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Believers Vote GOP While Secularists Vote Democrat, Data Shows

May 15, 2023

If you want more voters to support Democrats in a given area, empty its churches, says an expert new analysis.

Every 10 years, the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies counts the number of people in each county who belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque. Ryan Burge, an associate professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University and research director for Faith Counts, overlayed that data with partisan voting patterns and came to a clear and inescapable conclusion.

“Democrats are making gains in areas where religion is fading,” writes Burge, “and Republicans are increasing their vote share in places where houses of worship are gaining new members.” Burge’s research comports with numerous other studies and polls over the years. Two-thirds of Democratic voters said they “never” attend religious services, according to CNN’s exit polls in the 2022 midterm elections. Exactly the same percentage of Republicans said they attend church “weekly or more” often. Two out of three “Nones” (religiously unaffiliated Americans) voted for Democrats in the 2022 midterms, and three out of four (72%) of Nones voted for Joe Biden in 2020, according to the AP VoteCast.

The reality of faith-based party registration has impacted the Electoral College, Burge says. In increasingly Republican-dominated Florida, 49 of its 67 counties saw church membership increase, while “Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania” are “much less religious today” than a decade ago. Big cities, long a bastion of secularism, moved further into the ranks of the Nones, as well: 11 out of 16 counties with a population of at least two million people saw levels of religious adherence fall.

“Trends that connected religious devotion and voting patterns may surprise some political pundits, but any surprise on this point betrays an ignorance of how religious people order their lives on the core tenets of their religion,” David Closson, director of the Center for Biblical Worldview at Family Research Council, told The Washington Stand. “This is especially true for many Christians, who believe their faith has public significance.” 

The most recent Republican Party platform supports numerous “state and federal efforts against the cruelest forms of abortion,” including a Human Life Amendment to the U.S. Constitution “to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to children before birth, and protecting children from dismemberment abortions or being aborted because of their sex or disability diagnosis. The Democratic Party platform presents unrestricted, taxpayer-funded abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy as a matter of “reproductive health, rights, and justice.” The two parties’ platforms also expose gaping differences on the definition of marriage, the freedom of believers to live out their faith in the public square, and other social issues.

“Theologically rooted beliefs about the sanctity of human life and the definition of marriage have implications for public policy, politics, and elections,” Closson told TWS.

The number of irreligious Americans has grown swiftly over the last decade. Nones comprise 22% of the U.S. electorate — canceling out the votes of all Americans who belong to the Roman Catholic church. The AP VoteCast found 30% of voters describe themselves as evangelical Christians, while 13% belong to non-Christian religious groups.

Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Jewish voters vote overwhelmingly Democratic, as well, surveys show.

Religious adherence slid among both parties over the last quarter century, but 60% of Republicans affiliate with a church, while only 45% of Democrats do (down from 71% in 1998), according to AEI’s Survey Center on American Life. The number of Republicans who say religion is very important to them has remained unchanged for 25 years, while Democrats declined from 65% in 1998 to a minority of 43% two years ago. During the same period, the percentage of Democrats who identify as “liberals” nearly doubled between 1999 and 2021.

Researchers found virtually no difference between religious and secular black voters. Religiously unaffiliated black voters report lower levels of identification as Democrats than believers — but they described their views as liberal and supported Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the 2020 presidential primaries at far higher levels.

Young Democrats also tend to report being more liberal and less faithful than traditional Democrats, AEI’s Daniel Cos noted. There is also evidence that accepting left-wing views fuels atheism.

“We need to realize that doctrine makes demand on behavior,” Closson told TWS. “Those who are guided by the Bible’s teaching on life are going to feel compelled to act on those beliefs. Voting for pro-life candidates, volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center, and collecting baby toys and diapers for a mom facing an unexpected pregnancy are behaviors that flow from the belief that unborn babies have value and deserve to be treated with dignity.”

The dividing line of the next several elections may revolve around faith, according to Burge. “Both parties are ignoring these changing dynamics at their own peril,” he concluded.

Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.