The Missing Evangelical Vote

Or at least, the New Kids on the Voting Block diluted their power. Depressing as it is, a key political phenomenon, arguably the key political phenomenon, throughout my life has been the power white evangelicals have due to their much higher rates of political turnout. Obviously, it’s not the only factor in the Republican successes of the last forty plus years, but it is an essential component. This, by Dana Milbank, describes how disproportionately powerful white evangelicals are, relative to their percentage of the population* (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.”

As some asshole with a blog noted:

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 [won’t] oppose the authoritarian, but most people in that group will support the authoritarian because failure to do so could lead to calamity…

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….

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.

As described above, in 2020, 23 – 28 percent of the electorate were white evangelicals. In 2022, if this NBC exit poll is to be believed, only 17.5% of the electorate were white evangelicals. This is a huge drop. It’s unclear to what extent this is due to lower turnout versus higher turnout by others (including those pesky kids!). At the same time, white evangelicals are starting to be ‘overconcentrated’ in areas they already control, diluting their power further. Unfortunately, one of those places very well could be Florida.

This seems notable, though I have no idea about its permanence, but if white evangelicals are losing their power (regardless of the reasons), that’s a seismic shift in U.S. politics.

*Which makes the latent anti-Semitic trope about how Jews run everything all the more galling.

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1 Response to The Missing Evangelical Vote

  1. NH says:

    Many interviews with evangelicals show them to find Trump personally and morally abhorrent. If this is a general fact about this voting group then their votes for Trump was largely transactional. They voted for him because they thought he would deliver on what they wanted, namely an end to Roe. Well, they got what they wanted and so no longer need support people they dislike. Of course, this may be true of only part of the group (or none), but it provides another possibility for the possible drop in voting here. Btw, being transactional in the sense of voting for someone’s policies rather than the person is a perfectly rational strategy. One can vote for someone even if one cannot stand them (lefty democrats, think Hilary!). Again,I dont know if this played a role in the declining vote, but it is worth considering.

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