In U. S. Politics, Evangelical Influence is Declining, While the Millennial Vote Grows in Influence
What will the decline of the Religious Right and the rise of Millennials mean for the future of American politics?
The future is never certain, but trends suggest that a major shift may be underway. Emerging generations are less religious than preceding cohorts. Even among those who grew up in evangelicalism, there has been a developing movement of “exvangelicals” who have not only left the church, but conservative politics as well.
Newsweek took a long look at evangelicalism, Millennials, and the future of American politics.
According to Nina Burleigh:
Since the 1970s, white evangelicals have formed the backbone of the Republican base. But as younger members reject the vitriolic partisanship of the Trump era and leave the church, that base is getting smaller and older. The numbers are stark: Twenty years ago, just 46 percent of white evangelical Protestants were older than 50; now, 62 percent are above 50. The median age of white evangelicals is 55. Only 10 percent of Americans under 30 identify as white evangelicals. The exodus of youth is so swift that demographers now predict that evangelicals will likely cease being a major political force in presidential elections by 2024.
Here are additional numbers from the Newsweek report:
In the 2018 midterms, exit polls showed, white evangelicals backed Republicans by 75 to 22 percent, while the rest of the voting population favored Democrats 66 to 32 percent. But evangelicals were slightly less likely to support House Republicans in 2018 than they were to support Trump in 2016—which may have contributed to the Democrats’ pickup of House seats. Trump’s support actually declined more among white evangelical men than women. The 11-point gender gap between evangelical men and women from 2016 shrank to 6 in the midterms.
To be sure, evangelical Christians have been rewarded for their support of Trump after enduring eight years wandering in Barack Obama’s political desert. They have two new conservative Supreme Court justices, and there have been nine self-professed evangelical Cabinet members, plus a flurry of laws and executive orders clamping down on gender roles, abortion, and LGBTQ rights.
But experts say this may represent the last bounty for a waning political power. Unlike their parents, the younger generation is not animated by the culture wars; many are pushing for social justice for migrants and LGBTQ people and campaigning against mass incarceration—positions more in line with the Democratic Party.
The article also includes perspectives from Robert Jones (author of The End of White Christian America), Ed Stetzer, professor at Wheaton College, and Russell Moore, President of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Jones explains how demographic trends will soon result in a dramatic secular shift in the American political sphere, while Stetzer and Moore are not ready to declare conservative evangelical influence a thing of the past.
Time will tell. Conservative Christians, even though they may not change the content of their beliefs, may still choose to change their tone. Stetzer and Moore may also be right in their supposition that some Millennials may return to the tradition of their upbringing as they age.
But we shouldn’t count on it. Wherever your tradition falls on the theological perspective, the calling remains the same: to preach the gospel, live as disciples, and serve everyone with love.
American politics may shift. Some Christian religious leaders will abandon the gospel, seduced by worldly power. The challenge is to be faithful to Jesus Christ, not a political party.