The decline of Southern Evangelicals

Wow– I had no idea about this.  I knew that Americans were getting gradually more secular, but I was quite surprised to learn just how much white Christian Evangelicals had declined in many Southern states in recent years.  Of course, this matters politically because they are such a key GOP constituency.  Now, to be clear, they are still very influential in these states and will continue to be for many years, but this is yet another demographic trendline the Republican Party is now on the losing end of.  Here’s the key chart from Robert Jones‘ Atlantic article:

And a little 2014 election context:

So what does this mean for the 2014 elections? Certainly, events on the ground are still paramount; the campaign machines and peculiarities of candidates matter. And in low-turnout elections such as the midterms, the real weight of these demographic and religious shifts will not yet be fully felt at the ballot box. White evangelical Protestants have a strong turnout record, while non-black ethnic minorities and particularly the religiously unaffiliated are much less likely to vote. PRRI’s pre-election American Values Survey found that while two-thirds (65 percent) of white evangelical Protestants report that they were absolutely certain to vote in the November elections, less than half (45 percent) of the religiously unaffiliated report this kind of certainty. But the underlying trends indicate that at least one reason why there are a number of close elections across the South is the declining dominance of white evangelical Protestants, the most stalwart of GOP supporters.

Also, I was intrigued by the American Values Survey.  Check it out– it’s awesome.  For example, here’s the religious breakdown of the three states where I have lived most of the years of my life:


And you can do that for any state you want.  Any demographic data, etc.  I could spend hours with this.  But, there’s blog posts to write and TV to watch.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

6 Responses to The decline of Southern Evangelicals

  1. rgbact says:

    Meh, the South is growing, hence demographics will change. Bottom line, Democrats are largely dead in the South……and in most those states you listed. its getting worse not better for them. I think alot of liberals don’t realize that Democrats actually used to get elected in the South pretty often.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Right, back when Democratic voters in the South were white racists, like pretty much most whites in the South. That time is long gone and the parties of today bear little resemblance to the political parties before the Civil Rights era. And no, Democrats are not largely dead in the South.

      • rgbact says:

        But there are still white racists…according to what I hear from the Left typically. Long gone? The House Blue Dogs were made largely extinct just in 2010, and now the remaining southern Blue Dog senators will join them this year. Once they’re gone….the Democrat Party is essentially dead in the South. How can you deny that? No senators, no house members, no state legislatures….and they’ve run out of politician’s relatives

  2. itchy says:

    My first thought also was that these percentage changes are a result not of a decline in number of evangelicals, but in growth of non-evangelicals. But I can only speak for North Carolina (and maybe Georgia); not sure about Arkansas, for instance.

    But if that’s true, then where did these non-evangelicals move from? Have those states changed compared to 2007?

    • Steve Greene says:

      This is too fast to be entirely explained by generational replacement, but I think, to some degree, the Millennial children of Boomer evangelicals are just not following through on the family evangelism. Great question on the other states.

      • itchy says:

        Right, I’m sure it’s a combination of factors.

        If the NC population increased by 10% in 6 years, and every new resident is non-evangelical, the evangelicals will only drop from 37% to 33.6%. Still doesn’t account for the entire drop. (It would take a 23% increase.)

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