Tag: Democrats

What about the 19%?: Evangelical Democrats

Last week saw a really great collection of thoughtful pieces on evangelicals and politics. Historians, sociologists, political scientists, and journalists were still trying to make sense of both the 2016 presidential election and the continuing levels of support for President Trump.

Last night I tweeted the following: “We need to know a lot more about the 19% of white evangelicals who didn’t vote for Trump, especially those previously Rs. What rationales?

So naturally, I set out to try to figure out the beginnings of an answer. Unfortunately, I don’t have data on the election specifically nor anything on possible changes over time.

What I do have is the 2014 Pew Religious Landscape Survey. While it doesn’t deal specifically with voting behavior, the overall dataset is large enough to examine a particular set of evangelicals. Given the recognized confusions over who exactly is an evangelical, I selected a subset of data that would fit most people’s definitions.

I looked only at individuals who reported themselves as “born again or evangelical”,  who were part of an evangelical tradition, who attended church at least once a month, and who were white, non-hispanic. I also limited my analysis to only self-identified Republicans and Democrats, leaving out Independents and minor parties.

Evangelical Party

Because the Pew survey starts with 35,000 cases, there are still over 2,700 faithful white evangelicals using all my screens. This allowed me to do some sub-group comparisons to see if there were correlates with those evangelicals who identify as Democrats.

First, about a third of the Evangelical Democrats were born before 1945. On the other hand, a third of Evangelicals Republicans are Gen-X or Millennials compared to 20% of Democrats. It’s a matter of further research to determine if younger Evangelicals are more politically conservative or simply less likely to identify as evangelicals.

Second, there are the expected social class differences. Nearly 65% of Evangelical Democrats had family incomes under $50,000 in 2013. Over 58% of Evangelical Republicans were over $50,000. There is also a split on educational level, with Democrats being more highly represented among those who have a high school degree or less (this may well be an artifact of the generational pattern).

Third, there is a gender gap (although this didn’t turn up in exit polls in 2016). Females are 10% more likely than males to be Democrats.

In my earlier analysis of evangelical Republicans, I examined the difference between attitudes toward what I called conservative issues (size of government, attitudes toward welfare) and moral issues (legality of abortion, attitude toward same-sex marriage). In that piece, I argued that on conservative issues Evangelical Republicans looked like all Republicans but that there were differences on the moral issues.

Comparing Evangelical Republicans and Evangelical Democrats on the conservative issues shows a couple of interesting patterns. First, nine out of ten Evangelical Republicans favor smaller government with less services. Over half of the Evangelical Democrats would agree on smaller government with 45% favoring more services. Similarly, when asked about whether government aid to the poor creates dependency, eight in ten Evangelical Republicans agree as do a third of Democrats.

On the moral issues, about 38% of Evangelical Democrats favor same-sex marriage where less than 10% of Republicans do. The Democrats are evenly split on whether abortion should be legal where only 13.5% of Republicans think so.

Taken together, these differences paint a fairly consistent pattern: There is a very high degree of agreement among Evangelical Republicans with a very small outlying percentage. In general, Evangelical Democrats are divided on both conservative issues and moral issues.

Remember, all of the folks I’m looking at are regularly attending evangelical churches (although the Democrats are about one Sunday less frequent in attendance). How does an Evangelical Democrat operate in the midst of assumed (and perhaps demonstrated) uniformity on political issues? This internal congregational dynamic explain the conformity assumptions in American Evangelical churches. This is less true in Lydia Bean’s Canadian churches and is not present in this new book about British Evangelicals by Andrea Hatcher.

While it’s impossible to get at congregational dynamics with cross-sectional survey data, there is a hint in the Pew data set. There are a set of questions about attitudes toward church. Some of these look at the positive impact of churches in upholding morality and helping the poor. On these, there is virtually no difference between Evangelical Democrats and Evangelical Republicans.

On the other hand, Evangelical Democrats are 9% more likely to say the church is too rule-focused and 12% more likely to say the church is too focused on money and power. The real difference shows up in terms of political engagement. Evangelical Democrats (at 42%) are 21% more likely to agree that the church is too involved in Politics. (That 8 in 10 Evangelical Republicans disagree with this statement is why the President’s Johnson Amendment pitch gets traction.)

I’m stretching way beyond the data, but I’m drawn back to Putnam/Campbell and Kinnaman/Lyons. Both of these books argued that millennials were put off by the past political engagement of the church and withdrew. Or, I would argue, at least no longer identify as evangelicals. As I’ve mentioned before (paraphrasing Robert Jones), if progressive millennials depart, the unanimity of those evangelicals who remain will actually increase.

Shifting the evangelical-politics landscape is not likely to occur in the near future. On the one hand, the historic democrats are up against actuarial limits and aren’t being replaced at similar levels by younger cohorts.

In the final analysis, Michael Wear’s argument that the Democratic party needs to recognize the diversity present among Evangelical Democrats is correct. On the other hand, when put up against the overwhelming consensus present among Evangelical Republicans, its hard to figure out how productive such a strategy will be.

Of course, the roller-coaster ride we have all been on over the last six months may completely shift all of the patterns I’ve described. But I’m not holding my breath.

Dear Democrats: We Really Need to Up Our Game

We’re halfway through 2017 and just over five months into the Trump presidency. I was recently looking back over some previous posts and saw this paragraph in my review of Michael Wear’s book right after the inauguration:

At some point, I’ll find enough perspective to write a reflection on the 2016 presidential election. For now, I’m just struggling with the uncertainty on a new administration where every day brings new questions and puzzles. It’s really hard for a policy wonk like me to figure out what’s likely to happen in the coming months. So many things are up in the air: health care, international trade, the Middle East, market stability, transparent government. And it’s only day three.

Five months later, I’m no closer to certainty about what’s going on. But I may be getting a little closer in thinking about what we Democrats might do going forward. Spoiler: it’s not what we seem to be doing at the moment.

During the presidential debates, I found myself thinking of Mohammed Ali’s “Rope a Dope” strategy from his fight with George Foreman. Ali let Foreman come at him and exposed Foreman’s weaknesses. After Foreman became fatigued, the fight was Ali’s. In the debates, it seemed as if Clinton would give Trump openings he couldn’t pass up. He’d make an outrageous remark about Taxes or Miss Universe and that would become the storyline raising doubts about Trump’s qualifications for the office.

Since the election, it has become clear to me that the Rope-a-Dope strategy went both ways. The more Trump stepped into (and seemingly embraced) the openings Clinton left for him, the more Clinton’s campaign became an anti-Trump campaign. It didn’t shore up support for HRC, didn’t encourage turnout, and didn’t present a positive policy agenda that would solidify wary Republicans who were put off by Trump.


Democrats are still being suckered by this strategy. We move from outrage to outrage based on the latest news cycle. We have to have something more that what SNL skewered as the “this is not normal” response. We have to raise our game.


Here are a few ideas that I’ve been pondering for Democrats to consider:

We need to focus more on policy solutions: While the Congressional Republicans established themselves as “the party of no” over the last eight years, simply saying no to Republicans isn’t a strategy. It is not enough to stop their proposals. We must spend our time laying out the alternatives. For example, if we want to address health insurance premium costs, we need to speak to issues of how we might do that (increased subsidies, enhanced mandates, incentivizing states who experiment on increased care) and not simply talk of the damage that the Senate bill will do (it’s a lot). Every party figure interviewed should discuss specific solutions as much as possible.

We need to speak to issues of morality: There have been a host of pieces lately about the Democrat’s supposed “religion problem” (see here, here, here, and here). In light of the fact that 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump, it’s tempting to focus energies on young, urban, educated, secular voters. But that’s a mistake that cedes the high ground to others.There are real questions of Imago Dei (believing that all are created in God’s image) and they need to be addressed as such. Concern over criminal justice reform should be grounded in compassion for suspects, victims, and law enforcement. Protecting the legality of Roe v. Wade can be done by speaking to issues of family wellbeing and autonomy without name-calling toward pro-life groups. Issues of inequality can be couched in terms of long-term societal impact on children and not simply in terms of “the greed of the 1%”.

We need to be careful with statistical arguments: We have to know what the actual data says and respond accordingly. To not do so supports the “everyone has their own facts” claim. There is nothing wrong with saying that the Senate bill does not allow Medicaid expenditures to keep up with either inflation or increased enrollment. To call it “a cut” allows Republicans to make the narrowly correct argument that there is no cut. To point out that the crime rate is falling requires us to also acknowledge the impact a small number of cities are having on an increased murder rate.  Similarly, saying that the crime rate for immigrants is lower than that for citizens needs to show that we recognize that any crime (immigrant or citizen) is something of concern.

We need to let the “the Russia-Trump-thing” run its course: MSNBC recently rebroadcast a 2013 special they had done on “All The President’s Men”. Narrated by Robert Redford, it told the Watergate story through movie clips, news reports, and interviews. It was very good but reminded me how slowly the investigations moved in 1973-74. Today we have social media and diversified broadcast channels but the actual investigation is not likely to move a lot faster than it did 40 years ago. We have to stop talking about Impeachment and looking for Smoking Guns. Even after Alexander Butterfield testified about the Watergate Tapes, it took months of court wrangling before Nixon felt pressure.  The Russia investigation makes for entertaining parlor chat but won’t come to anything until Mueller finishes. We have to stop looking like we’re hoping for a breakthrough. It would be a constitutional crisis that should sadden everyone regardless of party affiliation. To celebrate too soon (or at all) simply feeds the “witch-hunt” narrative.

We need to pay attention to demographics but carefully: While it is true that Jon Ossoff came close to winning a highly Republican district in the recent special election, it was always unlikely that he would do so: it was a heavily Republican district. Every election is not a national referendum and all districts are not the same. Furthermore,  demographics change slowly and there is variance within demographic groups. One of the challenges to November’s election forecasting was that many people were looking at Clinton’s popularity among certain demographic groups and assuming that because those groups were growing, she had an undeniable advantage. But those groups didn’t vote in accordance with their population percentage and some of them voted for Trump. Shifting demographics are important, as Robert Jones has pointed out, but that also created a pro-Trump backlash. In part, “Make America Great Again”, was a nostalgic call for a time before these demographic shifts. (It’s worth noting that while the Alt-right shares those concerns it didn’t make Trump supporters sympathetic with Richard Spencer.)

We need to be proactive not reactive: When something flies across the twitter feed, we need to resist the temptation to react. There are legitimate issues to address. Far better to work on issues of harrassment in general than to worry about Mika Brezynski. We can work toward an improved refugee vetting process and not simply react to the latest decision on the Muslim Ban. We can work toward adequate protections of religious freedom for all while also supporting non-discrimination of LGBT populations instead of freaking out about the Missouri Lutheran Church decision. These are legitimate initiatives that Democrats need to be thinking about, not because they represent interest groups whose votes we want but because these are issues we need to address.

We need to articulate a positive future: Last weekend I led a book group discussion of Matthew Desmond’s Pulitzer prize winning book Evicted (my review is here). As my wife pointed out, it’s one of the most depressing books we’ve read in a long time. I told the group that the argument is similar to what Robert Putnam raises in Our Kids. There are very real issues confronting our society. Many of these were intentional policy decisions. Others are the unintended consequences of benign neglect. In any case, we are confronted with the reality that we need to find a better life for the children imbedded in all the statistics. Putnam (and others) argues that all these children are “our kids” and we will be concerned for their future either now and when they are adults. We need to articulate a future where their life chances aren’t completely determined by where and how they were born.


There are likely more ideas you could add to these seven. I encourage you to add them in the comments section.

For me, I’m going to try to put these ideas into practice in my local conversations and on my social media feeds. If more of us do this instead of reacting to the outrage-du-jour, maybe we’ll have some better conversations as we look toward November of 2018.