A Sociological Look at the Role of Religion in the 2016 Election

Elaine Howard Ecklund, Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences and director of the Religion and Public Life Program, Rice University

Republican president-elect Donald Trump followed tradition by seeking support from evangelical leaders, including Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University. And exit polls tell us three-fourths of white evangelicals voted for Trump.

And yet, these numbers do not say much about the qualitative divisions that resulted from this election. The New York Times’ Laurie Goodstein wrote that Trump’s candidacy “reveals evangelical rifts that could shake politics for years to come.” Young people and women are changing the power structures of established American Evangelicalism. Case in point: Best-selling evangelical authors Jen Hatmaker and Beth Moore spoke out against Trump. These women are read by tens of thousands. And Andy Crouch wrote in a Christianity Today editorial, that Trump is “the very embodiment of what the Bible calls a fool.”

The changing face of and gender dynamics within American Christianity, and American religion more broadly, will change religion’s relationship to politics: In pre election polls 90 percent of black Christians said they would be voting for Clinton. Sixty-seven percent of Hispanic Catholics backed Clinton. And younger evangelicals overwhelmingly voted for Clinton or—and this matters for the years to come—perhaps only begrudgingly voted for Trump. The future is the Muslims who served in the American military; it’s Latino Catholics and Protestants, as well as black Protestants and Muslims. Yes, older, white, evangelicals overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump. But the future of American religion is not older, white, evangelicals.





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