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From Politics to the Pews

How Partisanship and the Political Environment Shape Religious Identity

From Politics to the Pews

How Partisanship and the Political Environment Shape Religious Identity

One of the most substantial divides in American politics is the “God gap.” Religious voters tend to identify with and support the Republican Party, while secular voters generally support the Democratic Party. Conventional wisdom suggests that religious differences between Republicans and Democrats have produced this gap, with voters sorting themselves into the party that best represents their religious views.

Michele F. Margolis offers a bold challenge to the conventional wisdom, arguing that the relationship between religion and politics is far from a one-way street that starts in the church and ends at the ballot box. Margolis contends that political identity has a profound effect on social identity, including religion. Whether a person chooses to identify as religious and the extent of their involvement in a religious community are, in part, a response to political surroundings. In today’s climate of political polarization, partisan actors also help reinforce the relationship between religion and politics, as Democratic and Republican elites stake out divergent positions on moral issues and use religious faith to varying degrees when reaching out to voters.

336 pages | 59 line drawings, 34 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Chicago Studies in American Politics

Political Science: American Government and Politics, Political Behavior and Public Opinion

Religion: Religion and Society


“There are no other books like From Politics to the Pews, with its original and persuasive argument that the relationship between political partisanship and religious identity is a reciprocal one. Margolis has added much to the research on partisan conflict and polarization.“

Robert Y. Shapiro, Columbia University

“Anyone interested in the outsized role played by religion in American politics should read this book. So should anyone who doubts that politics and religion are deeply intertwined, as it will put those doubts to rest. In analyzing the connections, Margolis flips conventional wisdom on its head. Rather than the common assumption that religious beliefs shape people’s political views, she brilliantly demonstrates that for many Americans, their political views shape their religious identity. Quite simply, this book sets a new standard for the study of religion and politics—theoretically rich, empirically innovative, and beautifully written.”

David E. Campbell, University of Notre Dame

"From Politics to the Pews is a work of genuine, startling insight. Margolis presents a bracing account of how partisan identities, acquired in our youth, can shape our deepest convictions about faith in our later adult lives. This is a bravura debut that showcases both theoretical spark and technical mastery."

Taeku Lee, University of California, Berkeley

“Margolis’s work helps explain the emergence and staying power of the mutually reinforcing relationship between Republicanism and conservative Christianity.”

Washington Monthly

"Margolis’s work is a worthy addition to courses across disciplines interested in how religion and politics shape identities within the United States as well as to students interested in those issues."

Religious Studies Review

Table of Contents

One / Group Identities and Politics in the United States
Two / Putting Things in Context: Religious and Political Attachments over Time
Three / A Life-Cycle Theory of Religion and Politics
Four / Tracking Religious Trajectories over a Lifetime
Five / Partisans’ Religious Responses to the Political Environment
Six / The Religious and Political Consequences of Political Knowledge
Seven / Faithful Partisans: A Closer Look at African Americans
Eight / Generalizing the Life-Cycle Theory: A Reevaluation of the 1960 Election
Nine / The Religious Sort

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