Monday, November 19, 2018

Religion and the U.S. Midterm Election: Why do Evangelicals Keep Voting Republican?

What role did religion play in the recent U.S. midterm election?

An exit poll by NBC News showed that, overall, 56% of Protestants voted Republican and 42% voted Democrat. 

That is down slightly for Republicans from the 2014 midterms, when 61% voted for that party, and up a bit from the 37% who voted Democrat that year.

The Catholic vote was split, with 50% favouring Democrats and 49% Republicans. This is also a shift from 2014, when 54% supported Republicans and 45% supported Democrats.

As for the Jewish vote, it went 79% to Democrats versus 17% to Republicans. 

Voters from the Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu faiths voted 73% in favour of Democrats versus 25% for Republicans.

Of those who say they belong to no religion, known as the “nones,” 70% voted Democratic, 28% voted Republican.

But what many want to know is: How did evangelicals in that country vote?

Unsurprisingly, they continued to support the GOP. Seventy-five percent voted for Republican candidates and 22% voted for Democrats. 

Support for Republicans did fall slightly from 78% who voted Republican in the 2014 midterms, and it is up slightly for the Democrats from the 20% they received from evangelicals that same year.

For many Canadians, including many evangelicals in this country, this support for Trump and the Republican Party continues to be a mystery. 

How could a group of people who say they stand for truth, morality, ethics and compassion vote for someone who seems to be the opposite in so many ways?

I posed that question to Ryan Claassen, a political science professor at Kent State University in Ohio and author of the book Godless Democrats and Pious Republicans?

“The primary reason is they are Republicans and Trump is a Republican,” he says, adding that the improved socio-economic status of evangelicals has propelled many into that camp over time.

“High socio-economic status individuals tend to be more supportive of the Republican Party, and evangelicals have realized significant socio-economic gains over the past half century,” he says.

Another reason is deeply-entrenched racial attitudes.

“Evangelicals are concentrated in former Confederate States,” he notes, adding that political trends for white evangelicals in the South “are very similar to the trends for non-evangelical whites in the South.”

These “racial attitudes explain more of the evangelical shift to the Republican Party over time than do their abortion attitudes,” he says—as important as that and other moral issues are to them.

(This is an argument made by Randall Balmer in Politico, where he says the real origin or the religious right was segregation.) 

What about the rise of the nones—how will that affect voting in the future in that country?

For Claassen, the fact “this is the fastest growing group within American religion has serious political ramifications,” with this demographic trend favoring the Democrats.

It could be offset, however, by how evangelicals punch above their weight in elections—although they are just 15% of the population, they comprise a quarter of those who vote.

That could change if younger evangelicals vote differently from their elders, but exit polls in the mid-terms “showed similar voting patterns among younger and older white evangelicals,” he observes.

In other words, evangelical support for Trump and the Republicans shows no sign of waning.

This is something that frustrates Jacob Lupfer, a commentator on religion and politics for Religion News Service.

“In any sane, normal world,” he writes, evangelicals “would be appalled by Trumpism.”

Yet, he adds, “they embrace him without consequence, because what little institutional or elite evangelical resistance to Trump that existed in 2016 has almost completely evaporated. 

"With the passage of time, even principled white evangelicals have lost their appetite for resisting Trumpism.”

“While a vocal minority of evangelical faith leaders once spoke out firmly against a politician whose life embodies so many unacceptable attitudes and behaviors, those voices have now gone silent,” he says.

“Trumpism is now business as usual for white evangelicalism, and white evangelical politics are inseparable from Trump’s,” he adds.

The word “evangelical,” he concludes, “comes from the Greek New Testament. It means ‘good news,’ in reference to the gospel of Jesus Christ . . . true Christians would never abide the race-baiting, lying, dehumanizing rhetoric that Trump spews daily.

“The ‘good news’ for Trump is that they just don’t care.”

From the November 17, 2018 Winnipeg Free Press.