Censor Morum? The 17th Amendment, Religious Diversity, and Ideological Extremism in the Senate

Published date01 March 2017
Date01 March 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2017, Vol. 70(1) 55 –67
© 2016 University of Utah
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DOI: 10.1177/1065912916672943
“Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The
several sects perform the office of a Censor morum over
each other.”
—Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia
“Bigness leads to power, and . . . all power—ecclesiastical as
well as political—needs to be checked.”
—Murray S. Stedman (1964)
Debates about the relationship between religion and fac-
tion date to the beginning of the republic, and exactly
how religious diversity affected politics was a matter of
some contention among the founding generation. While
civic republicans such as John Adams argued that a core
set of religious values would constrain the public and
ensure stability (see also Tocqueville 1969), others, espe-
cially James Madison, saw the potential for the opposite
relationship. That is, as Madison wrote in Federalist 10
and 51, only through the competition of a diversity of
interests or sects filtered through republican institutions
would the violence of faction be restrained. In this paper,
we engage this debate by leveraging the institutional
change wrought by the direct election of senators. We
assess the degree to which the distribution of religious
interests interacts with institutions to shape representa-
tional extremism. In doing so, we ask: how does the
diversity of the religious landscape, conditional on the
institutional environment, affect how senators vote in
Using data on senators’ scaled roll-call votes from the
51st through 74th Congresses (18901936), coupled with
religious Census data collected by the U.S. Census over
the same time period, we examine the moderating influ-
ence of state-level religious diversity on voting behavior
in the U.S. Senate as senators’ principals shifted from
state legislatures to the people of the states (see also
Gailmard and Jenkins 2009). We find evidence for
Madison’s view—a diverse religious environment serves
as a Censor morum (a regulator of morals) over legisla-
tors when state legislatures select senators. Once direct
elections are instituted, however, the power of religious
pluralism to inhibit extremism weakens. That is, once
direct elections engage it, religious diversity permits the
ideology of senators to migrate toward the extremes. And
while we might examine diversity writ-large, we focus
here on religious diversity owing to the fact that religion
was often at the center of political differences during the
672943PRQXXX10.1177/1065912916672943Political Research QuarterlyNeiheisel and Djupe
1University at Buffalo, State University of New York, USA
2Denison University, Granville, OH, USA
Corresponding Author:
Jacob R. Neiheisel, Department of Political Science, University at
Buffalo, State University of New York, 422 Park Hall, North Campus,
Buffalo, NY 14260, USA.
Email: jacobnei@buffalo.edu
Censor Morum? The 17th Amendment,
Religious Diversity, and Ideological
Extremism in the Senate
Jacob R. Neiheisel1 and Paul A. Djupe2
The Madisonian formulation suggests that (religious) pluralism is linked to moderate representation when filtered
through republican selection. We leverage the quasi-experiment afforded by the ratification of the 17th Amendment to
explore whether religious diversity shapes how senators vote. The shift from indirect to direct elections, coupled with
roll-call and religious Census data, allows us to test hypotheses derived from differing conceptions of pluralism and the
literature on constituency effects in Congress. We find that religious diversity is linked to ideological moderation, but
that link weakens considerably in the immediate aftermath of the amendment’s passage.
ideology, pluralism, direct elections, constituency effects, Congress

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