Is the so-called Christian right driving liberals away from religion?
A new FiveThirtyEight analysis of recent studies suggests it is.
Researchers Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux and Daniel Cox say new data confirmed what a paper suggested in 2002: that “distaste for the Christian right’s involvement with politics was prompting some left-leaning Americans to walk away from religion.” That in turn, helped explain why the percentage of Americans who identify as nonreligious was increasing.
“It was a simple but compelling explanation,” Thomson-DeVeaux and Cox wrote. “For one thing, the timing made sense.”
White evangelical Protestants were becoming more involved in politics in the 1990s, promoting legislation on abortion and same-sex marriage, the researchers noted. The 2002 study asserted that the Christian right wasn’t just rousing religious voters – it was pushing “left-leaning people” with weaker religious ties “out of religion.”
“Within the past few years,” Thomson-DeVeaux and Cox wrote, several “prominent political scientists” have agreed with the 2002 study and “concluded that politics is a driving factor behind the rise of the religiously unaffiliated.”
“For one thing, several studies that followed respondents over time showed that it wasn’t that people were generally becoming more secular, and then gravitating toward liberal politics because it fit with their new religious identity,” Thomson-DeVeaux and Cox wrote. “People’s political identities remained constant as their religious affiliation shifted.”
One study even found that “reading a news story about a Republican who spoke in a church” could “prompt some Democrats to say they were nonreligious,” Thomson-DeVeaux and Cox wrote.
“It’s like an allergic reaction to the mixture of Republican politics and religion,” David Campbell, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame, told FiveThirtyEight.
Thomson-DeVeaux and Cox acknowledge that the affiliation of these liberals may have been weak from the beginning. The liberals in question “didn’t attend religious services often, perhaps dropping in once or twice a year.” Still, it opened “a rift between conservatives and liberals.”
The trend, they note, makes the Democratic base more nonreligious. It also impacts church outreach and society at large, Campbell warned.
“We have very few institutions left in the country where people who have different political views come together,” he said. “Worship was one of those – and without it, the list is smaller and smaller.”
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Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
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