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Does Church Attendance Cause People to Vote? Using Blue Laws’ Repeal to Estimate the Effect of Religiosity on Voter Turnout

  • Alan S. Gerber, Jonathan Gruber and Daniel M. Hungerman

Regular church attendance is strongly associated with a higher probability of voting. It is an open question as to whether this association, which has been confirmed in numerous surveys, is causal. The repeal of the laws restricting Sunday retail activity (‘blue laws’) is used to measure the effects of church-going on political participation. Blue laws’ repeal caused a 5 percent decrease in church attendance. Its effect on political participation was measured and it was found that, following the repeal, turnout fell by approximately 1 percentage point. This decline in turnout is consistent with the large effect of church attendance on turnout reported in the literature, and suggests that church attendance may have a significant causal effect on voter turnout.

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Department of Political Science, Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.; Department of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.; Department of Economics, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Ind. (emails:;; The authors thank Gabriel Durazo for excellent research assistance in collecting the blue laws data, Shang Ha for other research assistance, and also Tracy Liu. They are grateful to James Snyder, who supplied the election data. This work was supported by the Metanexus Institute and the Yale University Institution for Social and Policy Studies and was previously circulated as NBER Working Paper #14303. Replication data are available at 10.1017/S0007123414000416.

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