Pollster Robert Jones comments on the political implication of the declining white Christian population

Speaker story by Lily Hamilton

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Robert Jones addressing students and community members at Elon University. Photo by Lily Hamilton.

Robert Jones, founder and CEO of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and author of the upcoming book “The End of White Christian America,” spoke at a Thursday night event at Elon University. His presentation centered on the political impact of the decline in the white Christian population, and Jones offered commentary on the future of voting in the U.S.

Since the 1970s, the number of Protestants has been declining, mainly because of a decline in white Protestants. The number of religiously unaffiliated people, however, has spiked since the 1990s. Today, all white Christians make up only 45 percent of the U.S. population, and this will greatly affect the future of American politics.

Jones explained that the Republican Party has a reliance on white Christian voters, while Democrats have been relying less and less on Christians in their campaigns. “This is a diminishing returns strategy,” Jones said of Republicans’ reliance on 80 percent of their coalition being white Christians, as 2024 will be the first national election where white Christians will be in the minority.

On the surface, this fact bodes well for Democrats. There is a caveat: unaffiliated voters, who are becoming more important to Democratic candidates, tend to vote less than religiously affiliated voters. Although white Evangelicals and religiously unaffiliated voters were equal in size in the 2012 election, the voting power of white Evangelicals was stronger because they brought in more votes.

Jones commented that Republicans are asking themselves what will happen to the Republican Party if by 2024 white Christians will be in the minority. He said that Republicans are looking to appeal to more Latino voters, as George W. Bush was the last Republican candidate that found success in Latino votes.

Jones added, however, that parties cannot control their candidates, especially those who are self-funded. While a party as a whole may be able to pinpoint a problem within their campaigning strategy, there is no way of ensuring that every candidate from that party will work to address those concerns.

Jones also addressed the correlation between different religious affiliations and pessimism toward the economy. “People are still feeling a lot of economic anxiety,” Jones said, adding that, in 2015, 72 percent of the country still believed we are in a recession, though economists say otherwise. Jones said that white Americans without college degrees, African Americans and Latinos are more pessimistic about America’s economic future than white college graduates.

Especially in minority groups, people believe that the government is looking out for wealthy people and large businesses, according to Jones’ research. The Democratic Party is the only group that says the government is not looking out for their needs and interests. In 2012, Jones’ polls showed that the majority of Americans thought that our best days are ahead of us. Now the population is unsure.

In addition to an uptick in economic anxiety, Jones noted that there is an increase in anxieties about immigration, Islam and racial tension as well. He said political conservatives today have spiked in their agreement with the statement that the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life. Those who disagree tend to be unaffiliated or of a non-Christian denomination.

A trend Jones pointed out is that, while most people of a minority group or non-Christian religion believe that the American way of life has changed for the better since the 1950s, 72 percent of white Evangelical Protestants believe that the country is worse off than before.

Jones predicted that, in general, minority voters are going to have more of an impact on upcoming elections. He said that there is less security among the former cultural and demographic majority, white Christians, and that we will begin to see much more attention given to both racial and religious minorities in future elections. Jones explained that this is because politics need to reflect the opinions of the majority, and what the majority looks like is drastically changing.

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