Evangelicals embraced MAGA out of desperation over their 'demographic slide': expert
Evangelical worshippers (Photo by Larry Marano for Shutterstock)

Evangelicals were driven to support former President Donald Trump out of fear of their "demographic slide" and their impending loss of political and cultural relevance, argued Robert P. Jones for Religion News Service on Tuesday — and several points of data suggest that their fear is justified.

"After a long life spanning nearly two hundred and forty years, White Christian America — a prominent cultural force in the nation’s history — has died," wrote Jones. "WCA first began to exhibit troubling symptoms in the 1960s when white mainline Protestant denominations began to shrink, but showed signs of rallying with the rise of the Christian Right in the 1980s. Following the 2004 presidential election, however, it became clear that WCA’s powers were failing."

Jones, who wrote "The End of White Christian America" just prior to Trump winning the 2016 election thanks in part to the overwhelming vote of white evangelicals, argued that the demographic information was clear then — and clear now: "The data I had available at the time identified a watershed event that was driving this desperate movement: The U.S. had become — for the first time in our history — a country that was, demographically speaking, no longer a majority white Christian country."

Public Religion Research Institute in 2022 found that just 27.5 percent of Americans identify as White Protestants — and just 13.6 percent identify as White evangelicals — down from 23 percent in 2006, wrote Jones. Meanwhile, the data are even more dramatic when broken down by generation; just 9 percent of Americans 18-29 are White evangelicals, and a plurality, 38 percent, are religiously unaffiliated.

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This shift has been dramatic in the population at large, but much less so in the GOP; 8 in 10 Republicans identified as some form of White Christian in 2006, versus 7 in 10 now. "If we overlay the current ethno-religious composition of our two political parties onto the generational cohort chart, we see a stunning result," wrote Jones. "In terms of its racial and religious composition, the Democratic Party looks like 20-year-old America, while the Republican Party looks like 80-year-old America."

"[Evangelicals'] steadfast allegiance to Trump’s MAGA vision — actually increasing their support for him between 2016 and 2020 — and their unwillingness to denounce either Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen or the violence on Jan. 6" have made clear that they will not accept minority status in America, wrote Jones. "The continued demographic decline makes it clear that the MAGA goal of reestablishing their vision of a white Christian America can’t be realized by democratic means. But ... I’m deeply concerned that the embrace of Christian nationalism by nearly two-thirds of white evangelicals and a majority of the Republican Party will spawn more theological monstrosities justifying anti-democratic schemes to achieve this end."