Of all socio-demographic factors, religion is one of the most important determinants of voting behavior. The secularization of Western societies, however, has changed impact of religion on electoral behavior. While secularization limits the political relevance of religion it also affects the nature of religious cleavages. As evidence from the United States suggests, a decrease of denominational differences goes hand in hand with an increased relevance of religiosity. As a result, a divide between the secular sections of the society and a cross-denominational “coalition of the religious” has emerged (Putnam and Campbell 2012). In this paper, we examine whether this change also occurs in Europe.
Our analysis relies on survey data from all currently available nine waves of the European Social Survey (ESS) covering the period from 2002 to 2018. We compare the explanatory power of different measures of religion in models of vote choice, with a focus on the contrast between religious denomination and religiosity, where we consider both subjective measures, such as self-reported religiosity, and measures based on overt behavior, such as church attendance. Combining ESS data with data on parties’ political positions from the Manifesto Project and the Chapel Hill Expert Survey (CHES), allows us to go beyond conventional approaches that rely on a pre-determined classification of parties into party families and to take into account the dynamics of party competition instead.