Since 1992 the Republican Party has maintained a healthy advantage in Protestant and other Evangelical Christian voting blocks, winning by no less than 9% (Dole vs. Clinton in 1996) and as much as 19% (Bush vs. Kerry in 2004). However, with Republican Presidential candidates having lost the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 elections, and amid an escalating Latino voting presence that has traditionally sided more heavily with Democrats, Republicans are on the proverbial ropes, trying to avoid yet another political knockout. With fears they are also losing ground on the Evangelical and moderate Christian vote, it appears there is big trouble ahead. The current front runner the majority of the summer, Donald Trump, has been on record questioning a key tenet of Christianity: repentance.
Try as the Republicans may to gain ground, the party’s challenges are only severely escalating given the mass exodus of Christian voters who are bucking the traditional conservative stronghold. Here are three reasons why I believe this his happening:
Wedge issues have gone awry
The Republican Party’s two “clinch” issues—gay marriage and abortion—are becoming less of a factor for voters. While many Christians, regardless of their political affiliation, may be pro-life and in favor of traditional marriage, the tone of the conversation has changed dramatically and is no longer becoming a singular or even primary influence in picking a candidate. And with the recent Supreme Court decision, one could argue the fight for “traditional marriage” is now truly a moot point. One recent high-profile report even underscored that “most Republican presidential candidates seem to want to avoid talking about the issue [all together]—as Mitt Romney largely did in 2012.”
Another 2015 report underscoring “The Republican Party's Abortion Bind” cites that, despite “a newly enormous majority in the House and a newly minted majority in the Senate, Republicans finally had a chance to get a bill to the president,” but to no avail as the GOP coalition fell apart on technicalities in its attempt to pass a new bill. The report further highlights part of the challenge for Republicans, citing that “everyone knows the GOP faces a demographic time bomb, since its voters are older and whiter and more pro-life than the general population, so it's risky to do anything that might make it harder to win them over.” Further, polling has shown that “the majority of Americans, based on gender, do not let their views on abortion affect their choice in a presidential candidate.” That finding reportedly came shortly after Rep. Todd Akin, the then Republican Senate hopeful from Missouri, drew backlash from his own party for his comments regarding "legitimate rape" and abortion.
“Compassionate conservatism was a lie”
In 2000 when George W. Bush ran for President, he won based on the assurance of a softer, more holistic conservatism that promised to leave “no child left behind” and to be more inclusive of groups across varied economic backgrounds. Fast forward to today and only a few voices in the Republican party are discussing economic equality. Indeed, the Republican party is still not only perceived as the party of the wealthy, but duly anointed as outlined in a March 2015 report titled “The Fight for the Soul of the Republican Party Is Over: The Rich Won Again” that detailed the epic failure of “reform conservatives” striving to reconnect the party to middle-class and low-income voters.
Terms such as “The War on the Poor” and trending Twitter hashtags like #GOPWaronthePoor #WaronthePoor show that more and more Americans, and Christians, are identifying the Republican party with the wealthy, the so-called 1%, and against policies to help the poor. The GOP has not helped itself in this regard by allowing members of Congress and outspoken Evangelical leaders to leverage the media with messages that insult or demean food stamp recipients and others in the low economic class. When every policy, from the subsidized “Obamaphone” program to budgets for food stamps, which assists our nation’s poor, is slammed by the GOP establishment, the people, including Christians, are finally starting to take notice. This is especially true in states where GOP governors have refused the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which would help millions in their states be able to receive healthcare. The effect of the GOP general narrative on helping these millions of poor families is especially heard…and felt.
This is especially noticed by Christians who identify Jesus’ teachings of helping the poor and what our attitudes should be towards the needy. More and more Christians are identifying as Democrat or Liberal simply because they can no longer justify supporting the Republican party, based on these issues. As a result, we are seeing a rise in “pro-life Democrats” who are for abortion restrictions, but also broaden their definition of “pro-life” to all people in all phases of life, as scripture indicates. In this case, anyone classed as “the least of these” is a pro-life concern.
Christian Millennials are progressive-minded
In 2012, 67% of those under 35 voted for Obama. Since 62% of Millennials under 35 also identify with some form of Christianity, it stands to reason that there are millions of Millennial Christians who are progressive minded (or hold progressive values). Even though Republicans saw victory in the midterm elections, progressive ballot items won by a landslide, and Millennials voted in line with those items. Millennial Christians are also more inclined to support the LGBT rights movement, gay marriage and civil rights issues. They largely identify with values of compassion and minority issues, which have become known as part of the Democratic platform. Millennials, including Christians, dislike the GOP rhetoric on religious freedom laws and gay rights, women’s rights and minority issues.
The GOP has depended heavily on the faithfulness of the Christian vote and on the fact that they have a stronghold on the “values” and “Christian” narrative. But it appears that monopoly is rapidly diminishing.
Christian Democrats of America