From Politics to the Pews: How Partisanship and the Political Environment Shape Religious Identity
by Michele F. Margolis
University of Chicago, 336 pp.
What explains Americans' ever-growing partisan polarization? The Rockefeller Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats of yesteryear have been largely purged, while Americans who strongly identify with a political party have grown increasingly hostile to the other side. A common explanation is that as the parties developed more ideologically consistent messages and staked clear positions on a wide variety of public policies, beginning in the waning decades of the twentieth century, Americans responded to these clear distinctions by sorting themselves into the party that best fit their own beliefs and values.
In this scenario, one of the main partisan sorting factors is religion. Scholars have documented a growing "God gap" in American politics: Republicans are far more likely to attend religious services than Democrats, regardless of denomination. (This relationship between religiosity and Republicanism does not extend to African Americans or minority faiths such as Judaism or Islam.) The rise of the religious right during the 1980s pushed the GOP rightward on social issues as the party sought to secure the votes of conservative Christians who were appalled by abortion, gay rights, and the shrinking of religion's role in the public sphere. This synergy between conservative Christians and the Republican Party in turn made the Democratic Party more appealing for Americans who were alarmed by the merging of religion and politics.
While there are still plenty of religious Democrats and probably more than a few secular Republicans within the American electorate, the God gap hypothesis continues to dominate many analyses of the electorate due to its simplicity: it's easy to see from exit polls and other analyses that religious conservatives dominate the voting coalitions of the Republican Party while secular Americans are becoming a bigger part of the Democratic Party. Given that the GOP agenda has extensively catered to the views of conservative white Christians for decades, it's not surprising that studies find that they are the most likely to indicate that their religious beliefs play a role in their voting behavior and partisanship.
But what if the reverse is also true? What if partisanship itself impacts individual attitudes about religion? In other words, does being a Republican make some...