Strategic Extremism: Why Republicans and Democrats Divide on Religious Values
Party platforms differ sharply from one another, especially on issues with religious content, such as abortion or gay marriage. Religious extremism in the U. S. appears to be strategically targeted to win elections, since party platforms diverge significantly, while policy outcomes like abortion rates are not affected by changes in the governing party. Given the high returns from attracting the median voter, why do vote-maximizing politicians veer off into extremism? In this paper, we find that strategic extremism depends on an important intensive margin where politicians want to induce their core constituents to vote (or make donations) and the ability to target political messages towards those core constituents. Our model predicts that the political relevance of religious issues is highest when around one-half of the voting population attends church regularly. Using data from across the world and within the U. S. , we indeed find a nonmonotonic relationship between religious extremism and religious attendance.
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