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The party regime concept is central to the study of American political development. Yet many questions about the processes through which party regimes are created, maintained, and dismantled remain unanswered. This article argues that religious bodies have historically played an important role in these processes. Specifically, I demonstrate that “mainline” Protestant groups made three distinct contributions to the entrenchment of the post–New Deal Democratic regime. First, the National Council of Churches (NCC) credibly reframed Democratic policy commitments as embodying universal values (as opposed to the preferences of favored interest groups). Second, the NCC's economic policy arm, which included representatives from business, labor, and the clergy, successfully created the impression of an overwhelming elite consensus in favor of center-left economic policies. Third, the NCC used its moral authority to empower the moderate Republican opposition while simultaneously marginalizing the party's well-funded and potentially influential right wing. The NCC was one of many civil society groups that opposed the GOP right's attempts to roll back the New Deal. But the professional diversity of its membership, its ability to frame its pronouncements in religious terms, and its links to the Protestant grassroots made it arguably the most effective.


This article was originally published in Studies in American Political Development in 2023.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



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