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A Confessional Explanation for Congressional Extremism

March 19, 2011 Comments off

A Confessional Explanation for Congressional Extremism (PDF)
Source: University of Rochester Political Science

I explain the increasing party polarization of members of Congress over the last 30 years by examining changes in the religious makeup of the parties’ congressional contingents. Conservative evangelicals have exited the Democratic Party and entered the Republican Party, being replaced by more liberal members of mainline or black Protestant denominations. In measuring the impact of members’ personal religious orientations on polarization, this argument differs from the existing literature, which has focused on institutional or constituency explanations—most prominently, rising inequality. I find that, in the aggregate, the relative size of the parties’ evangelical contingents is highly correlated with party polarization, and that, at the individual level, evangelical members vote more conservatively than their mainline Protestant counterparts, when controlling for party, district religious demographics, and other relevant factors. The results also cast doubt on inequality as a source of polarization and question whether the conventional wisdom about evangelicals’ involvement in politics is applicable to evangelicals in Congress.

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