in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics
A wide body of research has studied the impact of religious cleavages on electoral choice in a range of democracies. This research focuses on two types of religious cleavages. One type of religious cleavage is the confessional cleavage, which is a measure of the center-periphery cleavages. This type of cleavage is measured in surveys using indicators of respondents' religious identities (e.g., Christian vs. Muslim [when one needs to distinguish between voters of different faiths], Catholic vs. Protestant [when one needs to distinguish between different denominations within the same broader faith], and Presbyterian vs. Methodist [when one needs to distinguish between different traditions]). The other type of religious cleavage is the clerical cleavage, which divides religious from secular (i.e., nonreligious) voters. Clerical cleavages are measured using either a measure of religious behavior (e.g., individuals' frequency of attendance of religious services or frequency of prayer) or beliefs (e.g., whether and the degree to which one believes in the tenets associated with one's religious identity). Where such cleavages are present, previous research shows that religious groups tend to vote for parties appealing to their votes, while religious voters behave differently from secular voters.A wide body of research also examines whether and how the effects of religious cleavages change over time. One line of research argues that the effects of religious cleavages on electoral choices change in response to changes in society and among individuals. For instance, as individuals and society as a whole become more secular, some research argues that religious cleavages impact electoral choices less than more religious societies where religion matters more to individuals. Additionally, as voters become more cognitively sophisticated, voters do not need to rely on religious cleavages, resulting in weaker religious effects on voting behavior. Another line of research argues that the effects of religious cleavages change in response to changes in the messages articulated by political parties: When parties compete on issues relevant to religious voters and maintain organizational ties to religious groups in society, the effects of religious cleavages on voting behavior will be strong; when parties deemphasize religious issues and reduce formal ties to religious organizations, the effects of religious cleavages will weaken. While research suggests both types of changes impact the effects of religious cleavages on electoral choices, more research is needed to determine the extent to which ties between parties and religious voters have weakened, especially after accounting for the impact of religious and parental socialization on the behavior of seculars, as well as the degree to which material satisfaction increases the salience of religious issues for religious voters.