In the wake of Donald Trump's presidency, strains within the evangelical community have resulted in significant numbers of people defecting from the right and opening themselves to social justice stances on issues of race, immigration, climate and economic fairness. Should the trend escalate, it could send tremors that extend well beyond the religious community and reverberate throughout U.S. politics.

Let’s take a look at one evangelical activists’ perception of where the party was headed back in 2016 when Trump was the Republican candidate.

Evangelical Americans' support for Trump waning prior to likely 2024 run | RawStory.TVEvangelical Americans' support for Trump waning prior to likely 2024 run | RawStory.TV

Due to the various ways in which the term "evangelical" is defined, it is difficult to put an exact percentage on the number of evangelical Christians in America today. A 2016 survey by Wheaton College, a private religious university, estimated about 90 to 100 million people in the United States are evangelical. Today, it is generally taken for granted that this constituency is one of the most rock-solid pillars of the Republican coalition—and there is good reason to see things this way: In 2016, 80 percent of white evangelicals supported Donald Trump, with two-thirds of self-identified evangelicals saying their faith influences their political beliefs.

Such far-right identification, however, has not been forever locked in place. As recently as the early 1970s, evangelicals were considered a largely apolitical group. To the extent they formed a voting bloc, they were considered divided and persuadable—a constituency that could be won over by Democratic politicians such as Jimmy Carter. Indeed, since Carter was himself a born-again Christian, Newsweek magazine dubbed 1976, the year of his election, the "Year of the Evangelical."

A concerted campaign by conservative groups such as the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition and Focus on the Family made certain that future mentions of evangelicals in politics would definitely not refer to Democratic presidential wins. In social movement terms, the decades-long project by the "New Right" to transform the evangelical community from a muddled and sometimes apathetic bloc into one of the most die-hard conservative demographics represents an unprecedented organizing accomplishment.

While conservatives have provided a textbook example of how a constituency can be polarized in order to strengthen allegiances and move indecisive moderates into a political camp, the continuing polarization that occurred under Trump began creating a backlash. On the one hand, Trump was a master at energizing religious conservatives and solidifying their identification with him. Analysis from the Pew Research Center suggests even some non-churchgoing white conservatives are now adopting the "evangelical" label—not to show religious identity, but to express a political orientation and demonstrate support for the party of Trump.

On the other hand, a predictable consequence of polarization is that, even as many supporters grow more passionately partisan, others will start to become alienated. When forcing people to take sides, you may draw many into your fold; however, you risk losing a fraction who are turned off and unwilling to make the leap. Signs of such a backlash can currently be seen among evangelicals—particularly people of color.Fast Forward to today, as Trump considers a 2024 presidential run, it is apparent that the divide among his evangelical supporters is growing. The reaction of evangelical leaders to mass protests around racial injustice, COVID, and #MeToo movement have started driving people away in significant numbers.

A potentially historic political shift is currently taking place within an unexpected group of Americans Paul Engler, Common Dreams

Research assistance provided by Celeste Pepitone-Nahas.