In the 2012 presidential election, a seismic shift occurred in American politics.
The Republicans tasked former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with taking on then-President Barack Obama. Despite fears early in the primary that Romney’s Mormon background would turn off the all-powerful evangelical Christian voting bloc, on election night, he met or exceeded expectations. He beat Obama among independent voters. He bested 2008 Republican candidate Arizona Sen. John McCain’s voting margins among several important groups including whites, seniors and white evangelical Protestants.
In terms of Republican strategy, he did everything right. It wasn’t until after he gave his concession speech that the GOP was able to deduce what went wrong: The historic Republican coalition largely made up of white Christians, was no longer the majority of voters.
Robert Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute traces the decline of white mainline and evangelical Protestants in his new book, “The End of White Christian America.” To prove the finality of his declaration, he even starts the book with an obituary notice: “After a long life spanning nearly two hundred and forty years, White Christian America — a prominent cultural force in the nation’s history — has died.”
Despite a decades-long decline in white Christian America, Jones argues that only recently has it reached a tipping point. In 2008, Obama was elected by a nation that, at the time, was still majority white and Christian, but is no longer. It could seem to onlookers that the presumed Republican nomination of real estate investor Donald Trump might be the end of the Religious Right. Looking at the data, it’s clear that’s not quite true. White Christian America is already over; Trump is the reaction to that change.
There’s no denying that, once, the U.S. was a majority white Christian nation.
In terms of race, the share of Americans who are non-Hispanic whites has declined in recent decades, while the share of Americans who identify as another race, multiracial or Hispanic has increased. The Census Bureau projects that the U.S. will be majority-minorityby 2044.
In terms of religion, Christians still made up the majority of the population in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center, but the group was declining. The evangelical or mainline Protestants Jones talks about in his book made up 40 percent of the population then.
There are wide differences between the religious leanings of the oldest generation in the U.S. (the silent generation) and millennials born between 1990 and 1996, showing that the U.S. will become less Christian over time. Among younger millennials, as many say they are unaffiliated as say they are Protestant Christians.
After factoring in race, it’s even clearer that the future doesn’t look like the past. Among all millennials, 21 percent say they are white evangelical Protestant or white mainline Protestant. Nearly half of Americans age 65 and older identify this way.
There are many reasons for this shift. Retention rates among the Christian groups Jones writes about are down, with many young people citing the church’s anti-gay attitudes as the reason for their departure. Birth rates among whites are lower, which means that white Christian America has been aging for decades. Immigrants, too, have changed the religious and racial makeup of the U.S.
While the majority of immigrants to the U.S. are Christians, the share of Christians has declined, while the share of other religions, including Islam, Hinduism and unaffiliated, has grown. The country is expected to grow more through immigration, according to the Census. Between 2014 and 2060, net international migration is expected to add 64.1 million people to the population. In addition, 20 percent of the U.S. births in that period will be to foreign-born mothers.
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SOURCE: Lindsey Cook
U.S. News & World Report