January 26, 2012; Source: Washington Post | In a January 28 Washington Post column titled, “Be advised candidates: Charitable giving matters,” religion columnist Lisa Miller discussed the charitable generosity of both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Romney, Miller observed, gives ten percent of his annual earnings to the Mormon Church—that is, he tithes to his church, though combined with his charitable giving, he donates more than ten percent of his annual income.

According to Miller, “Sociologists have studied the correlations between religiosity and giving and niceness, and have discovered that the more people give, the nicer they are,” and it doesn’t matter whether their giving is religious, charitable, or both. Religious giving correlates with secular charitable giving, which Miller correlates with “volunteerism and civic mindedness and, broadly speaking, altruism.”

Miller cites Robert Putnam and David Campbell’s statement that, “Religiously observant Americans are better neighbors and better citizens than secular Americans.” 

Or, as Miller puts it, “Religious people are, in other words, nicer.”

She contrasts Romney’s charitable and religious giving with Gingrich’s paltry 2010 giving total of $81,000—2.58 percent of his $3.1 million income “and a fraction of his 2005-06 tab at Tiffany’s.” She writes favorably, however, of President Obama’s 2010 charitable giving of $131,000—14 percent of his income of $1.7 million. She adds that “nice” and “religious” might not be the first words that spring to mind when envisaging the president, though she credits him with citing the biblical “I am my brother’s keeper” passage during his 2008 campaign. Her point seems to be that political candidates are better off when they are generous with their charitable and particularly religious giving, with the result that voters will think of them as “nicer.”

Does that ring true to NPQ Newswire readers? Are religious Americans “nicer” than secular Americans? Does charitable and particularly religious generosity by national political candidates pay off in the voting booth? —Rick Cohen