The Religion of Parler Participation

By Paul A. Djupe

Despite regularly having the most popular posts on Facebook and huge followings on Twitter, a number of conservatives abandoned those social media platforms for the wild west of Parler – a new app that was apparently a no-filter, free speech zone especially catering to conservatives. It’s not the only website/app that’s a refuge to conservatives, but it was the most high profile. In the wake of the January 6th Insurrection, considerable attention turned to video posts on Parler, as members posted about their actions. With lax site security, a skilled researcher (@donk_enby and a host of volunteers) had a field day capturing all sorts of information from Parler before it was deplatformed from Amazon Web Services (it appears to have a new host now). Included in that was a database of posted videos, which came with gps metadata. Thanks to @kcimc for the thread and analysis and to The OG for the head’s up.

I just had to check out the geographic concentrations of posts to see if there was any link to religion. Of course, I’m looking at this at an aggregated level (states and counties), so we should beware of the ecological fallacy – inferring individual behavior from what’s going on around them. For instance, when looking for a correlation between the evangelical population in a county and Parler video posting, we cannot say for certain whether evangelicals are posting the videos, just that posting happens to be more common in areas with a higher concentration of evangelicals. See the difference?

The map below shows the distribution of video posts from US counties, adjusted for population size. Posting is generally low in the Great Plains and high in the intermountain West. I think no one is surprised to see high rates of posting from Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, and western parts of Oregon and Washington (remember the Bundy band who took over a wildlife refuge and refuse to pay grazing fees to the federal government? Well, they live in Nevada). But there are other concentrations, such as in south Florida, from where the Proud Boys’ national chairman hails (arrested when he arrived in DC for the Insurrection for burning a BLM flag in an earlier protest). A religious connection does not look obvious to me, but we’ll let the statistical analyses speak for themselves.

In raw numbers, posts were coming from the expected places. Texas, Florida, New York, and Texas are the largest states (see the figure below). The District of Columbia is not, but of course that is where the Insurrection happened. About 1200 videos were posted on January 6 in DC. Beyond those states, it is interesting to note the prevalence of swing states – Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and North Carolina. There are bigger states than those, but these had outsized importance and it clearly drove up this form of political engagement. The darker colors are found toward the bottom, which show the presidential vote – safe states did not motivate people to post on Parler. If there’s a connection with religion, it will likely have to intersect with political competition.

Are there links to religion to find? I ran to the 2010 Religious Congregations and Membership Study (“religion census”) available at the American Religion Data Archive at both the state and county levels. I also grabbed data on education, population size, and the presidential vote (thanks Burge). From the religion census I used a report of the evangelical adherence rate as well as the total adherence rate (These are all variables in a model I used). I’m going to focus on the probability of whether a video was posted from someone in the county and the video count per capita; 70 percent of counties are included in the database, meaning that 70 percent of counties had a member on Parler posting a video.

From one look (left panel), video posting is more common in high evangelical areas – almost a lock in when evangelicals are highly concentrated. Since this controls for education levels and levels of other religious adherents, we get a cleaner estimate that evangelicalism is correlated to Parler use. But from another perspective (the number of posted videos divided by the population size of the county – right panel), we do not have confidence that evangelicalism is linked. It looks like video posting climbs as evangelicalism does, but the confidence intervals are very wide.

Some of the states at the top of the list strike me as battleground states that in the recent past were not – Southern states that are changing demographically. That made me wonder if Republican pockets of otherwise Democratic states were more likely to express themselves politically. Shown below, we can see that Parler video posting is more likely in Republican counties (left side of the graph), but Republican counties in higher than average Democratic states (1 standard deviation above the mean) got a boost of about 10 percent. The probability really falls off as the county Democratic vote grows, but falls less fast in Republican states. That is, conservatives appear to be reacting to disagreement with a level of government out of sync with their preferences.

Parler is (was?) not just an evangelical phenomenon, obviously, but it did seem to attract conservatives and that likely loops in the evangelical population that makes up a large share of conservatives in America. As such, it’s basically a lock that someone living in a county with a high concentration of evangelicals posted a video of some sort on Parler. What is perhaps more interesting is the sense of political embattlement that seems to drive participation on Parler as shown in the final graph. That certainly seems consistent with the evangelical spirit (“embattled and thriving” according to Smith and Emerson’s 1998 book) and groups highly sensitive to threat and status loss.

Paul A. Djupe, Denison University, is an affiliated scholar with PRRI, the book series editor of Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics (Temple), and co-creator of religioninpublic.blog (check out his other posts). Further information about his work can be found at his website and on Twitter.

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