Recent changes in the political landscape point to the existence of an electorate fundamentally divided on the nature of the values that should guide public policy. Increasingly, anecdotal evidence at both the elite and mass levels � such as bitter strife in Senate confirmation hearings for judicial nominees, the importance of referenda on gay marriage in many states for electoral outcomes in the 2004 elections, conflict at both levels regarding the outcome of the Terry Shaivo controversy and right to life (and death) issues more generally � suggests increased polarization on issues where value priorities conflict. At first blush, this polarization appears inconsistent with a sweeping trend towards cultural secularization and better supports the culture wars hypothesis. However, some scholars contest this notion of a nation embroiled in cultural conflict. Notably, Fiorina (2005) has argued that the media�s portrayal of a nation deeply divided, coupled with polarization amongst elites and party activists, masks the existence of an electorate that is largely moderate and deeply ambivalent.
In this study, I investigate whether there is any substance to the body of work that points to cultural conflict in the United States. The goal of this project is to better understand the influence of group identification on public opinion, by drawing on social identity theory. Specifically, I evaluate the micro-level dynamics thought to underlie the culture wars by considering the way mass communications containing cues about social identity threat effect emotional responses to issues, polarization of policy attitudes, and tolerance towards salient social and political groups. Ultimately, this study will afford insight into the role of religion in American life and the its political consequences.