The Demographics of Progress and the Demise of the America of Conservative Dreams

Dec 08 2012 Published by under Featured News, Issues, Republican Party

Less voice for these guys is a + for religious freedom

As RMuse wrote here this morning, “conservatives have rejected the idea of the country’s progress into the 21st century and by their own admission, Republicans are devolving and attempting to drag the entire society backwards.” As so often happens, Muse and I were sharing a thought, and I had already begun to look at the demographics of this regressive tendency.

America is a very religious nation, despite the cries of wide-spread idolatry and atheism coming from the Religious Right. Gallup reports that 7 out of 10 Americans are moderately or very religious:

It will surprise no liberal that, as Gallup reveals, “Religiousness is highest in Southern states, including Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana” or that, “Republicans are significantly more likely to say that religion is important in their daily lives and more likely to attend religious services regularly than either independents or Democrats.”

Unpalatable as it may be, demographically if not legally or by establishment, America “remains a largely Christian nation” says Gallup, “although one in which an increasing percentage of adults say that they don’t have a formal religious identity. More than three-fourths (77%) of American adults in 2012 identify with a Christian religion, including Protestantism, Catholicism, other Christian religions, and Mormonism. Among only those Americans who have a religious identity, 94% are Christians, with the rest spread across several other religious categories.”

Seventy-seven percent when stood next to twenty-three percent may seem an insurmountable obstacle for those fighting for the rights of religious minorities, but things are far from as lopsided as religious conservatives make them seem. Gretchen Carlson of Fox News, for example, complains about bullying from religious minority groups,  presenting these groups as insignificant in numbers. She claims that Evangelical woes are all “because we listen now to the less than 1 percent in society that feels this way.”

It is usually one complaint that changes it for the majority of the people who have enjoyed it for their lifetime. I don’t remember these complaints when I was growing up. I don’t remember any of them, and now what will my children be fighting for?… This is what we’re doing now. We are pandering to the political correctness of a very few groups of people and I believe a lot of it comes down to the litigious nature of our society as well.

Well yes, some of us enjoyed snow once upon a time too, before the greedy lords of industry and fossil fuels took it away from us with steadily climbing temperatures.

In any event, Carlson’s numbers are more suggestive of wishful thinking than reality: twenty-three percent is hardly one percent; nor does her one percent account for the many who though nominally Christian, prefer religious freedom and equality for all, including for those with no religion at all.

Nor does she take into account the facts that not only are protestants no longer the majority in the United States according to Pew, but that the fastest growing religious group is that of the non-religious: one out of every five Americans has no religious affiliation. According to Pew, 33 million Americans now have no religious affiliation. Though about two-thirds of these people say they believe in God, many describe themselves only as “spiritual.”

A hopeful sign: Most of these people are younger people, though Gallup offers a caution, that “Americans are least religious at age 23 and most religious at age 80.”

And unsurprisingly, most of these religiously unaffiliated people went for Obama in 2012

According to Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, “This presidential election is the last in which a white Christian strategy will be considered a plausible path to victory.”  Jones argues that,  ”The American religious and ethnic landscape is becoming increasingly diverse, and any campaigns relying on outdated maps are destined to lose their way.”

Some facts emerge from a Public Religion Research Institute  survey (PDF):

  • Eight-in-ten (79%) voters in Romney’s coalition are white Christians. By contrast, just over one third (35%) of voters in Obama’s coalition are white Christians.
  • The foundation of Romney’s base consists primarily of white evangelical Protestants, who constitute 40% of his coalition. Obama’s coalition rests on two very different groups: minority Christians—a group that includes black, Asian, Hispanic, and mixed-race Christians—(16%) and the religiously unaffiliated (25%).
  • Notably, Obama’s religious coalition resembles the religious composition of younger voters, while Romney’s religious coalition resembles the religious composition of senior voters. For example, 26% of Millennial voters are white Christians, compared to 70% of senior voters.

The sad fact for conservatives is this: though most Americans self-identify as Christians, fewer and fewer Christians have any enthusiasm for the Evangelical culture war.  Gallup reported this month that Sixty-three percent of Americans describe discrimination against gays and lesbians as a “very” or “somewhat serious” problem in the United States.”

It is no wonder that Rick Santorum said that “mainline Protestantism in this country…is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it.”

Rick Santorum lives in a world where, as he put it in 2008 at Ave Maria University, “Satan has his sights on the United States of America,” but increasing numbers of Christians do not. For many Christians today, ideas like reincarnation mix with more doctrinally acceptable ideas (e.g. Hebrews 9:27) about the afterlife, and karma is as valid as sin and righteousness, despite karma’s contradiction of Christian “grace.”

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reported in 2009 that,

The religious beliefs and practices of Americans do not fit neatly into conventional categories. A new poll by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that large numbers of Americans engage in multiple religious practices, mixing elements of diverse traditions. Many say they attend worship services of more than one faith or denomination — even when they are not traveling or going to special events like weddings and funerals. Many also blend Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs such as reincarnation, astrology and the presence of spiritual energy in physical objects. And sizeable minorities of all major U.S. religious groups say they have experienced supernatural phenomena, such as being in touch with the dead or with ghosts.

It is not going to get any better for Rick Santorum and his friends on the Religious Right. Pew’s unfortunate news for Santorum is that along with atheism, New Age spirituality is on the rise:

Though the U.S. is an overwhelmingly Christian country, significant minorities profess belief in a variety of Eastern or New Age beliefs. For instance, 24% of the public overall and 22% of Christians say they believe in reincarnation — that people will be reborn in this world again and again. And similar numbers (25% of the public overall, 23% of Christians) believe in astrology. Nearly three-in-ten Americans say they have felt in touch with someone who has already died, almost one-in-five say they have seen or been in the presence of ghosts, and 15% have consulted a fortuneteller or a psychic.

And mysticism? Take a look at trends from 1962 to 2009:

An increasingly small number of white Evangelicals, while squeezing Jesus and the New Testament out of their own religious narrative, have decided that they alone hold on to the capital-T Truth, resulting in Santorum’s excommunication of 45 million Protestants and equally outrageous claims made by other Religious Right leaders.

It does not seem that the best plan that could be contrived in response to the 2012 election results is to double-down on the culture war but that is exactly what the Religious Right is doing. Exposed to decreasing support for their agenda, they have decided that if they only try harder, they can win. But they can’t, because numbers don’t lie: they didn’t lie on Election Night, and they do not lie in the longer run when they prove that America is becoming more, not less progressive.

When Lindsey Graham said in August of this year, “The demographics race we’re losing badly. We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term,” he wasn’t whistling Dixie, but rather taps, on the America of conservative dreams.

Comments are off for this post