One common feature of authoritarian societies that there is a core group of supporters who view themselves as a minority under existential threat. This group will serve as the anchor point for authoritarians. That doesn’t mean individuals within that group can oppose the authoritarian, but most people in that group will support the authoritarian because failure to do so could lead to calamity. Which brings us to this observation about the recent U.S. election (boldface mine):
But much of the Trump 2020 phenomenon can be explained by a far simpler way of looking at the electorate: There are White evangelical Christians — and there is everybody else.
White evangelicals are only 15 percent of the population, but their share of the electorate was 28 percent, according to Edison Research exit polling, and 23 percent, according to the Associated Press version. Though exit polls are imprecise, it seems clear that White evangelicals maintained the roughly 26 percent proportion of the electorate they’ve occupied since 2008, even though their proportion of the population has steadily shrunk from 21 percent in 2008.
This means White evangelicals turned out in mind-boggling numbers. Because they maintained their roughly 80 percent support for Republicans (76 percent and 81 percent in the two exit polls) of recent years, it also means some 40 percent of Trump voters came from a group that is only 15 percent of America.
White evangelicals have, in effect, skewed the electorate by masking the rise of a young, multiracial and largely secular voting population. The White evangelicals’ overperformance also shows, unfortunately, why the racist appeal Trump made in this campaign was effective. White evangelicals were fired up like no other group by Trump’s encouragement of white supremacy.
A Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate who now runs the Public Religion Research Institute, Robert P. Jones, argues that Trump inspired White Christians, “not despite, but through appeals to white supremacy,” attracting them not because of economics or morality, “but rather that he evoked powerful fears about the loss of White Christian dominance.”
While the left focuses on the racism, it seems to mostly ignore the role of religion, which means we are missing the problem. There is a small ethnic and religious minority which feels existentially threatened*, and which forms the core of one of the two major political parties. Before anyone brings up Black voters, they compromise a smidgen under twenty percent of the national Democratic electorate and their role isn’t nearly as prominent–though Black voters are clustered in certain states and regions.
That clustering is important, when thinking about Republican politics: large swathes of the Republican landscape are dominated by white evangelicals–there will be districts where they are the majority of Republicans, overemphasizing their power within the party. Due to various structural factors (e.g., the Senate), this powerful minority within the Republican Party, now has considerable power over the nation as a whole.
Unfortunately, this isn’t politically sustainable: a small minority can’t continue to dominate without a political backlash (if one is lucky, it is only a political backlash). At some point, the inability to meet the majority’s problems will break Republicans, but the question is how much damage must the rest of us suffer before that point.
*Admittedly, for absurd reasons, but that doesn’t deny the power of those reasons.