Strategic Extremism: Why Republicans and Democrats Divide on Religious Values

76 Pages Posted: 4 Oct 2004

See all articles by Edward L. Glaeser

Edward L. Glaeser

Harvard University - Department of Economics; Brookings Institution; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Giacomo A. M. Ponzetto

CREI - Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Jesse M. Shapiro

Harvard University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: October 2004

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 nonmonotonic relationship between religious extremism and religious attendance.

Keywords: voting, turnout, extremism

JEL Classification: D72, D78, Z12

Suggested Citation

Glaeser, Edward L. and Ponzetto, Giacomo A. M. and Shapiro, Jesse M., Strategic Extremism: Why Republicans and Democrats Divide on Religious Values (October 2004). Harvard Institute of Economics Research Discussion Paper No. 2044, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=599044 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.599044

Edward L. Glaeser (Contact Author)

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Giacomo A. M. Ponzetto

CREI - Universitat Pompeu Fabra ( email )

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Jesse M. Shapiro

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

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