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Political scientists often refer to a "God Gap" in American politics, noting the tendency for religious people to be more conservative and vote Republican while those who are less observant lean left and prefer the Democratic Party. "If I know whether you say grace before meals every day, I can probably predict how you vote," Notre Dame political scientist David Campbell recently told Los Angeles Times columnist Doyle McManus.

New research suggests there are actually two God Gaps. For some Christians, being more religious makes them more conservative on social issues. For others, going to church, praying, and doing other religious activities actually makes them more liberal on social justice issues.

Previous polls have shown the God Gap has been limited to social issues, issues that focus on individual morality. People who are more religious tend to hold more conservative positions on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, but there was no God Gap on issues like welfare, health care, or other social justice policies.

A new study finds the difference between these two types of Christians is what they think it means to be a "good Christian." For some, being a good Christian might mean greater pietism, a focus on eliminating individual sins. As these kinds of Christians become more religious, they become more conservative on issues like abortion and gay rights. For others, being a good Christian means reaching out and helping one's neighbor. These Christians take more liberal positions on social justice issues as they become more observant.

Steve Mockabee (University of Cincinnati), Ken Wald (University of Florida), and David Leege (Notre Dame) studied the God Gap with new questions on the American National Election ...

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June 2011

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