By James A. Haught
Every schoolchild knows that the Ancient Mariner was forced to wear a dead albatross around his neck.
I think America’s Republican Party wears a dying albatross: white evangelicals who are both the GOP’s life-support system and also a curse upon Republicans.
The conservative party couldn’t survive without hidebound born-again whites – yet those fundamentalists taint the GOP by forcing it to adhere to their narrow-minded agenda: hating gays, hating abortion, hating Hollywood sex, hating evolution, hating the separation of church and state, hating Muslims, hating foreigners and minorities, hating sex education, hating secularism, etc.
However, white evangelicals are shrinking relentlessly as religion dies in America, so the future of the right-wing party is bleak.
Currently, such believers are the heart of the GOP, giving it at least three-fourths of their vote. In contrast, young Americans who say their religion is “none” – a group that is swelling rapidly – hold strong progressive views and generally support the Democratic Party. Most of them are repelled by the Religious Right.
“More Bad News for the Survival of the Republican Party” was the caption of a Washington Post column by Jennifer Rubin. She outlined how the nation’s share of white evangelicals is dropping rapidly in the 21st century. Some surveys find them as low as 13 percent of the adult populace. Rubin began:
Republicans have made a demographic bet: By artificially inflating the white percentage of the electorate (by throwing up barriers for poor and nonwhite Americans to vote) and driving white Christian turnout sky-high with a combination of cultural resentment and xenophobia, they figure they can extend the lifespan of their increasingly rural, male, non-college-educated base. After a while, however, you run out of white evangelicals. That is precisely what is happening at an unexpectedly speedy pace.
Regarding the collapse of religion, she added:
Considering how reliant they are on white Christians – evangelicals in particular – Republicans are unlikely to survive outside deep-red confines when they lose 12 points in the pool of the most reliable Republican voters. Republicans have created a zero-sum game wherein the increasingly racist and radical appeals to white Christians needed to drive high turnout alienates a substantial segment of the growing nonwhite and/or unaffiliated electorate. They are doubling down on a diminishing pool of voters as they crank up fierce opposition among the fastest-growing segments (millennials, nonwhites) of the electorate. Soon, the math becomes impossible outside of highly gerrymandered congressional districts and rock-ribbed conservative states.
In other words, the GOP possibly seems doomed because it cannot live without bigoted white born-agains – yet those Puritans are slip-sliding away, year after year. If her forecast is correct, Republicans may be dragged from power as their fundamentalist base recedes.
A year ago, a Pew survey found that one-third of young adults raised in white evangelical households quit the faith. Religion scholar Diana Butler Bass said: “The percentage of white evangelicals is declining… a shrinking demographic.” So many have left hidebound religion that they’ve created an online movement called “Exvangelicals.”
“Only 10 percent of Americans under 30 identify as white evangelicals. The exodus of youth is so swift that demographers now predict that evangelicals will likely cease being a major political force in presidential elections by 2024.”
Robert Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute echoed:
“If current trends hold steady, 2024 will be a watershed year – the first American election in which white Christian voters do not constitute a majority of voters.”
As for now, remaining fundamentalists are intensely loyal to the GOP, and vote in extremely high numbers – while “nones” tend to have low political commitment and vote meagerly. Presumably, born-agains will give powerful support to Donald Trump in the 2020 election. But it seems likely, eventually, someday, that the GOP base will erode. Jones of the PRRI summed up:
“There will ultimately be a breaking point to just how overrepresented this group can remain as the demographics continue to shift.”
I can’t wait for the dying albatross around Republican necks to take its toll.
James Haught, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.