Social Cleavages and Political Change: Voter Alignments and U.S. Party Coalitions

By Jeff Manza; Clem Brooks | Go to book overview

4
Religion

In the history of social science research on the social bases of political behavior, class has undoubtedly received more attention than religion. This is true even for the United States, despite its unusually high rates of religious adherence and diverse array of faiths. So strong was the assumption that religion did not affect political behavior in the early days of survey research that when Paul Lazarsfeld informed George Gallup that his 1940 study of voters in Erie County, Ohio showed that religious differences were associated with voting preferences even after controlling for class and other sociodemographic attributes, Gallup expressed utter disbelief. 1 Under the sway of the dominant secularization model, the earlier generation of American historians and social scientists saw little benefit in extensive study of contemporary religious influences on politics. 2

It was not until the 1970s and early 1980s that a substantial amount of systematic empirical work on religion and voting behavior in the U.S. began to appear. A series of dramatic religious mobilizations around the world prompted increasing scholarly interest. These events include the fundamentalist Islamic revolution in Iran, the active role of the Catholic Church in the Solidarity movement in Poland in 1980- 81, the appearance of ' liberation theology' movements in Latin America, and, in the U.S., the rising visibility of politically active conservative Christian organizations such as the Moral Majority. Over the past twenty years, there has been a substantial outpouring of scholarship (and scholarly controversies) about the association between religious group memberships, beliefs, and practices and voting behavior during the past fifteen years. 3

In this chapter, we present our own contribution to these debates. Our methodological innovations -- which extend the approach developed in Chapters 2 and 3 on class voting to the religious cleavage -- and empirical applications lend support for some of the major hypotheses about trends in the religion/politics relationship in the existing social science literature, while challenging others. Our discussion is in four

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