Strategic Extremism: Why Republicans and Democrats Divide on Religious Values

E. L. Glaeser, G. A. M. Ponzetto, J. M. Shapiro
2005 Quarterly Journal of Economics  
Party platforms differ sharply from one another, especially on issues with religious content, such as abortion or gay marriage. Given the high return to attracting the median voter, why do vote-maximizing politicians take extreme positions? In this paper, we find that strategic extremism depends on an 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. Political
more » ... s. Political extremism on religious issues appears to be strategically targeted to win elections, since party platforms diverge sharply more than policy outcomes, like abortion rates. 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. JEL classification: D72, D78, Z12
doi:10.1162/003355305775097533 fatcat:bbdidoapjvcqxkkutrj3odwgyq