Parties in the Pews in a Divided Nation
Wolfe Lecture on Religion and American Politics
Kay L. Schlozman
Date: Wednesday, February 1, 2023
Time: 4 - 5:30pm
Location: Stokes Hall S195
Since the rise of political parties in the early days of the republic, religious commitments have been reflected in party competition. The growing strength of partisanship in American politics has coincided with a set of important changes in American religious life, from the rise in evangelical identity among Protestants to the increasing proportion of Americans who lack a formal denominational affiliation. Professors Schlozman and Hopkins examine how the relationship among partisan preference, religious denomination, and religious faith (or its absence) is changing in America today. They discuss that, in contrast to the usual pattern where religious denomination leads to party choice, there is evidence that a growing number of citizens are shifting their religious identities to match their political views.
Grossmann, Matthew, and David A. Hopkins. Asymmetric Politics: Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2016.
Hopkins, David A. Red Fighting Blue: How Geography and Electoral Rules Polarize American Politics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.
Polsby, Nelson W., Aaron B. Wildavsky, Steven E. Schier, and David A. Hopkins. Presidential Elections: Strategies and Structures of American Politics. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2020.
Schlozman, Kay Lehman, Henry E. Brady, and Sidney Verba. The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2013.
Schlozman, Kay Lehman, and John T. Tierney. Organized Interests and American Democracy. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
Verba, Sidney, Nancy Burns, and Kay Lehman Schlozman. “Unequal at the Starting Line: Creating Participatory Inequalities Across Generations and Among Groups.” The American Sociologist 34, no. 1/2 (2003): 45–69. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12108-003-1005-y.
Wray-Lake, Laura, Erin H. Arruda, and David A. Hopkins. “The Party Goes On: U.S. Young Adults’ Partisanship and Political Engagement Across Age and Historical Time.” American Politics Research 47, no. 6 (2019): 1358–75. https://doi.org/10.1177/1532673X19849692.
In the News
In the Washington Post article, “The Party Label is What Matters Most to Voters,” David Hopkins explains the paradox of America’s political moment: Americans can access more information on candidates’ background then ever before, and yet, most citizens are strictly basing their votes on the candidates’ party affiliation. Hopkins credits this trend to the recent rise in polarization, which has infiltrated America’s political system.
Photo Credits: Christopher Soldt, MTS
On Wednesday, February 1st, Drs. Kay Scholzman and David Hopkins of Boston College’s Political Science Department delivered the annual Wolfe Lecture on Religion and American Politics. This year’s event, titled “Parties in the Pews in a Divided Nation,” discussed the role of religion in America’s increasingly polarized political environment.
The event began with Schlozman introducing key statistics about the political affiliations of various religious groups. She noted how voting trends have evolved in recent decades, as Catholics, for example, are no longer a consistent voting block. While white Catholics tend to vote Republican, Schlozman stated that Latino Catholics typically support Democrats. Schlozman further revealed the complexities and nuances of examining voting patterns of religious groups, stating that Catholics who are Cuban and Venezuelan immigrants tend to vote Republican in contrast to Catholic Mexican immigrants, whose loyalties lie with the Democratic Party. Consequently, Schlozman suggested that we cannot infer peoples’ political beliefs solely based on their religious identification; race, ethnicity, and nationality are also key influences.
Hopkins then presented additional takeaways based on the data presented by Schlozman. While many assume that one’s religious beliefs shape their political beliefs, Hopkins contrastingly argued that peoples’ political beliefs shape their religious identities and levels of religiosity. He explained how Americans often depart from religion in their teenage years and remain relatively faithless until they have children–and then must confront the role they want religion to play in their childrens’ lives. During this time apart from religion, Americans’ political beliefs mold and take shape; ergo, when people reconsider their religious beliefs, their political beliefs are influencing them. Furthermore, Hopkins mentioned how, today, many people do not have an issue with marrying people of different religious backgrounds; however, many do have a problem with marrying those of opposing political beliefs, revealing the extent of political polarization in America.
Following Schlozman and Hopkins’ presentation, the event opened into a lively question-and-answer session. Mark Massa, S.J. initiated the conversation, asking why Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden–who are both very religious in their own lives–rarely engage in religious conversations during their campaigns compared to Trump–who infrequently attends church–but successfully captured the Evangelical vote? The question and answer segment also addressed whether political animosity has replaced religious animosity, which Hopkins believed to be true.