Discussion paper

DP14380 God Politics

Can politics change religious beliefs? The faith-based initiatives are a series of reforms with the purpose of securing religious freedom and improving conditions for religious organizations, who are thought to provide better for the needy than the state. We utilize the different uptake of the initiatives over the period 1996-2010 across US states in a differences-in-differences setup. We find that religious attendance and intensity of beliefs increased after states passed one or more faith-based initiatives. States do not differ in terms of changes in religiosity or potentially important confounders prior to the reforms. Results are robust to comparing contiguous counties and to using the method of synthetic controls. The main explanation seems to be a rise in the number of religious organizations and politicians, which has increased the public's access to religion. The initiatives had no impact on well-being. The results point to politics as one explanation for the continued high religiosity levels in many US states and contribute to our understanding of how politics can induce cultural change.


Bentzen, J and L Sperling (2020), ‘DP14380 God Politics‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 14380. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp14380