What we don’t know about religion and the election

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Jonathan Sarna lecturing at Trinity College on February 17, 2016.

Mark Silk

Jonathan Sarna lecturing at Trinity College on February 17, 2016.

Jonathan Sarna lecturing at Trinity College on February 17, 2016.

Jonathan Sarna lecturing at Trinity College on February 17, 2016.

I’m as interested as anybody in white evangelicals, but to judge from the survey questions being asked, you’d think there was no other religious demographic worth paying political attention to this primary season. And that’s not the case.

Let’s start with the white evangelicals themselves They are by far the largest religious component of the GOP coalition, constituting fully 40 percent of the Romney vote in 2012. So unsurprisingly there’s been a good deal of speculation, including in this corner, about why so many of them are currently supporting the minimally religious Donald Trump.

We might get our answer if pollsters posed the question about frequency of worship attendance asked in every general election exit poll this century. My guess is that Trump is picking up the lion’s share of the evangelicals who don’t go to church that much, but at this point there’s no way to know.

Beyond white evangelicals, the Republican coalition includes large tranches of white Catholics and Mainline Protestants. In the past, these groups have shied away from evangelical paladins like Mike Huckabee. It would be nice to know if, for example, Catholic Republicans are particularly attracted to their co-religionists Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. And if mainliners are lining up behind Anglican John Kasich.

2012 Election coalitions

2012 Election coalitions

On the Democratic side, the religious equivalent of white evangelicals are the Nones — those who answer “none” when asked, “What is your religion, if any?” In 2012, Nones constituted 25 percent of the Obama coalition, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the number exceeds 30 percent this time around.

Perhaps not coincidently, Democratic Nones now have one of their own to vote for in Bernie Sanders. It’s probable that he is getting the support of the large majority of them, but again we can’t know unless a pollster asks a religious identity question. It would also be good to know how more and less frequent worship attenders split between Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Finally, there are the Jews, a religious body that because of geographical concentration, very high turnout, and financial contributions to candidates punches way above its demographic weight.

Yesterday evening , Brandeis University professor Jonathan Sarna, the leading historian of Jews in America, gave a lecture at Trinity College tracing organized Jewish involvement in American politics back to the 1864 campaign of Abraham Lincoln. Sarna pointed out that while at least 60 percent of the Jewish vote has gone to the Democrat in every election since 1928 except one (1980), Orthodox Jews are now solidly Republican and Jews overall are increasingly being pulled towards the GOP because of its unmitigated support for Israel.

In the current race, Sanders, the None senator from Vermont with Christian grandchildren, is a classic ethnic New York Jew. Clinton has a Jewish son-in-law and a husband who enjoyed more Jewish support than any presidential candidate since Hubert Humphrey in 1968. Donald Trump has Orthodox Jewish grandchildren. I’d say it’s time someone took a close look at which Jews are supporting whom.

  • Glenn Harrell

    In the average Main-line and or Evangelical church today we see the blind eye. Just like the teen aged girl who refuses to see the faults in her young suitor, the giddy Evangelical has shoved aside what little biblical conviction and directive remains.

    As such, they are convinced that the Trump should be voted in to get the job done that the “Christian” presidents, Senators and Congressmen won’t do.

    The Lone Wolf Baptist Church democratically votes in their new preacher:
    Jesus: 5% of vote. (mean to the Jews)
    Ben Carson: 10% off vote. Great theology, poor presentation
    Hillary Clinton: 20% of vote with a church fight
    Donald Trump 75% of vote (his math) the new savior

    It’s not about faith or fact for many Evangelicals. Trump has a big hand that, if shaken, might release goodies for all. If Bernie had such a hand and was mad enough about it, might they wink at him too?

    Evangelicals are merely demonstrating their assimilation into secular culture and hoping no one…

  • drwho13

    The pope just said that anyone for walls (Trump) is not Christian, but many Evangelicals say that Catholics are not Christians. SC just got even more interesting.

  • Dennis Lurvey

    I thought part of what makes an evangelical was attending church weekly at least. I would be surprised if there are evangelicals who don’t attend. They would be in the non practicing christian group, born into christian families, tell ppl they are close to they believe the whole christian slate, but after a few drinks admit they don’t know and don’t care.

    Republicans have always assumed their whole party was christian and wanted a pastor in chief in place of president. What we will see with the vote is the secular nature of the american people when behind closed doors/curtain and the death of the graham/robertson era.

  • drwho13

    How tall is the wall around Vatican City? One news channel reported that it was 40 feet. Would the pope bless Trump’s wall if he didn’t outdo the pope, by limiting it to 39 feet?

    Say 10,000 migrants set up tents in St.Peter’s Square. How long would it be before they were removed?

  • You said Kasich is an Anglican, not an Episcopalian. I think of Anglicans as “evangelical” not “mainline” I’m PCA and I don’t think of myself as “mainline”.

  • Mark Hulsether

    People also say “what makes a Catholic” is things like never using contraception and going to confession regularly–which to say the least not all Catholics do. The continuum between “Jews,” “practicing religious Jews,” and “secular Jews” is if anything more slippery. Protestants are like this, too, although kinds of “Protestant” motivation might be harder to see because more taken for granted. Yes, leaders of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews may or may not speak for followers and “Graham/Robertson” were overhyped and are experiencing a backlash– but from there we have to be careful about the idea that the alienated ones are simply “secular” or “none.”

    Mark, it is good that you are complicating this! Still, you estimate 30% of Democrats might be “nones.” If so, aren’t you underplaying how there are twice as many NON-nones in the Democratic bloc? This isn’t in the same focus here as your non-“evangelical” Republicans.

  • Lin Jenkins

    You mention “large tranches of white Catholics.” Interesting characterization! Merriam-Webster defines “tranche” as “a division or portion of a pool or whole; specifically: an issue of bonds derived from a pooling of like obligations (as securitized mortgage debt) that is differentiated from other issues especially by maturity or rate of return.”

    Also, I’m an Episcopalian and I do sometimes use the term Anglican since we’re members of the Anglican Communion. However, there are also Anglican who aren’t Episcopalian. Goc. Kasich belongs to the ACNA (Anglican Church in North America), a group which split from the Episcopal Church over the ordination of female bishops and gay priests.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    Nah. There’s all kinds of Evangelicals. A lot of people who say that’s what they are haven’t been to church in decades. Of course, that’s the type that condemns LGBTs the loudest, advocates, for violence, and demonizes Muslims, among other things – IOW, Trump’s natural constituency.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    Hm, I wonder if his misogyny is influenced by that. Remember, the Anglicans had to be dragged kicking and screaming into ordaining female clergy long after the Episcopals did.

  • Jack

    Good article, Mark. Regarding Catholic conservatives,Trump, rather than Rubio, may be getting a plurality. Historically, Catholic conservatives have been more working class than Protestant conservatives, which has meant they care more about what used to be called law-and-order issues than about constitutional conservatism, which I suspect makes them impatient. Trump’s message of “winning” and “getting things done” perhaps has special resonance with them.

    Regarding Jews, I think I read in Commentary or some similar publication that the Orthodox are poised over the next generation to reach critical mass here and around the world, including in Israel. The handwriting could be on the wall in America, where in recent years, each year, the majority of Jewish children born are from Orthodox homes. The political & cultural composition of Jewry may become less secular and liberal with time.

  • Jack

    George, how is John Kasich guilty of “misogyny?” That’s like accusing the Pillsbury Doughboy of being Attila the Hun.

  • Jack

    You could be somewhat right on that, George, in that evangelicals who rarely or never go to church tend to be pretty rough customers, and to express their identity more in terms of who and what they oppose rather than support. They express their identity more in terms of what they are not than what they are.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    Very true. Thsnk you.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    No, it’s quite substantial. Kasich has made sexist comments to female reporters and women he’s met while glad-handing. People saying Kasich, Bush, and Rubio are “moderates” miss the fact they’re as far right wing as Cruz. Rubio in particular favors o incest or rape exceptions to abortion criminalization. As for Bus, his malfeasance in the Terry Schiavo case speaks volumes.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    to a degree your conclusions about Ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects has merit.

  • yoh

    “The continuum between “Jews,” “practicing religious Jews,” and “secular Jews” is if anything more slippery.”

    Blame that one on the anti-semites. They don’t ever make a distinction between simply one born of Jewish parents and one who practices the religion.. As far as I know, not a single pogrom, effort at persecution, nor did the perpetrators of the Holocaust ever distinguish between secular and religious Jews.

  • yoh

    There is a lot of variation even among the Orthodox. Running from a mainstream group to the Haredi who are practically talibanish at times. Birthrates/family sizes are high among the Haredi more than mainstream Orthodox.

    But Haredi are also incredibly insular and as a group eschew the kinds of activities which garner real political power. College outside of religious education is nearly non-existent so its a community with few professionals within it. Many live off of public assistance and their political aspirations tend to be local. Politically Jews have “hit above their demographic weight class” through representing themselves in professions. Something Haredi avoid.

    There is the irony that as voters they tend to support “small government” politicians while are almost entirely dependent on “big government” for survival. Although they are fairly reactionary, the major Haredi populations live in places which are solidly politically “blue”.

  • John Wolfe

    10,000 migrants in St Pete’s Sq. — I’m betting it would take an hour before they did something to get kicked out — ever wonder why those who claim to be fleeing war and oppression refuse to go to a poor country with little free stuff — like free housing, free education, free food and clothing, free legal representation, free to do whatever they want (regardless of the consequences), free to rape women (and a few men), free to protest that they can’t act just like they did in their old country (which, of course is why were fleeing in the first place)

    So to answer your comment/question — as soon as they start making unreasonable demands on the rest of us.