Why Religious Decline Helps Republicans

I won’t go as far to say that religion in America is dying but it’s probably fair to say that it isn’t doing well. My guess would be that the younger you are, the less this shocks you. A recent Pew Research Center Poll reached out to followers of every major faith in the nation while examining the relationship between religious and political information. The information was compared to data gathered from a similar poll taken in 2007. The survey claims less than a 1% margin for error with more than 35,000 people were interviewed by phone.

The poll found 89% of Americans believe in God – which is higher than any other industrialized country – but is down from 92% percent in 2007. However, only 63% are “absolutely certain” that God exists. The millennial generation is more likely to identify as having no religious affiliation than any other generation before it. Around 23% of adults now say they do not follow any religion – up from 16%.

In contrast, those who are believers might even be more religious than they were before. It is to be expected that when a group is facing decreasing affiliation that its affiliates dig their heels in and become more extreme in their beliefs. Daily prayer, church attendance and other conventional measures of being an active follower have not significantly declined among the population that identifies as affiliated. There was also an increase in believers who say they regularly read Scripture, share their faith and rely on their religion when making decisions.

So, how does this affect politics? The decline is occurring in both major political parties. Not surprisingly, Democrats are becoming less religious at a faster rate than Republicans even though the number of Republicans who have no religious affiliation is up 4% from 2007.

Why, then, do religious candidates who run on religion – separation of church and state be damned – continue to be such influential political figures? Apathy could be one reason. It’s just a fact that those with no religious stake in the game are less likely to care much about politics – and therefore less likely to vote. But can it really be that simple? I’m not sure. Can you ever see a time that religion will play no part in politics? I sure can’t. What if a candidate went on national television and said he or she was an atheist? That candidate’s political career would be over immediately. Even candidates from the less religious party will throw religion into their political strategy. Hillary Clinton has said that her favorite book is the Bible. Is it possible she isn’t the anti-Christ?

Be careful. Don’t ask a conservative that question.

Interestingly, “voting your religion” is more prevalent than ever despite data showing religion in our country is declining.  Republicans have – smartly – used the decline to their advantage declaring a “War on Christianity.” Ben Carson has stated that Christians are being oppressed more than gays in this country – I guess he knows a lot of Christians who are having a tough time getting county clerks to sign their marriage licenses. Donald Trump is forced to act like he owns a Bible and has actually opened it in order to keep his polling numbers strong. Republicans deliberately rally Christians to vote on social issues rather than issues that may more directly affect their day-to-day lives (like being able to afford healthcare). It’s brilliant and it’s made the G.O.P. a powerhouse.

If the current trends continue, Republicans may have to eventually scrap their “a vote for me is a vote for Jesus” rhetoric. But as for now, the “War on Christianity” is only making them stronger.

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A lucky man. Also a lawyer. Classic oxymoron.

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