Study: Clinton Voters Much More Likely to Leave Evangelicalism than Trump Voters

How political divides impact religious affiliation and attendance.

So is evangelicalism really losing members due to disagreements over presidential candidates? Over the past seven years (in 2011, 2012, 2016, and 2017), the Democracy Fund’s Voter Study Group has repeatedly surveyed a panel of 5,000 Americans about a variety of subjects, including their faith. The latest results, released this month, reveal trends in evangelical identity and in church attendance that correspond with voting patterns for the 2016 election.

 

As countless articles and social media posts have observed, Donald Trump’s presidency has led many church leaders to warn against a too-warm embrace of politics and politicians, as well as led many Christians to rethink their involvement and identity as evangelicals.

Though these tense conversations may feel like new ground born out of this political moment, long before Trump’s election there was already strong evidence showing that Americans’ political identities and disagreements fuel their religious identities and practices.

In other words, what we’re seeing now comes as no surprise to political scientists.

Recent research from Paul Djupe, Jake Neiheisel, and Anand Sokhey shows that over the last 15 years, people who disagreed with the political leanings of their clergy and congregations were much more likely to start skipping services or stop attending altogether. Their research before and after the 2016 election found that disagreement over Trump in evangelical churches sent a number of members heading for the exits.

In her new book, From Politics to the Pews, University of Pennsylvania professor Michele Margolis argues that partisan identities become fixed in early adulthood, a time when people tend to take a break from religion. When they consider coming back later in their 20s and 30s, they align their religion with their political identity. Typically, Democrats will stay away, and Republicans will select a Republican-aligning church.

So is evangelicalism really losing members due to disagreements over presidential candidates?

Over the past seven years (in 2011, 2012, 2016, and 2017), the Democracy Fund’s Voter Study Group has repeatedly surveyed a panel of 5,000 Americans about a variety of subjects, including their faith. The latest results, released this month, reveal trends in evangelical identity and in church attendance that correspond with voting patterns for the 2016 election.

One in five Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton (19.5%) had self-identified as evangelical or born again at the beginning of the survey period but had dropped the labels (which overlap) by 2017. Clinton voters 50 percent more likely than Trump voters (9%) to stop identifying as evangelical or born-again Christians.

This trend indicates that Clinton voters did not see their choice as welcome among the evangelical community. Perhaps they felt marginalized among evangelicals to begin with, and the election provided additional motivation to find a new church home or none at all. In fact, among those who stopped identifying as evangelical or born again, 27 percent left religion altogether.

It is not surprising that there is a political pattern to worship attendance as well. Over the past several years, attendance fell among self-identified evangelical or born-again Christians, but the trend is particularly pronounced among those who voted for Clinton. Evangelical Trump voters saw no change at all in church attendance.

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