Liberals love to sound the alarums about the “religious right” and its influence over the Republican Party. For a few decades now, since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, Democrats and liberals have used evangelical Xians and other conservative churches as a bogey man to frighten their constituencies into donating money to their campaigns and getting out the vote. If you don’t stop Jerry Falwell/Pat Robertson/etc. the country will turn into a right-wing theocracy.
To be clear, the GOP definitely used the religious right as an important tool to win elections. It raised fears about abortion, equal rights for women, and gay rights/gay marriage to mobilize fundamentalist voters on “moral” issues. And to be just as clear, it worked, and helped Reagan and George W. Bush in particular get elected, as well as to pass referenda on issues like gay rights. More importantly, religion has proven a critical weapon for Supreme Court justices like the undearly-departed Nino Scalia, Clarence “Where’d Nino Go?” Thomas, and Joseph “I’m Too Uptight To Be Italian” Alito. Even in 2016, in certain circumstances, like Ted Cruz’s evangelical-directed campaign in Iowa, religious fanatics can show their muscle.
However, the religious right has always been like the Wizard behind the curtain as well–a seemingly omnipotent and frightening visage with preternatural powers to destroy liberty and freedom. But since the 2d Bush election, the power of fundamentalists to win elections has been exposed, and even its ability to undermine women’s right and gay rights has slipped as “business Republicans” have realized that women and Gays have money and buy a lot of stuff.
More to the point, Pew Research recently came out with a survey on “U.S. Political Groups and Their Political Leanings” which is a much-needed corrective to liberal hysteria about right-wing religions. As the graphic below shows, there are indeed more religions that trend Democratic than to the GOP. And if you look at the groups most strongly associated with each party, you see a clear Democratic advantage. The most Republican-leaning group is the Mormons, with about 3.9 million members. Southern Baptists, probably the religious sect most closely associated with conservative issues, claims about 15 million members, of whom about 2/3 vote Republican, and with overall membership in decline.
There are other large denominations, like Anglicans and Methodists, that vote Republican, but the split is not great, with both groups having over 40 percent Democratic followers too. So, while large numbers of Christian do call themselves “evangelical,” their numbers are not enough to carry an election, and they’re not all Republicans either.
Pew research also showed that the number of self-identified Christians was in decline, from 78 percent of the population to 70. As one of the consultants for Pew explained, “Pew’s report demonstrates that America’s religious makeup continues to be dynamic, with people readily switching faiths and increasingly marrying people from other traditions, says John C. Green, a political scientist who studies American religion at the University of Akron and was an adviser to the study.”
But on the other end of the spectrum the liberals’ advantage is unmistakable. Nearly 90 percent of African Americans are Democrats. Blacks in general are more religious, with almost 90 percent affiliating with a religion. And Black Christians are utterly essential to the Democrats’ ability to win any campaign, due to their large numbers. There are over 10 times more African American religious people, who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, than the Mormons, the GOP’s strongest supporters. In the most recent census, “of the total U.S. population of 308.7 million on April 1, 2010, 38.9 million people, or 13 percent, identified as black alone. In addition, 3.1 million people, or 1 percent, reported as black in combination with one or more other races. Together, these two groups comprise the black alone-or-in-combination population and totaled 42.0 million.”
So about 90 percent of America’s 42 million Blacks/Mixed Race citizens, or over 36 million, vote Democratic, compared to about 15 million Mormons and Southern Baptists who reliably vote for the GOP. Just to add in a bit more, about 8 percent of Americans identify as Atheist or Agnostic, about 25 million people, while there are about 3.5 million Muslims, and wide majorities of both groups vote Democratic.
So the point is pretty basic. It’s okay to be concerned with right-wing religious groups, and they do have a political role in the Tea Party, the GOP, and conservative politics generally, especially in primaries or on referendum issues. But their influence is not determinative of conservative success, and their numbers are lower, much lower in some cases, than religious groups that support Democrats. So instead of hysteria over Dominionists or over the latest crazy utterance of Franklin Graham or Jerry Falwell, Jr. it might serve liberals well to focus on issues on which they can actually have an impact. If the energy expended on sowing fear about conservative theologies (some of which is legit) could be transferred to labor organizing, environmental activism, or many other issues, progressives would probably see much better results. So help me god . . .