Political Behavior

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 21–53 | Cite as

The Influence of Religious–Political Sophistication on U.S. Public Opinion

  • Eric R. SchmidtEmail author
Original Paper


Scholarly accounts of elite–mass communication often suggest that political sophistication is a necessary condition for adopting the attitudes of partisan elites. Some have also suggested that political knowledge promotes religious–political issue constraint among religious identifiers. This paper contributes to the political sophistication literature by piloting and testing a new measure, religious–political sophistication (RPS), assessing knowledge of church teaching on particular political issues. Using original measures launched on the 2014 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, I show that for evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics, RPS (in conjunction with frequent church attendance) depresses support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage. Moreover, I argue that assessing RPS this way is not fatally contaminated by unsophisticated respondents interpolating that their clergy must share their political positions. Results suggest religion-and-politics scholars should adopt RPS measures to gain a greater understanding of the unique sources of political communication upon which religious identifiers draw.


Religion and politics American politics Public opinion Sophistication Evangelical Protestants Roman Catholics 



The author thanks Christopher DeSante, Edward G. Carmines, Indiana University’s Center on American Politics, and the Social Science Research Commons for funding data collection. The following individuals also provided extremely helpful feedback and support: Robert and Merri Schmidt, Edward G. Carmines, William Bianco, Christopher DeSante, Bernard Fraga, Matthew Hayes, Brian Schaffner, Jacob Neiheisel, Gabrielle Malina, Katelyn Stauffer, Colin Fisk, Alex Badas; and the editor and two anonymous reviewers. Previous versions of this paper were presented at the 2016 Southern and Midwest Political Science Association’s annual meetings. Replication data is publicly available at

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

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