Religion has always played a major role in forming a political identity in the United States. Issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion, and the separation of church and state can drive constituents to the polls, but the misconception that religious voters associate with a single ideology will change.
Conservative candidates have historically appealed to the religious demographic for electoral support, with many of their political views in line with their religious ones. However, in recent years, a turn in religious demographics might signify a shift in the “traditional” sense of traditionalists.
According to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, one in five Americans identify themselves as religious progressives. The growth of the ideological category represents a changing trend in how religion interacts with political identity. Religious moderates and conservatives still represent a majority — 38 percent and 28 percent, respectively.
As Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute states:
“Our new research shows a complex religious landscape, with religious conservatives holding an advantage over religious progressives in terms of size and homogeneity. However, the percentage of religious conservatives shrinks in each successive generation, with religious progressives outnumbering religious conservatives in the Millennial generation.”
Millenials (18-33 year old) are the driving force behind the growth in religious progressives as those who identify as progressively religious outnumber their conservative counterparts. Some attribute this trend to the hyper visibility of social activism common among the age group, with young people taking the more progressive stance in debates on secularism, women’s rights, and gay rights.
As America’s changing demographics will show, the diversity of the millennial generation has led to a reinvention of religious identity in America, creating a stark contrast to the evangelical right of their grandparents’ America. The Silent Generation, ages 66-88, compromises 47 percent of religious conservatives.
The diversity of the religious progressive also contributes to the popularity of this movement in America. While evangelical white Christian Protestants comprise most of those who consider themselves religious conservatives, religious progressives boast a more diverse population:
Catholics (29 percent) constitute the largest single group among religious progressives, followed by white mainline Protestants (19 percent), those who are not formally affiliated with a religious tradition but who nevertheless say religion is at least somewhat important in their lives (18 percent), and non-Christian religious Americans such as Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims (13 percent).
Additionally, the definition of what constitutes a religious person varies among the progressive and the conservative fronts, as the study also shows.
According to the report, 8 out of 10 of religious progressives consider religion to be centered on doing the right thing, rather than having a certain belief. In comparison, only about 4 out of 10 religious conservatives agree, with more than half stating that a certain belief denotes the religious from the secular.
While a significant number of religious voters identify themselves as conservative, a rapidly changing demographic shows that religious voters are not politically homogenous. The political landscape is no longer as simple as associating a certain demographic with a certain stance on an issue, creating a melting pot electorate.