Religious beliefs and political participation in American politics

From the Catholic electoral bloc to American evangelicalism and progressive atheists, the groups are likely to be generalized as a distinctive bloc with a particular approach to politics. At a press briefing on ‘religious beliefs and political participation’, hosted by the US State Department, Professor David Campbell PhD, of the University of Notre Dame, debunked some of the myths surrounding these groups religion and how they vote.

There is no more “Catholic vote” in the United States

In the past, it was the case that American Catholics, as a group, essentially voted as a bloc. The first Catholic President of the United States of America, John F. Kennedy, was a prime example of how religious beliefs played a role in politics. At that time, Campbell said about 80% of American Catholics voted for the Democrat, regardless of the candidate and their religion. It may be said that there was once a period of uniformity in the American Catholic vote.

However, this is no longer the case. American Catholics today, according to Campbell, resemble the rest of the population. There is no longer a single Catholic vote. Rather, there are Catholic votes, in the plural. Within the group, there are different segments that vote separately.

Data from the 2020 presidential election showed no significant difference between Catholics and non-Catholics in how the two groups voted. The only slight difference is that Catholics, as a whole, were slightly less likely to vote for Joe Biden than everyone else, Campbell said.

Catholics and non-Catholics, who have the same frequency of religious attendance, also appeared to vote similarly in the last presidential election two years ago.

The concept of a “God gap” in US elections, or the idea that churchgoers are more or less likely to vote for one candidate or another, is not particularly true among Catholics.

Campbell pointed out that votes among American Catholics are plural. At least they can be racially divided, such as white, Anglo, and Hispanic or Latino. In the 2020 election, Hispanic Catholics were much more likely to vote Democratic than others. The expert said the trend is likely to continue in the upcoming midterm elections this year.

Not All Evangelicals Are Alike

Exit polls from presidential elections, at least from 2004, have shown that American evangelicals are the base of the Republican Party. According to Campbell, however, evangelicals of different colors vote differently.

White evangelicals are distinct from other subgroups of the same religious belief. The expert explained that the mindset behind their vote is their sense of persecution. This idea explains why Republican politicians adopt particular political positions. The position, Campbell said, helped them mobilize the evangelical vote, as they played on the feeling that they were losing their status in American society.

Since at least 2004, white evangelicals have voted overwhelmingly to support Republican presidential candidates, be it George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney or Donald Trump twice. Those numbers haven’t changed much. They were between 70% and more than 80%. Donald Trump has passed about 80% of white evangelicals voting for him.

While Trump may not seem appealing to evangelical voters, Campbell noted that he retained the group’s support in the 2016 and 2020 elections since, in American politics, party matters most.

While white evangelicals get the most press in the United States, the expert pointed out that there is a growing number of evangelicals who are Latino, or come from diverse backgrounds, grouped as Spanish speakers. Likewise, there are a small but growing number of evangelicals who are described as Asian American. While white evangelicals are firmly on the Republican side, the data suggests the other two groups are only about 50/50.

Secularism in the United States

America has always been a highly religious country and this is especially true when comparing the United States to other advanced industrial liberal democracies. Over the past decade or two, however, Campbell said a sea change has been seen as the United States has rapidly secularized.

The significance of this shift, he explained, is that secular Americans are generally on the left politically. You don’t find them in the Republican Party. They are usually found in the Democratic Party. On the spectrum within the Democratic Party, secular Americans are at the forefront.

Secularism in the United States can also be categorized as those who do not attend worship services, those who have no religion, those who do not believe in God, and atheists. These groups also differ in their political participation.

According to Campbell, in the 2020 presidential election, people who are not religious were overwhelmingly neither sympathetic to any party nor involved in politics. The secularists, or those with an affirmative secular outlook, meanwhile, were staunchly democratic. Completely different from secular Americans, who were simply not religious, active lay people showed up at rallies, went out and knocked on doors to get people to vote and donated to political candidates.

This group, however, has received far less attention than, say, the religious right. One reason, Campbell pointed out, was that they weren’t as well organized as the right.

By Chalanlak Chanwanpen