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Strategic Extremism: Why Republicans and Democrats Divide on Religious Values

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  • Edward L. Glaeser
  • Giacomo A. M. Ponzetto
  • Jesse M. Shapiro

Abstract

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 non-monotonic relationship between religious extremism and religious attendance.

Suggested Citation

  • Edward L. Glaeser & Giacomo A. M. Ponzetto & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2004. "Strategic Extremism: Why Republicans and Democrats Divide on Religious Values," NBER Working Papers 10835, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10835
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • D78 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Positive Analysis of Policy Formulation and Implementation
    • Z12 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Religion

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