Is the GOP now being dominated by Non-religious people?

According to a recent article within the Washington Post by David Byler the GOP is now being dominated by non-religious people …

Wait … what … have all the Evangelicals abandoned them and all the Atheists, Agnostics, and Non-Religious have flocked to their ranks, is that really what is going on here?

Hint: Nope.

So what’s going on here?

Yes it is an opinion piece, but Mr Byler brings some receipts to make his case, he has data.

The CES Data

The Cooperative Election Study (CES) data that he leans upon is created via a poll of about 50,000+ people from both before and after presidential and midterm elections. They do the survey in two parts. In about Sept/Oct respondents answer about two thirds of the questions. Then after the election in Nov they complete the rest. The second 2022 data drop happened last April.

Mt Byler basically did a deep dive into this Cooperative Election Study (CES) data, and has now emerged with the following chart and other associated details …

Within the above you find a comparison between the 2008 and 2022 CES data.

  • Number of Republicans who attend a church weekly – dropped from 45% to just 35%
  • Number of Republicans who sometimes attend a church – dropped from 25% to just 21%
  • Number of Republicans who seldom or never attend a church – increased from 30% to 42%

In other words, 63% of Republicans are not practising religious beliefs on a weekly basis.


What is Mr Byler concluding from this insight?

The case he goes on to make is that …

  • Less-Religious Republicans are far more inclined to embrace very right-wing views … for example build the wall
  • More-Religious Republicans saw a far larger gap between themselves and Trump

Mix them all together within the same tribe and this has happened …

  • The Less-religious Republicans have ended up pulling the More-Religious further to the right on many issues
  • The More-Religious Republicans have also greatly influenced the Less-Religious Republicans to adopt their religiously motivated stance on many things … Abortion, Anti-LGBTQ, etc…

The end result is that the thrice-married adulterer who routinely defied GOP orthodoxy is now generally embraced as their guy.

So where does he think this all goes next?

Firstly there is the abortion issue …

Non-churchgoing voters don’t want their party to go too far on abortion, and Republican leaders would be wise to listen to them. Strict abortion bans are radioactive outside the most devout corners of the Republican Party, which is partly why congressional Republicans lost so many close races in the 2022 midterms.

The problem I have with that thought is that in reality we are not dealing with reasonable people, the core of it is religious fanaticism, they have deeply embraced the idea at an emotional level. The stance is part of their identity. In other words, many of these deeply religious individuals don’t consider the issue negotiable, they will not be willing to compromise on this, and they also have a strong grasp upon the GOP.

The other conclusion he suggests is this …

Expect more changes like this in the GOP if non-churchgoers continue to gain power. Candidates who are nominally religious but deeply populist — in the mold of Trump’s 2016 candidacy — will become more common. Meanwhile, traditional White evangelicals such as former vice president Mike Pence won’t go extinct, but their power will wane.

A new Republican Party might emerge — thick with Christian symbolism, light on religious practice and ecumenical in its culture wars. 

In reality what we do observe is the emergence of an increasingly more extreme ideology that is denying women basic reproductive health care, banning books, attacking corporations, attacking vulnerable minorities, and becoming increasingly authoritarian. Meanwhile on the other side we have the far more “extreme” democrats who simply want to expand access to healthcare and to also make it slightly harder to buy semi-automatic weapons.

So yes, not two extremes. I would seriously argue that only one party has gone over that cliff.

Just how religious are the GOP?

How do you actually measure this?

Regardless of actual practise, how many Republicans believe in God?

Is church attendance a meaningful measure of how religious somebody actually is?

The drop in that metric alone is the data that Mr Byler draws his conclusions from.

Here however is a rather weird twist that is now becoming increasingly clear. Take for example the “revelation” via a Pew poll from 2021 …

Let the statistics above sink in. There are vast numbers of people who use the identity labels “Evangelical”, or “Catholic”, or similar. They don’t actually go to a church on a regular basis, yet they do identify using those labels and not as non-religious.

If you talked to them about what they believe, then clearly you would encounter all the usual tribal values, anti-abortion, anti-LGTBQ, believes in God, and even uses a religious label to identify themselves, but in practise they don’t actually attend a church on a regular basis.

There is no denying that it is a cult with deeply strong streaks of religious fanaticism driving it all, so would it be correct to argue that they are non-religious simply because they don’t attend a church?

My argument is basically “no”.

Religion at its core exists because it meets an emotional need and not because it is true. It creates an identity, a tribe to belong to, a sense of community amongst like minded people. If all those needs are being met without the need to actually attend a church, then quite naturally that’s how this may be now playing out.

What we are actually seeing is the rise of a political-religious cult for which church attendance is optional. Instead, the actual sins that would get you instantly labelled as a heretic and excommunicated include criticism of their beloved Trump messiah, or the suggestion that granting reproductive rights to women might be a good idea, or the thought that LGBTQ rights are human rights, or any form of denial of the big lie (that you know who won in 2020 and it was “stolen”)

The GOP as it once was is now just a distant memory, and has become something quite different, a very sinister and dark political entity driven by religious right-wing fanaticism.

To put that another way, we do indeed live in “interesting times“.

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