Religious Groups and Political Parties: What About the Independents?

The night before the PA 18 special election, Republican Rick Saccone told the gathered crowd what “the left” believes. Not only do they hate the president and the country, but “They have a hatred for God.” The Washington Post’s Eugene Scott deconstructed this argument, pointing out that apparent winner Conor Lamb is a Catholic with more conservative views on abortion.

PRRI’s Molly Fisch-Friedman shared data in response to Scott’s story,  pointing out that only over a quarter of Democrats were “nones” in 2016 compared to just under 10% of Republicans (both percentages have nearly tripled over the last decade).

This two-party comparison, common in our political discourse, struck me as incomplete. What about the Independents?

If people are going to claim that Democrats are uniquely opposed to faith, it’s helpful to have the full picture. Are Independents like Republicans so that Democrats are outliers in their secularism? Or do Republicans stand apart?

I went to 2014 Pew Religious Landscape survey, my default data set on religious factors (it’s one I have already dowloaded so I can quickly test spur of the moment hypotheses). I focused exclusively on white Christian groups plus the nonaffiliated. I then cross-referenced that with self-identified party affiliation, giving me the percentage belonging to each religious grouping within a particular party affiliation.

Religion and Party

What strikes me in this data is how similar the distributions are between Independents and Democrats. Independents are slightly more represented among evangelicals and slightly less represented among Catholics than is true for Democrats.

But the remarkable contrast is between the Republicans and the other two. This suggests that religion may be more salient among Republicans, which puts Saccone’s assertion in some context. This fits the embattled-religious-freedom concerns that have tied Republicans and Evangelicals together.

I admit  that this data doesn’t tell me how people vote. But the linkages between partisan orientation and faith provide some key indicators. When we read that 79% of White Evangelicals support the president, it’s important to remember that they are Republicans first.

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