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Presidential Appointments and Religious Stratification in the United States, 1789–2003

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In America's colonial period, the “Protestant Establishment” (Anglicans, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians) had more access to political power than “Other Colonial Elites” (Quakers and Unitarians), “Other Protestants” (e.g., Baptists and Methodists), and “Others” (e.g., Catholics, Jews, and people with no religious affiliation). To what extent has this pattern of religious stratification persisted and/or changed over the course of U.S. history? New data on the religious affiliations of U.S. presidents, cabinet members, and justices on the Supreme Court indicate that the Protestant Establishment and Other Colonial Elites are not as dominant as they once were but continue to be overrepresented in the White House, in the cabinet, and on the Supreme Court. Other Protestants and Others have made noteworthy gains but continue to be underrepresented in most spheres of national political life. Presidents from all religious strata are more likely to appoint people who belong to the Protestant Establishment than any other religious stratum. Other Protestants and Others are most likely to appoint religious outsiders. Thus, political appointments are a means by which religious stratification both persists and changes.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: James D. Davidson is Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Purdue University., Email: 2: Rachel Kraus is Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Ball State University 3: Scott Morrissey is a graduate student in the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland.

Publication date: 2005-12-01

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