now than at any point in which we have polling data for, which means that, typically, women are more likely to vote for Democrats and men are more likely to vote for Republicans. But now, it is larger and larger. And I think data said the gender gap now is 20 points, which means that women are more likely to vote for Democrats and men for Republicans. But if you look at LDS, there’s this discussion of female LDS. What are they? Are they different than their male counterparts? And the reality is, it does look like there is a gender gap there that men are stronger for the president, President Trump, than are women. Female Mormons are about 10 or 15 points less supportive of President Trump. And if you believe the data for June, which is the latest data we have, only half of female Mormons said they were going to vote for Trump or approved of Donald Trump in June of 2020, which is bad.

You would expect it to be a lot higher from LDS, typically Republican, conservative. So, to see those declining numbers means that Trump is losing with LDS. And he’s also had a problem with LDS, by the way, only got 55% of the LDS vote in 2016, a lot of which has been polling to Hillary Clinton. But, 80% voted for Romney and only 55% voted for Trump in 2016. So, he’s got a weakness there and it can hurt in places like Arizona. So, he needs to do better, especially with Mormon women.

Jacobsen: During the impeachment process, Mitt Romney voted against him.

Burge: Yes, that is correct. Mitt Romney has been one of the few voices of judicial independence or partisan independence in American politics, which means that sometimes he went to a Black Lives Matter rally, which I thought was interesting. And when someone asked, a reporter asking, why he goes, because the “black lives matter.” And like – whoa, most Republicans wouldn’t even say that, let alone go to a rally. So, he is somewhat independent. But when it comes to the Supreme Court, he has decided he wants to go vote with their person for the Supreme Court. So, he’s not completely independent on the Republican Party, but he’s definitely bought the old style like maverick Republican that would break with party ranks on certain issues. But he’s still pretty far to the right on a lot of issues as well.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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