If you care about progressive politics, this may be one of the most disturbing graphics you’ll ever see. It was in the New York Times more than a week ago, buried in a larger story, but the image has taken on a new life online.
The graphic uses data from PRRI to show that, while evangelical Christians have dropped as a percentage of the population — from 23% in 2004 to 15% in 2018 — their percentage of the electorate has remained frighteningly steady.
They are roughly a quarter of the voting population — half the potential majority! — even as their own popularity dwindles.
Said Robert Jones of PRRI:
What fuels the Republicans’ political strength, in other words, is not current white Christian population levels, but the fact that white Christians historically turn out to vote at higher rates than nonwhite and non-Christian Americans. These higher turnout rates are driven by a number of factors. Voting is highly correlated with other forms of civic participation, such as church attendance. Voting is also highly correlated to education levels, and white Christians are more likely than nonwhite Christians to hold a four-year-college degree. Finally, voting is a habit that has been strongly emphasized in white Christian churches, especially among white evangelicals since the rise of the Christian right in the 1980s.
Or, more bluntly: White evangelicals take voting seriously. The rest of us don’t. Our country is worse off as a result.
I’ve said this often whenever new data shows a rise in non-religious Americans: We can celebrate that news all we want, but unless we begin voting like our beliefs matter, the numbers are irrelevant.
Being non-religious doesn’t mean you don’t have a particular set of values, either. It’s true that being a white evangelical these days implies that you’re against women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, science, and sex education. But the overwhelmingly majority of non-religious people support equal rights, academic rigor, church/state separation, facts, and basic human decency. Only one party offers that right now. It’s the one that doesn’t bend over backwards to tie itself to one religion.
This has always been true, but it’s never been more apparent that during a Republican administration in which white evangelicals have been given all the power they’ve ever dreamed of, and they’ve used it to defend a selfish sex predator who violates everything Jesus told them to do but who continues to pretend like he values Christianity. He values their support. He doesn’t give a damn about their beliefs. But they’re too gullible to realize it.
If that alone doesn’t inspire you to vote against Republicans in 2020, nothing will. Just remember that white evangelicals don’t care about rape allegations, refugees in cages, our country’s standing in the world, or anything else that they used to pretend to care about. They want judges. They want power. They want a president who promotes Christian Nationalism. And they’re going to vote for the only person who gives it to them no matter how much he hurts everyone else. That’s where their values have led them.
Our values are better. If we don’t vote like it, though, all those shifts in religious demographics are meaningless.