A University of Maine professor has concluded that voters whose polling place is either at or near a church tend to be influenced in their electoral decisions.
Psychologist Dr. Jordan LaBouff made his conclusion based on research conducted in a religiously diverse part of the Netherlands. His research paper was published in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion on Thursday.
"These data demonstrate that people in religious contexts expressed more conservative attitudes and more negative attitudes toward a variety of non-Christian groups," said LaBouff to The Christian Post.
"More research is needed to examine the direct relationship between polling context and voting behavior across social issues, political issues, and potential candidates."
LaBouff noted that in other research other factors have also been known to influence the decisions of voters as they cast a ballot.
"A study conducted by Jonah Berger and colleagues in 2008 demonstrated that people voting in educational structures were more supportive of pro-educational ballot issues and school funding," said LaBouff.
"Some scholars have suggested that mail-in ballots might be the least prone to biases from voting context."
Some church-state watchdog groups have found LaBouff's conclusions to be a point of concern given the large number of churches used in the United States as polling places.
"We've long had concerns about the use of houses of worship for voting," said Alex Luchenitser of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
"Using a house of worship as a polling place can coerce citizens into entering a religious environment of a faith to which they do not subscribe."
Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, said that this and other studies show that "it does matter where you vote."
"Since polling place influences the vote, governments and election boards should do all they can to find neutral voting locations," said Speckhardt.
"Why not use schools, courthouses, firehouses and the like instead?"
Others do not believe the study's findings should be taken seriously, or that churches should seldom be used as a polling place for American voters.
"The fact is, in many neighborhoods, the churches are the most convenient and those churches help the communities by allowing voting there," said Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund.
"To single out churches for exclusion points to anti-religious bigotry, as this self-refuting study admits that even the mere sight of items such as backpacks can influence behavior."
Billy McCormack of the Christian Coalition said that he questioned the validity of the study given that it was conducted in the Netherlands rather than the United States.
"Their culture and worldview has little in common with America. When unbelievers number, in general, about half, it is not a fair comparison and cannot be equated," said McCormack.
"Therefore, this study should have a local meaning – not applicable to American society."
McCormack explained that "Voters in America are not so easily influenced by a building when voting."
"Churches and schools are logical as polling places. They have served the people well. Secular Fundamentalists simply need to get over it," said McCormack.
And what does LaBouff think about churches being polling places?
"I think that's a policy argument, and not a strictly scientific one," said LaBouff, who added that he believed that it should be more about understanding how environmental context influences votes rather than changing the environment.