Bannon & Trump lost Long ago: White Christians not a Majority in US

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In 1976,when Jimmy Carter was elected, a big majority (81%) of Americans identified as both white and Christian, with 4 in 10 of those being white Catholics. The country even had a majority (55%) of white Protestants! Carter, an Southern evangelical, benefited from the Christian vote at a time when many church-going Americans had been disgusted by the vulgarity and criminality of the Nixon administration.

According to the Public Religion Research Institute, those days are over.

Today, only 43% of Americans are white Christians, and only 30% are white Protestants. The United States is no longer a white Protestant country. White Christians are now a minority of the Democratic Party.

The Republican Party has thus become the primary political vehicle of white Christians, with nearly 3/4s of the party being white Christians. About a third are evangelicals.

Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 3.29.45 AM h/t PRRI

Evangelical white Protestants have fallen from a quarter of the population as recently as 2006 to only 17% today. Mainline white Protestants have fallen in the past 11 years from 18% to only 13%. Self-identified white Catholics are only 11% today, down from 16% in 2006.

It isn’t that Christianity is being displaced by other religions. People belonging to religions other than Christianity are only 6% of the population, maybe slightly more than in the past but still not that big a percentage.

One big change is that the advent of the Latinos in the number of tens of millions (almost all of them legal immigrants). Since Latinos typically do not consider themselves “white” (a historically constructed category that has had its ups and downs), only 55% of US Catholics now consider themselves “white.” In the early 20th century, whiteness was associated with being Protestant and middle class, and immigrant Poles, Irish and Italians were often viewed as a lesser sort of white, since they were Catholic and working class. It is possible that Latinos over time will claim whiteness, as Italians and Jews did. Or it is possible (I hope) that the category has outlived its usefulness.

Asians and Pacific Islanders, who are now 5% of the population, are one third Christian, one third another religion (Buddhism is big), and one third not interested in religion. They are the most diverse group in the country that way.

The Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists who formed the 13 colonies are no longer the bulk of the population. But let me just caution that we haven’t lost some great white American golden age.

If you had looked out in 1789 over the North American territory that became the United States by 1958, you would have found Quakers (dissenters) in Pennsylvania and Native American and Polynesian religions and many Catholics in French Louisiana and in the Spanish Empire of the southwest and west. Perhaps 20% of the African slaves were Muslim, and others adored African gods and goddesses. By the mid to late 19th century you had substantial numbers of Chinese Buddhists on the West Coast.

The East Coast WASPS never had the hegemony they thought they did.

Moreover, the white Protestant majority of 1976 had been connived at by the Nazi-style 1924 immigration act, which awarded countries quotas, essentially racial quotas, based on the composition of the US population in 1880 before the big wave of 20 million southern and eastern Europeans and Lebanese came in, 1880-1924. The 1924 act and other legislation excluded all Asians and tried as hard as possible to get blond-haired Germans and Norwegians to come, what with them being the superior race and all.

So the composition of the US public in 1976 was the result of what was more or less a eugenics program. It was not “natural” nor had it been typical of North America over its whole sweep.

The change the PRRI found is in part the result of the non-racist 1965 immigration act. But it is also the result of belated secularization, such that a larger proportion of self-identified whites than ever before report that they have no religion (it is about a third among Millennials).

So the Bannon branch of the Trump movement is a dinosaur, preaching imaginary grievances to a shrinking minority of Americans. It is not the future. It is highly unlikely that they can jigger the immigration system so as to recreate the white Christian majority. And the young are anyway voting with their feet.

It was a good run. It is over.

22 Responses

  1. There is a very good reason why white Protestant, Mormon and Catholic churches keep having to close church buildings. They are losing members by the day, mostly young, leaving just a small number of older members.

    I am familiar with the Mormon congregations in the SF Bay Area which keep getting smaller and smaller, even though the missionaries still try to recruit new members (usually unsuccessfully).

    The leadership of the republican party is trying to ignore the huge demographic bomb that is going to go off soon as their “base,” consisting mostly of old, white “christian,” racist men and women, disappears before their eyes. Instead of trying to build a new base, which would involve drastically changing their core beliefs, they are trying to extend the time they have left as long as possible.

    Literally their old world is dying a little more each day.

    Right now the republicans may have lots of “real estate” but that “real estate” is mostly empty and getting more empty by the day because there is no longer an economic reason for most of the towns in middle America to exist. Farmers can easily travel 30+ miles to shop and do their banking instead of the old 5 to 8 miles. This means farm towns spaced 10 to 15 miles apart are not needed. Most of the rest of the towns were based on resource extraction and over the last 100+ years we have extracted most of the resources and any future extraction does not require very many humans due to robotics.

    basically, the republican base that is losing economic and political power can not get any better, just get smaller.

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    • Sure, but why are we all assuming that White conservatives have any loyalty to the concept of democracy at all? How little has it taken to get the mob to turn against one-man-one-vote throughout history?

      You need to see how the far right has been laying the groundwork to end democracy since the ’90s. They’ve long known this demographic crisis was coming. They always lay out their most radical ideas in the dark corners of hate radio and gun magazine editorials, then work them into the heart of the Republican Party while that party works to make elections ever more unfair. Those media have been insinuating for years that Blacks and Latinos aren’t real Americans, that real Americans must overthrow the government to crush these enemies. Since they need the White woman’s vote to get into power first, they won’t reveal their intent to terminate that until they’ve terminated everyone else’s vote.

      I’m just amazed we don’t call the right out on that every day, what with their Confederacy-lusting and “original intent”. Tell them what % of the population voted in the first Presidential election and they probably will find a way to insinuate that it was better that way.

      They don’t believe all humans are created equal.
      They don’t believe that minorities should ever have their votes count enough to beat them in an election.
      Make them own it. It might make them more popular, as Trump’s racism made him more popular among those who actually bothered to vote, but we need to make it clear to everyone what this oncoming civil war is really about and find out who is really on the side of democracy.

  2. Can we hope that a time will come, hopefully soon, when our affiliation to a particular religion will become as irrelevant as the neighborhood where we grew up? The wonderful American thinker, essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson put it very well when he said: “Sensible men and conscientious men all over the world are of one religion, the religion of well-doing and daring.”

    Religions have certainly played an important role in the past in educating and providing solace to people in different parts of the world, but now they have become as obsolete as voodoo and magic for curing illnesses. There is nothing wrong in people reading the scriptures of various religions and enjoying them as examples of great literature and aspects of our past history, but using those texts as excuses for demonizing others, causing conflicts, denying science and propagating old myths and superstitions is definitely harmful. Again as Emerson said: “Very costly scaffoldings are pulled down when the more costly building is finished. And God has his scaffoldings. The Jewish Law answered its temporary purpose and was then set aside. Christianity is completing its purpose as an aid to educate man.” One can add that religions as a whole have served their purpose as useful scaffoldings for man’s spiritual progress and it is now time to move on and look to new horizons, or as Hafiz put it:
    I Have Learned
    So much from God
    That I can no longer
    Call Myself
    A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,
    A Buddhist, a Jew.”

  3. A disgusting display of pandering occurred this week when evangelicals all crowded around Trump in the oval office. Just as when Trump asked his cabinet members to each praise him Trump called on each evangelical leader to say something nice about him. They all agreed…Trump is heaven sent. Sad!

  4. “It was a good run. It is over.”

    Except we still have 3+ years of Donald Trump. As you highlight the countries demographics are changing, but it’s this wishful thinking that the changing demographics will automatically result in Democratic wins that is so particularly damaging. The last election cycle demonstrates this perfectly. Here was a man that was extremely misogynistic, racist, utterly debased, and yet won the electoral college. He won a majority of white women voters.

    The Democrats need to move quickly to the Warren and Sanders left, otherwise they risk permanent second-party status.

    • You may find that the old Republican and Democratic labels will both fade. In Europe as in my country, Australia, new parties are springing up and capturing people’s imagination. In the Australian Parliament now there are five parties represented by four or more Representatives and Senators and several others with at least one member in either the Reps or the Senate. No party has had a majority in our Senate for many years. Similar patterns occur in several state Parliaments.

      • Old thinking settles in and ossifies, and it never goes without a fight. Progress has always been a two-steps forward one-step back proposition, but don’t consider a ratio so benign in the face of an actively backward vision.

        Recent court decisions in the US have been repudiating GOP gerrymandering and voter suppression schemes transparently designed (in the words of the courts) to make some pigs more equal than others. Similar ploys have recently been extending into other areas, including laws against anyone that criticizes certain governmental programs (Texas). With Trump, these initiatives have been ramping-up.

        The courts have been stopping many of these moves, as well as Trump’s immigrant bans, but don’t expect the front to hold. The one area of appointments in which Trump has been getting things done when it comes to making judicial appointments.

        My question is, when has there ever been a time of widespread emancipation (or whatever you call it when there is NO slavery), when minority didn’t call the shots, or wasn’t working hard to make it so? I’d say some version of that old, traditional order of subjugation—or a kinder and gentler neoliberal variation—is what these guys are really pining for.

        This mindset has gone away; its just been underground, and barely at that.

        • There has always been a White Party and a Black Party in America. What’s shocking is how impossible it has been to combine those two for long; basically only the Northern Democratic Party tried it in the mid-20th century, but when it tried to take that nationwide, Whites left the Southern Democratic Party, poured into the Republican Party and made it in practice the replacement White Party.

          The GOP actually had no use for Black voters at all after 1876, but it was stuck with the handful of Blacks still allowed to vote in the South due to a peculiarity of the spoils system that we’d find laughable today. See, the State delegations to the national conventions of both parties were literally purchased by the presidential candidates by promises that the local party leaders represented by those delegates would be rewarded upon victory with the only Federal job that existed in most of America: the Postal Service. Since both parties had to maintain the fiction that they had coast-to-coast followings, they made these delegates roughly as powerful no matter which state even if there were few actual voters for them there. Thus the handful of Blacks who could pass the gauntlet of voting restrictions in a Jim Crow state would be overwhelmingly overrepresented as Republican delegates, and while probably wealthy compared to other Blacks back home, they really wanted those Postal administration positions. So the candidates had to bargain with them, and the candidates became the nominees and Presidents who refused to change the absurd spoils system.

          This was recounted in the book Nixon’s Piano, which reveals that Republican leaders were always scheming for a way to become The Other White Party during the Jim Crow era, meaning a way to embrace White Supremacy while making a clean break with that endless succession of Black Postmasters.

    • A number of things come to mind. White women by the thousands took a strong dislike to Clinton and in a 2-party system, that left them with The Donald. As well, overlooked here is the massive gerrymandering that individual states have carried out in order to isolate most non-white “Christians”. And lastly, many of these same states have gone the distance as they say in order to prevent voter registration by massive numbers of non-white population. I tend to believe this combination of factors most likely contributed to the mess that currently exists, politically, in the US.

      • The gerrymandering is definitely real as you highlight and so is voter suppression as you rightly highlight.

        Still–Obama in his first presidential victory represented a break from the establishment. Trump, as distasteful as he is, also represented a break from mainstream Republican dogma–the dude’s policies (or lack thereof) are just completely whack and really can’t be described. Bill Clinton when he ran for President ran as someone that didn’t follow Democratic orthodoxy. American voters appear to simply want to choose the candidate that represents (to them!) a sharp break from longstanding political dogma (whether democratic or republican).

        • That’s really it. Obama couldn’t have been purer in terms of being uncompromised upon election, but look at how long that lasted.

          Trump offered the same promise, really. HRC, on the other hand, was and remains the pridefully entitled Queen of Business As Usual (with yet another self-serving book being released), whose self-righteousness, along with that of the DNC, has not been diminished one whit.

          There was NEVER any dispute about how inappropriate Trump was: his election was a matter of desperation.

          Assuming something like a fascist consolidatation of power under Pence isn’t pulled off, the US will be primmed for yet another Grifter 3 years from now.

          This desperation to buy anything from anybody who will squarely speak to peoples frustrations is going to be repeated.

          The situation here is too obvious, the structural problems too intractable, and the opportunists too numerous for the story not to repeat: Until either the fascists succeed in consolidation of power or we hit bottom and there is a systemic change from the bottom-up.

  5. The Democrats already had seemingly permanent second-party status after Nixon smashed the McGovernite left in 1972. They seemed to recover in 1976 and 1992. How? By bending over backwards to support centrist White Southern Evangelical men, Carter and Clinton. But the White Southerners they got thereby were NOT leftists and didn’t stay in the fold. Every day you hear a White liberal talk about some (usually middle-class) friend or older relative who’s become an extremist of the sort who would support canceling elections and putting us on the road back to Jim Crow.

    White Supremacy and capitalism have been deliberately entwined by centuries of oligarchs so that it is impossible to get enough White people to vote for a true leftist party, no matter how bad the alternative is. Literally, Whiteness is a construct created for the sole purpose of making poor “Whites” help their “White” landlords beat “Black” slaves instead of plotting class insurrection. The evil is built into the identity.

    You have to destroy White identity to create a constituency to overthrow capitalism. But identity is a matter of life and death in an alienated capitalist society, so people will fight and kill for it. The more minorities Whites see around them in more of the country, the more of them who embrace identity politics and disenfranchisement, no matter how you leftists blame Blacks and Latinos and women and gays for that. Damn, those plantation owners were clever.

    To put it in terms blunt enough to cut through your “ifs” and “maybes”, we are living in an actual Stanford Prison Experiment, 350 years old and incredibly successful. The “guards” will never give up their status, which they value more than the hypothetical benefits of redistribution.

    • Yet, you’ll also find plenty of people in the South, who could have voted for Sanders over Trump in the general election, but couldn’t vote for Clinton over Trump in the general election. While I’ve found their reasoning specious, it’s what they believed made sense to them. It was faulty thinking, but many were generally dissatisfied with Clinton, Bush, and Obama, and weren’t willing to take a new chance another Clinton. The prospect of either a new Trump administration or a Sanders administration presented (in their thinking) a new possibility of a break from the gradual decline of the loss of economic clout of the American middle class. Of course, to anyone with a modicum of reasoning, would realize that Trump would only hasten the erosion of the clout of the American middle class. Sanders could have stopped the erosion.

      • The white middle class decline can NOT be fixed by any elected person, so electing some one to fix the unfixable is just crazy.

        The things that are causing the decline of the middle class, especially the non-college middle class, can not be changed:

        – technology will continue to replace most human employees with robots because robots are now cheaper than US$3/hour Chinese workers, let alone USA workers. Automation means only a few HIGHLY SKILLED workers are needed.

        – Global communication allows services to be provided from anywhere across time zones.

        – Global transportation allows goods to be shipped for very little added cost from anywhere to anywhere. Right now it costs less than US$2500 to ship a standard 40 foot containers from Shanghai to LAX.

        Basically, less than half the 7.5 billion humans on earth are needed to provide ALL the goods and services that are needed by the 7.5 billion. About half the humans on earth are “excess” with only the most highly skilled having stable wealth.

        Trump will FAIL to fix the problem, just as Bernie or Clinton would have.

        They voted with their emotions for a delusional dream.

        • “The white middle class decline can NOT be fixed by any elected person, so electing some one to fix the unfixable is just crazy.”

          You’ve gone full small government-type GOP (or at the very least give that impression). Sanders policies of income redistribution in the form of raising the minimum wage, universal healthcare, making tertiary institutions tuition-free, reducing the the burden of student, would have all supported middle class families. While these policies perhaps would not have completely stopped the slow erosion of the economic clout of ordinary Americans, it would have certainly been more beneficial to ordinary Americans in comparison to any of the policies of Clinton or Trump.

          “They voted with their emotions for a delusional dream.”

          They have very little say in Congress or any of the institutions that shape their lives. If we believe in democracy, then every four years they have the opportunity to voice their disapproval. They did voice their disapproval, and no matter how delusional their choice might be, all of us have to deal with the results.

          “Trump will FAIL to fix the problem, just as Bernie or Clinton would have.”

          Trump will only exacerbate the problem. Clinton would have ignored it. Sanders would pursue policies that would have benefited the American middle class.

          “The things that are causing the decline of the middle class, especially the non-college middle class, can not be changed:”

          You ignore the most important cause: the 1% of American elite that simply do not care for the other 99% of the country and will do everything to ensure that the other 99% have no economic opportunities.

          All of Europe faces the same struggles with globalization. Yet, their middle class has not been decimated in the same capacity as ours. Social and economic policies in the Scandinavian countries have protected the middle class. We could do the same.

          It’s also not as doomsday as you depict. With these technologies their will be new ways humans will contribute to our economies. Yes, artificial intelligence will replace many traditional jobs that required human input, but new jobs will require human ingenuity and thinking.

  6. The changing demographics of white America will, I hope, be what keeps the US from constructing a 21st century version of 1930s Germany, which was quite homogenous.

  7. Thanks for the useful numbers.

    Some caveats:

    (1) swing states.
    (2) age – % likelyhood of voting in a US prez election is approximately equal to age
    (3) primaries. you can’t win the general election without clearing the primaries. people who bother to turn up at the primaries have veto power over people who don’t.
    (4) Republicans have been consistently making an attempt to bring in the hispanic vote. Somewhat socially conservative on average, quite willing to buy into the “work hard / individual responsibility” line of attack, and most importantly, rising demographic (but due to age bias, the currently young hispanic population will not register in votes in a big way for probably another 30 years). Anyway-
    – long story short here – fear the Trump-Rubio lovechild, if there is ever to be one.

  8. There are few things more dangerous than armed-to-the-teeth angry white men who feel they have lost their place in line to someone who doesn’t look like themselves in the mirror.

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