Guadalupe Tuñón (Princeton University), "When the Church Votes Left: How Progressive Bishops Helped to Build the Workers' Party in Brazil"
A long tradition in the social sciences characterizes religion’s influence in electoral politics as conservative and left-wing parties as fundamentally secular. Contrary to both these claims, this paper shows that the presence of progressive Catholic bishops—who actively supported state-led redistribution—was crucial in mobilizing poor voters in favor of the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT) in Brazil. The paper draws on a natural experiment stemming from Pope John Paul II’s appointment to the papacy in 1978, which generated plausibly as-if random variation in the length of progressive bishops’ tenure in offce. I find that the party’s electoral performance increased in municipalities with longer exposure to progressive bishops. This effect can be explained by the PT’s access to religious networks, which allowed the party to build local organizational structures. The findings highlight the importance of understanding how religious leaders’ economic preferences shape the rise of left parties. They have important implications for theories of political party development and religion’s political influence.
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