Guadalupe Tunon (Harvard University)
April 12, 2019 12:00PM E53-482, Millikan Room
Can economically progressive religious leaders shape the electoral fortunes of left-wing parties? While existing research on political theology and electoral politics focuses on the effect of moral conservatism, the effect of religious ideas about economic redistribution is often overlooked. I argue that church leaders who advance doctrinal interpretations that favor progressive economic policies can become crucial partners of left-wing parties, mobilizing religious adherents in their favor. I test this argument using original archival data from the Catholic Church and drawing on a natural experiment in Brazil around Pope John Paul II's appointment in 1978. Leveraging plausibly as-if random variation in bishop vacancies, as well as Pope John Paul II's systematic appointment of conservative bishops to posts where progressives previously held court, I study the effect of progressive bishops on the electoral success of the left-wing Workers' Party. I find that the left's electoral prospects suffered significantly in places where progressive bishops were replaced between 1978 and Brazil's first democratic elections after the military dictatorship. The left's stronger performance in progressive dioceses can be partly explained by its access to religious networks, which allowed it to build organizational structures that delivered an electoral advantage.