How Trump And Race Are Splitting Evangelicals

The Rev. Billy Graham, the pastor and evangelical leader who died last week and is being laid to rest in Charlotte on Friday, built relationships across party lines, illustrated by the praise Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush,Barack Obama and Donald Trump delivered after his death. But it likely will be hard for an evangelical Christian figure in this era to get the kind of bipartisan acclaim that Graham received in life and in death.

America’s community of self-described evangelicals, about a fourth of the population, is increasingly divided between a more conservative, Trump-aligned bloc deeply worried about losing the so-called culture wars; and a bloc that is more liberal on issues like immigration, conscious of the need to appeal to nonwhite Christians and wary of the president. The split in evangelical Christianity isn’t new, but it appears to be widening under Trump.

Two factors appear to be driving this divide. First, the number of white evangelicals is in decline in America at the same time that the evangelical population is becoming more racially diverse. According to 2016 data from the Public Religion Research Institute, about 64 percent of evangelicals are non-Hispanic white, compared to about 68 percent in 2006.1

The downward trajectory of non-Hispanic white evangelicals over the past decade might seem relatively small, but that racial and ethnic change also has an important age dimension. Growth in the evangelical community is mostly being fueled by Latinos, one of the nation’s fastest-growing ethnic groups. PRRI’s data shows that while white evangelicals tend to be older, fully half of evangelicals under the age of 30 are nonwhite, and 18 percent are Latino. In other words, change in the composition of evangelicals is only likely to accelerate — and the religious group’s future looks much more nonwhite.

And these nonwhite evangelicals see politics differently than white evangelicals. While the largest plurality of white evangelicals identify as Republicans, most black evangelicals are Democrats. A plurality of evangelical Latinos, in contrast, identify as political independents — and they’re less supportive of the Democratic Party than Latinos overall — but they are still more likely to consider themselves Democrats than Republicans.


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