November 27, 2018
The mainstream media may not understand evangelicals, but they're no mystery to Alan Cooperman. The director of religion research at Pew has been studying their voting patterns for years, and he's got news for the press: they've got it all wrong.
In a special event at Miami Beach, Cooperman took time to help piece together the puzzle of white evangelicals at the Faith Angle Forum. Armed with brand new midterm data, he had some fascinating numbers to share about America's religious vote. Samuel Smith, who covered the panel for the Christian Post, did us all a favor by transcribing the bulk of Cooperman's talk -- not just on the elections of 2018, but on the trends of the last several years. And if you're one of the millions of people who tuned in for the media's analysis of November 6, prepare to be surprised. Evangelical voters, Cooperman will tell you, aren't going anywhere.
Myth 1: Evangelicals are turning liberal or turning against Trump
Obviously, that's the juicy narrative the media is selling -- but is it true? Cooperman says no. This is a voting bloc, he points out, with "a lot of stability." "Right up before the election, aggregated data from our polls over the last several months [showed] 71 percent approval rating for the president [among white evangelicals]," the Pew expert explained. "If anything, party ID among white evangelical Protestants is trending more Republican. This notion that white evangelical Protestants are turning liberal ... I don't see it anywhere." That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, really. President Trump continues to do the things he promised on core values like life, religious liberty, the persecuted church, the Supreme Court, privacy, and even tough issues like transgenderism in the military. If anything, he's amped up his work, confirming a record number of judges, tackling tough HHS regulations, beefing up conscience protections, and defending Christians overseas.
Myth 2: Younger evangelicals are more liberal and are turning Democratic
"They are [saying] the youth and young evangelical Protestants are much more liberal than their elders," Cooperman explained. And on some cultural issues, that might be true. But, he pointed out, the number of white evangelical millennials who call themselves Republican or Republican-leaning has actually gone up since 2014. Four years ago, 66 percent of millennial evangelicals called the GOP home. Now, that number is 77 percent -- at least of millennial white evangelical Protestants. Cooperman, who has the benefit of Pew's several years of data, was insistent: he doesn't see a "clear line in which the younger generations are more Democratic-leaning than the older generations." "It is not true among white evangelicals," he went on. "...It is not true among white mainline. It's not true among black Protestants. It's not true among white Catholics. It's not especially true among Hispanic Catholics." The only group, Smith reported, that saw any sort of spike in Democratic-leaners were the "religiously unaffiliated."
Myth 3: "Real evangelicals" are not supportive of Trump
"I am looking at the data, and I can't find that to be the case." That was Cooperman's blunt assessment of the religious Left's claim. If you're going by actual church attendance, "The so-called 'real evangelicals' -- the people who are actually in the pews -- their approval rates for Donald Trump are just as high as among the self-identified evangelicals who aren't in church or aren't there as often." In fact, there's just a five-point difference in how regular churchgoers (73 percent) like Trump's job performance over the white evangelicals who don't worship as often (68 percent).
Myth 4: White evangelicals are abandoning the 'evangelical' label
This is a line we've heard a lot, especially lately. Evangelicals, some analysts say, are starting to reject the label. "I can find people who will tell me that. But I don't see it in the data," Cooperman told the crowd of mostly journalists. Although he says it's "absolutely true" that the number of U.S. adults who identify as white evangelicals has been declining, that's because the portion of U.S. adults who are white and Christian is dropping -- not because voters are walking away from the term. The percentage of white people who call themselves "evangelical" is actually, he points out, quite "stable." "...[E]vangelical identity does not appear to be dwindling," Cooperman confirmed.
That will come as a relief to some; a source of consternation to others -- but ultimately it is validation of the role you play in American politics as a values voter. Every election, the liberal press seems to trot out the same tired talking points about the evangelical movement, desperately hoping that their warnings about our waning political influence will come true. Thanks to Pew, maybe now we can finally put some of those lies to rest.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.