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Secularism and American Political Behavior

Green, John C.; Layman, Geoffrey E.; Campbell, David C.; Sumaktoyo, Nathanael Gratias
Public Opinion Quarterly

The recent growth of the secular population in the United States has implications for American politics. However, our understanding of these implications has been hindered by oversimplified concepts and measures that equate secularism with non-religion. We separate the two concepts, distinguishing “non-religiosity,” or the absence of religion, from “secularism,” or a positive embrace of secular beliefs and identities. Using original national-sample cross-sectional and panel surveys, we introduce new measures of secularism, evaluate their properties, and assess their connection to political attitudes and behavior. We find a clear distinction between secularism and non-religiosity in the American public and show that secularism is more closely related than non-religiosity to political attitudes, identifications, and engagement. In fact, while secularism is related to changes over time in political orientations, non-religiosity is not.