Denominational Influences on Socially Divisive Issues: Polarization or Continuity?


Protestantism, Catholicism, religious identity, kurtosis, psychological attitudes, church attendance, social issues, gender roles, homosexuality, attitude surveys


Research on denominational affiliation and its influence on individual attitudes has increased recently due to widespread interest in whether the United States has become increasingly polarized on a variety of divisive social issues, even while demographic differences among denominations have decreased. However, recent empirical research has, in general, failed to support a polarization argument. Using 22 years of data from the General Social Surveys, we analyze changes over time in the relative variability and distribution of attitudes toward family issues (abortion, gender roles, and sexual behavior) within denominational groups after controlling for the effects of demographic covariates and church attendance. The results show that adjusted coefficients of variation and kurtoses have changed inconsistently. For example, although there has been a decreasing trend in relative variation about women's roles and premarital sex, measures of kurtosis fail to indicate a flattening or peaking of the distributions among denominational groups. However, attitudes toward abortion among conservative and moderate Protestants have become relatively more variable and have moved in the direction of bimodality as gauged by decreasing kurtoses. Similarly, moderate Protestants show increasing relative variability and movement toward bimodality with regard to attitudes toward homosexual relations. These results indicate that, except for a couple of notable examples, attitudes among members of denominational groups have not generally become more polarized over time.

Original Publication Citation

Hoffmann, John P., and Alan S. Miller. 1998. “Denominational Influences on Socially Divisive Issues: Polarization or Continuity?” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 37(3): 528-546.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor