I have previously shared my youngest son’s analysis of the 2016 presidential election–an analysis with which I have come to agree, and which subsequent academic research has confirmed. As he put it, “there were two–and only two–kinds of people who voted for Trump: those for whom his racism resonated, and those for whom it wasn’t disqualifying.”
I was initially reluctant to accept so oversimplified an analysis, but in the years since, study after study has confirmed its essential accuracy, and research clearly connects the importance of racism to the continued allegiance of Evangelical voters to Trump.
An article from the Brookings Institution is instructive. The linked article begins by looking at the characteristics of White Evangelical voters, and finds that, overall, they are older and predominantly Southern. The aging of the cohort is due to America’s declining religiosity, and the departure of younger Americans from a Christianity seen as intolerant of racial diversity and the LGBTQ community. As the authors delicately put it, younger Americans are more “progressive”(i.e., less threatened) when it comes to “diversity.”
Evangelicals are 30% of self-identified Republicans–and they vote. Fifty-nine percent of them are older than 50; 52% hail from the South; 42% have a high school diploma or less; 69% identify as conservative. They have been shrinking as a percentage of the population–White Evangelicals are currently 14% of all Americans.
Interestingly, the current political divide between Evangelicals and others on the issue of abortion is actually rooted in racism, as FiveThirtyEight.com has documented:
The movement to end legal abortion has a long, racist history, and like the great replacement theory, it has roots in a similar fear that white people are going to be outnumbered by people believed to hold a lower standing in society. Those anxieties used to be centered primarily around various groups of European immigrants and newly emancipated slaves, but now they’re focused on non-white Americans who, as a group, are on track to numerically outpace non-Hispanic white Americans by 2045, according to U.S. Census projections.
It’s been decades since the anti-abortion movement first gained traction — and the movement has changed in certain ways — but this fundamental fear has never left, as demonstrated by attacks on people of color, such as the shooter in Buffalo, New York, who expressed concern about the declining birth rates of white people. That’s because the anti-abortion movement, at its core, has always been about upholding white supremacy.
The Brookings report focuses on Evangelicals’ continued devotion to Trump, which it attributes to “shared anger and resentments rather than a shared faith.” As the authors write,
White Evangelical politics is now predominantly the politics of older, conservative voters for whom ‘owning the libs’ and pushing back against cultural and demographic change has become a sacred obligation.
The movement of White Evangelicals to the GOP began long before Roe v. Wade–it was prompted by backlash against civil rights and voting rights. The continued role of racial reaction, which also prompts opposition to immigration, has been well documented.
In a 2018 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, 38 percent of Americans said that the U.S. becoming more diverse would “weaken American customs and values.” This opinion was most prevalent among Republicans, who by a margin of 59 to 13 percent said that having a majority nonwhite population would weaken rather than strengthen the U.S. (Twenty-seven percent said it wouldn’t have much impact either way.) Another poll, conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, found 47 percent of Republicans (compared with 22 percent of Democrats and 22 percent of independents) agreeing with the statement that “there is a group of people in this country who are trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants who agree with their political views.”
It has to be emphasized that the allegiance of White Evangelicals to the GOP under Trump isn’t new–they have voted overwhelmingly Republican for a long time. What I’ve found hard to wrap my head around was the fact that more White Evangelicals “converted to Trump’s cause” during his presidency than defected from it. How rational people could view Trump’s bizarre behaviors in office and increase their support simply astonished me–and is inexplicable without reference to the increasingly blatant racism displayed by Trump and the contemporary GOP.
So what does all of this mean for the 2024 election?
The historical affiliation of White Evangelicals and other “racial grievance” voters with the GOP means they are probably unmovable. They can be counted on to vote–and to vote for any candidate with an R next to the name. They are not a majority even in very Red states–but absent effective GOTV efforts, their anger and cohesion can elect truly despicable people.
Massive turnout has never been more important.