Is Becoming Born-Again a Transformative Experience? Results from Three Sets of Panel Data


The process of becoming a born-again Christian is one that has intrigued social scientists for decades but has never been studied in a large-scale way, using panel data. While sociologists have tried to conceptualize and operationalize how one converts to a new religious experience, many political scientists have used “having a born-again experience” as a way to classify evangelical Protestants. While there is a great deal of scholarship devoted to understanding how born-again Christians navigate the social and political world, the direct impact of adopting a born-again status has eluded scholars. Using panel surveys from three different polling organizations, this work analyzes how those who convert and de-convert to born-again Christianity change their political and religious behaviors in after the switch. Analysis indicates that conversion and deconversion is not uncommon among the population, occurring in approximately 1 in 10 survey respondents. Results indicate that women, younger Americans, and those with less educations are more likely to change their conversion status. Of those who do make a switch, few significantly change their partisanship, while shifts in church attendance are more common and this is confirmed through statistical modeling. These findings fill a gap in scholars’ previous understanding of the changes in behavior and political orientation following a shift in born-again status—something that was only studied at the aggregate level in prior work. This research offers an additional angle for scholars who are seeking to understand the caused by religious switching in the United States.

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  1. 1.

    84% confidence intervals are the equivalent of a 95% single t-test.

    See: Goldstein H., and Healy M.J.R. (1995), The graphical presentation of a collection of means. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society A, 158: 175–177.

    MacGregor-Fors, I., and Payton, M.E. (2013), Contrasting Diversity Values: Statistical Inferences Based on Overlapping Confidence Intervals. PLOS-One, 8(2): e56794.

    Payton, M.E., Greenstone, M.H., and Schenker, N. (2003), Overlapping confidence intervals or standard error intervals: What do they mean in terms of statistical significance? Journal of Insect Science, 3:34–39.

  2. 2.

    A table of these results is available in the “Appendix”.

  3. 3.

    In addition to this analysis, the scale was collapsed to three-point partisan identification (Democrat, Independent, Republican) and the shifts were tracked among those took on a born-again identity in each of three surveys. Shifts in partisanship among Democrats was infrequent (occurring 11–27% of the time), but was even rarer among Republicans (ranging from 22.4% of the time to just 5.6% of the CCES sample. The full analysis is available in the “Appendix”.

  4. 4.

    The tabular results of all these models are included in the “Appendix”.

  5. 5.

    In a model where the comparison group was shifted to those who no longer claimed a born-again status, the increase in church attendance was 9–10% in the VSG and CCES data, but the coefficient for the GSS was statistically insignificant.

  6. 6.

    When the comparison group was shifted to those who no longer claimed a born-again status, the coefficient for becoming born-again did not predict a partisan change in a statistically significant way, either.

  7. 7.

    Visualizations of the distribution in partisanship and church attendance in the VSG can be found in the “Appendix”.


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Correspondence to Ryan P. Burge.

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Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

All data used in this analysis is freely available on the Cooperative Congressional Election Study website ( from the Democracy Fund’s Voter Study Group ( or the National Opinion Research Council ( The full coding syntax will be made available on GitHub after publication.



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11 and Tables

Table 1 The Distribution of Born-Again Changes in Three Sets of Panel Data


Table 2 Predicting church attendance changes


Table 3 .


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Burge, R.P. Is Becoming Born-Again a Transformative Experience? Results from Three Sets of Panel Data. Rev Relig Res 63, 83–105 (2021).

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  • Evangelical
  • Born-again
  • Conversion
  • Partisanship
  • Church attendance