On SAGE Insight: New Fronts in the Culture Wars? Religion, Partisanship, and Polarization on Religious Liberty and Transgender Rights in the United States

From American Politics Research
Published in Association with Fordham University

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Beginning in the 1960s, the United States experienced religious and partisan conflict over cultural issues such as abortion that was described as a “Culture War.” Recent, highly salient battles over religious liberty and transgender rights have led the media to characterize these issues as “new fronts in the culture war’. The New Christian Right is increasingly emphasizing religious liberty leading popular commentators to characterize religious freedom as a part of the culture wars. American politics has witnessed increasing conflict over transgender rights, and the media increasingly discusses transgender rights within a culture wars frame. The nature and extent of mass polarization, as well as religion’s role in that polarization, remain controversial.

This article explores two related questions 1: Is the mass public really polarized on religious liberty and transgender rights? 2: How much do religious liberty and transgender rights hold in com mon with traditional culture wars issues, such as abortion? The data come from the Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel.. Fielded in August and September 2016 (N = 4,538), the survey includes both a national, probability-based online sample and a small mail supplement. The findings reported here suggest that transgender rights and religious liberty are “new fronts in the culture war,” in that they load on the same factors as classic cultural issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. In addition, using the new individual-level measure of polarization introduced here, the author finds that nearly two out of every five Americans hold polarized attitudes on each of these issues.

Abstract

Beginning in the 1960s, the United States experienced religious and partisan conflict over cultural issues such as abortion that was described as a “Culture War.” Recent, highly salient battles over religious liberty and transgender rights have led the media to characterize these issues as “new fronts in the culture war,” thereby giving reason to revisit the culture wars debate. In this article, I test whether the public is polarized on religious liberty and transgender rights, as well as whether these issues share the same underlying structure of public opinion as traditional culture wars issues. Using a dataset from the Pew Research Center, I find that a substantial subset of Americans hold polarized views on these issues, and that religion and party are important factors in explaining that polarization. The results suggest that the religious and partisan divides that fueled the original “culture wars” remain an important factor in American politics.

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Article details
New Fronts in the Culture Wars? Religion, Partisanship, and Polarization on Religious Liberty and Transgender Rights in the United States
Jeremiah Castle
First Published December 14, 2018 Research Article
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X18818169
American Politics Research


     
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