The party is unable to shift their stance on social issues without alienating a significant section of their base, and this directly prohibits them from evolving.
According to data from the Pew Research Center, the portion of white Evangelicals who identify as republican has increased by 5% between the last two presidential elections (65% in 2008, 70% in 2012.) That’s a significant number. And during this time, white Evangelical support for democrats fell from 28% to 24% resulting in the GOP creating a 46 point advantage within this powerful electorate. According to the same 2012 data, 80% of Mormons identified as republican, up from 68% in 2008. And across the religious expanse, the GOP holds a significant advantage with all groups except Jews.
Meanwhile, the United States is collectively evolving on social issues. Again, according to data from the Pew, public opinion on gay marriage has shifted dramatically in recent years. In 2008, only 39% of Americans supported gay marriage and that increased to 48% in 2012 and 55% in 2016. There’s clearly a trend occurring here. And, as data from Gallup shows, in 2015 50% of Americans identified as pro-choice, while only 44% identified as pro-life. This is the first time since 2008 that the pro-choice side has had a significant lead.
Social issues do not hold as much sway as national security, the economy or healthcare, but they definitely have an impact—especially with younger voters. And as the republican base has fractured and embraced the evangelical wing of their party, they have become representative of Evangelical views, which has handicapped the party from evolving on issues like gay marriage and abortion. Data from 2015 shows 3.8% of American adults identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. This number is certainly lower than the actual percentage, as in many areas of the U.S. being out is still a risky proposition that can result in social, economic and vocational discrimination. But even if we take the conservative, 3.8%, that equates to over 12 million American adults. And if we are to then expand out to the families of that 12 million, the number grows significantly.
Now could the republicans win an election by pandering to the Evangelicals and the far right? Possibly, but the chances grow slimmer every day. The United States is growing less religious and more spiritual overall.
According to a seven year study by the Pew (seen in the figure above,) with every generation, organized religion and its practices has grown less important. And interestingly enough, another portion of this study found that general spirituality not affiliated with an organized religion is on the rise. Americans are clearly growing more independent in this realm, which is also not a good sign for the future of the GOP.
By all accounts the republican party is backing the wrong horse. Certain members are refusing to recognize the trend lines of our country and by doing so they’re tap-dancing into obscurity. By creating platforms and electing candidates that appeal to the Evangelical base, the party is mortgaging the future for the present. And they may still lose the present. It’s like when the Brooklyn Nets traded away three years of first round draft picks, a serviceable Kris Humphries and some role players for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry: two great players, one good player—all of them a few years past their prime. The Nets won a single playoff series with this trio, and had the worst record in basketball last year, while the Celtics are building an impressive, young team and still have two years of first round picks at their disposal.
Trump is a problem because he’s a divisive, boorish, crude, small, dangerous, vile, anti-intellectual—but he’s really more of a micro problem. If he’s crushed by Hillary, the GOP should still be able to shuffle away and rebuild. However, social stagnancy is a macro problem—it’s embedded. For the GOP, the act of distancing themselves from their Evangelical base to widen the party’s overall appeal will be incredibly difficult.
The GOP has problems far beyond their orange torchbearer.
By Jesse Mechanic
Jesse Mechanic is the editor in chief of The Overgrown.