Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Elite Influence? Religion, Economics, and the Rise of the Nazis

Spenkuch, Jörg and Tillmann, Philipp (2014): Elite Influence? Religion, Economics, and the Rise of the Nazis.

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Abstract

Adolf Hitler's seizure of power was one of the most consequential events of the twentieth century. Yet, our understanding of which factors fueled the astonishing rise of the Nazis remains highly incomplete. This paper shows that religion played an important role in the Nazi party's electoral success -- dwarfing all available socioeconomic variables. To obtain the first causal estimates we exploit plausibly exogenous variation in the geographic distribution of Catholics and Protestants due to a peace treaty in the sixteenth century. Even after allowing for sizeable violations of the exclusion restriction, the evidence indicates that Catholics were significantly less likely to vote for the Nazi Party than Protestants. Consistent with the historical record, our results are most naturally rationalized by a model in which the Catholic Church leaned on believers to vote for the democratic Zentrum Party, whereas the Protestant Church remained politically neutral.

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