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Why Romney’s religious coalition should terrify the GOP

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Republicans should be more worried about appealing to Nones than to Latinos. That's the message of PRRI'S stunning new graphic showing how the respective religious coalitions of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on election day relates to the religious demography of age groups in the U.S.

It's hard to argue with the headline: "The End of the White Christian Strategy." White Christians--evangelicals, mainliners, and Catholics--made up fully seventy-five of Romney's coalition but only 38 percent of Obama's. It's the age distribution, however, that tells the deeper story.

Romney's coalition most closely matches the over-65 crowd, only older. It's whiter and less religiously diverse than seniors are. Call it your great-grandfather's Oldsmobile.

By contrast, Obama's coalition fits snugly in between the youth cohort of 18-to-29-year-old Millennials and the 30-49-year-old Gen-Xers. It's unsurprisingly overrepresented among African-Americans and a little light on evangelicals and "other Christians," but generally presents a fair picture of where America's religious layout is headed in the coming decades.

What's most striking is how evangelicals and Nones change places through the four age cohorts. From old to young, the evangelicals go 30-25-18-9, while the Nones go 9-14-19-32. Romney's coalition was composed of 37 percent evangelicals and eight percent Nones. Obama's coalition had 9 percent evangelicals and 23 percent Nones. 

If I were a Republican, that would scare the hell out of me.

Topics: Politics, Election


  1. The point is well taken.  However, if the Electoral College were reformed to more closely reflect the actual popular vote and its distribution, Romney would have been elected president.  What distorted the outcome was the pooling of electoral votes into winner-take-all state contests, which give all the electoral votes of a state to the winner of a plurality (not even a majority) of the votes cast in the state, leaving sometimes millions fo people out in the cold and unable to affect the outcome. California voters elected Republicans in a third of their districts, but none of them was able to affect the presidential race at all. 

    Obviously there are people in power who like to keep things the way they are, even though it is so utterly divorced from the real vote that elects the House.  A more rational distribution of Electoral College votes would let each congressional district determine one electoral vote, and the two electoral votes derived from the state’s senate representation being allocated to the majority winner among the districts, or split between them if the districts are evenly split.  The virtues of the electoral college—getting some finality in the rpesidential race across over ahundred million voters—would be improved, so that there would be no incentive to go mucking around in a congressional district where you won 65% of the vote to find more votes.  Only districts which were really close would justify any recount, and all you would win would be one electoral vote, so the whole specter of a president chosen by judges would not happen. 

    A “pure popular vote” is just a formula to multiplying Florida 2000 by 51, as the search for more votes would penetrate every state, plus DC.  It would be truly insane.  we can make the electoral college work, and give the popular viote more real clout, by freeing minority voters in states dominated by the other side.  That in turn will invite more involvement in voting by people who know they can really affect the outcome. 

    Once we get past the distortion of the current electoral college system, we can worry about the changing religious views of Americans. 

  2. This election was the Republicans’ last stand, before being swamped by demographics. And there really is no way they can appeal to the Nones, America’s fastest growing “religious group” who are completely out of sympathy with the social conservatism Republicans have been playing for the past 3 decades. The only hook is Libertarianism—and only a minority want to go with that.

    It’s a pity that the socially progressive agenda is so tied up with the rejection of religion. Puts me in a nasty position. I’m completely sympathetic to the social, political, and economic policies of the left. I don’t think religion should have anything to do with ethics or social policy: it’s metaphysics—not ethics or a “worldview.” But that isn’t the way it plays out in the public square. So I ask myself: which would I choose? The politics of the left to which I’m committed with end of religion? or religion with the persistence of social conservatism. And to be honest, I’d rather see the end of religion if that’s the only way to get what I understand as a good society—the society promoted by secular leftists.

  3. Mr. Swenson,

    That’s a terrible idea, that would render Presidential elections subject to the same distortions caused by gerrymandering and population concentrations that currently sap the legitimacy of congressional elections.  It works OK in Nebraska and Maine because those are small rural states where there isn’t much distortion.  The fact that applying your formula would have given Romney the victory in a year when Obama won a clear majority, not just a plurality, of the popular vote should indicate to you that there’s something wrong with it.

  4. Raymond, I’m not sure I agree with your stance.  The electoral college is an oddity to be sure, but if your solution would have resulted in a Romney victory as you claim (did you actually do the math?  I’m taking your word on it), despite losing the popular vote, then it seems to a worse “solution” than the current system.  How could you consider that MORE legitimate if in the very first test it results in an anomaly?  Moreover, I disagree that it would be better than an overall popular vote.  Overall, you would see a difference of over a million votes nationally in any election, so there would be no way of “finding” that many votes in recounts.  On the other hand, if each DISTRICT cast a vote as you suggest, there would be all kinds of possible malarky going on in individual districts that would become “swing districts” instead of “swing states” where all the candidate resources would descend upon these fifty or so specific districts that make the difference, and these fifty districts would then all be forced into perpetual recounts.  The larger the sample, the more stable the system, because errors or malarky cancel out or become irrelevant in the larger count, so making the samples SMALLER than states I think invites more trouble than it solves.

  5. The graphic is stunning when you focus on one pair of numbers: the “nones” and the “evangelicals.”  The sum of these two groups is relatively constant across the age ranges in the graph (except for the bars showing the two candidates’ coalitions).  In other words, evangelicals and nones are close to a zero-sum game.  More simply, it appears that most of those who fall away from evangelical churches become “nones,” not some more quiescent branch of Christianity (in other words, the Episcopalians aren’t raking in all those disaffected Assembly of God types). 

    That makes it sound like the heavy-handed cult-like behavior in some evangelical circles, cutting their kids off from most of culture via home-schooling, extensive church-centered youth groups, etc. is not working, and in fact may even be counterproductive in keeping kids in those sects. 

    That ought to terrify the evangelical community.  What’s at stake is something far greater than the loss of political muscle among evangelicals, it’s the existence of the evangelical movement itself.  It seems that the evangelicals are blind to this issue, or are simply doing more of what doesn’t work in an attempt to cope with the problem.

  6. Raymond you have a weird perception of “distorted the outcome” .

    Obama won the popular vote, but because the republicans have gerrymandered a few states to their advantage you think Romney should have won.

    Ohio went for Obama, but under your scenario Romney would get 12 votes and Obama would get 4.

    An obvious partisan post.

  7. Raymond’s post made me laugh out loud.  It’s probably the purest, most beautiful example of the ludicrous “math” coming from the GOP.  To summarize:

    1.) Obama…....... 63,476,798 votes.
    2.) Romney…....... 59,651,366 votes.
    3.) So CLEARLY the American people wanted Romney!

  8. Raymond’s post isn’t serious.  It’s an obvious Republican con job that would only convince the Fox News audience.  As others have pointed out, Obama won the popular vote as well as the electoral college.  Raymond is arguing for drawing house district boundaries to freeze out the votes he doesn’t like to get the result he wants.

  9. Yet another point on Raymond’s comment.

    In the US House elections, around 52% of voters preferred Democratic candidates, but the Republican party retain 54% of seats. If you’re reforming the electoral college, perhaps you should also eliminate gerrymandering, too.

  10. John P wrote: “most of those who fall away from evangelical churches become “nones,” not some more quiescent branch of Christianity (in other words, the Episcopalians aren’t raking in all those disaffected Assembly of God types).”

    This. Exactly this.

    Except what’s at stake isn’t the evangelical movement but Christianity as a social force in American life. By publicly aligning “Christianity” (note scare quotes) so closely with right wing politics, socially conservative Evangelicalism has sucked the oxygen out of the conversation about belief in America.

    There are glimmers of hope for renewal — the growth of “Other Christian” among young groups in particular — but the way that seems to be playing itself out, demographically, isn’t a back-and-forth between forms of Christianity, but a war of attrition as self-identified Evangelicals literally die of old age.

  11. The problem with the GOP right now is that they’re stuck playing the “if only” game.  Politics is politics.  Even if Republicans like Raymond found a way that would have allowed Romney to win with the demographics he had, it assumes the Dems couldn’t/wouldn’t adapt their game to those new rules.  It’s delusional.  Obama had a healthy majority of the popular vote and the Dems are demographically positioned to reap even bigger rewards in the future if the GOP doesn’t make substantive changes.

  12. @Rob,

    Yes, certainly. But isn’t it a bit of fun to see Republicans discovering quite suddenly what a vile crime the Electoral College is?

    However, that’s Schadenfreude, which I suppose is a very unChristian attitude. (Not to lecture Christians here, not being one myself; but it’s a place where I try to take St Paul’s advice.) Maybe one should cheerfully say, “Better late than never” and hope they manage to get it right, though the first signs aren’t promising.

    BTW, that is a most remarkable graphic, worth a good amount of study. The inversion between Evangelical and None is almost too good to be true.

  13. Judging by the people I’ve talked to at Atheist Meet-ups and the like, the implication than the growth of the “Nones” results largely from deconversion of Evangelical Christians isn’t far off the mark—I meet a *lot* of ex-Evangelicals (and never-really-Evangelical-themselves children of Evangelical parents) in those contexts.

    Re: Pseudonym’s comment, we definitely need to do something about gerrymandering.  Ideally, we should probably eliminate congressional districts altogether, and change to a proportional representation system, but short of that, we ought to limit the perimeter-to-area ratio of districts, require that each district have a single geographic centerpoint and that it be *inside* the district, and require that individual counties and municipalities not be divided between districts any more than absolutely necessary to maintain equal population in each one.

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