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Church-state separation and redistribution

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We analyze how religion affects voting and redistribution. Our model directs attention away from the particular faith, belief or risk attitudes of religious individuals, and emphasizes instead how organized religion opens the door to standard group-based distributive politics. We argue that organized religion makes it possible for the rich and the religious poor to form electoral coalitions in favor of low taxes and limited redistribution. Such electoral coalitions form out of simple material self-interest, and they occur at the expense of the secular poor. However, the material reward to the religious poor from supporting such electoral coalitions depends on the institutional context. As state support for religion increases, poor religious voters have greater incentives to vote with poor secular voters in favor of parties that support high taxes. The analysis therefore highlights the possibilities of understanding how religion affects politics without asserting that religious individuals differ systematically from secular ones in their values or preferences.

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