In the decades following the “counter-cultural” social revolutions of the 1960s, the Republican Party has claimed to have cornered the market, not just on conservative political ideologies but on self-identified Christian voters as well. The peak of the Republican/Christian crossover was arguably during the 1980s, as Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush turned the Evangelical Christian surge into three consecutive terms of Republican control in the White House.
However, nothing lasts forever.
The Trump era of journalism has produced an onslaught of articles and studies heralding the evolution of a brand-new America: a more ethnically diverse, socially progressive, and less Christian America.
Democrats celebrate this vision, as their party bets its future on intersectionality—the theory that discrimination by class, race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation are related and should be combated together. As per the recent debates, the plethora of Democrat candidates competing for the 2020 nomination seem to view themselves as the saviors of these “oppressed” classes. A large source of the “oppression” they allude to comes from the traditional Christian worldview.
One would think Republicans would notice this trend and scramble to appeal to traditionally Christian voting demographics. Yet Democrats still have a monopoly on many groups who would otherwise be considered “socially” conservative.
The Pew Research Center conducted a nationwide Religious Landscape Study in 2014, which included polling of over 2,500 adults in Texas. With all individuals considered, a plurality of all Texas Christians leans Republican (43 percent), while 37 percent lean Democrat. A plurality also identifies as conservative (44 percent), while just 18 percent of those polled identify as liberal. A majority of those polled (57 percent) believe abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, and a majority (53 percent) oppose same-sex marriage.
At first glance, this picture looks good for Republicans. With 77 percent of Texans identifying with some Christian denomination and much of this constituency espousing socially conservative views, it should not be difficult to harbor support from all groups occupying this sphere. Closer analysis of the data, however, paints a different picture.
Articles heralding massive demographic shifts within Texas and prophesying the doom of Lone Star State Republicans have become a media constant since the near miss of “Betomania” last November. While much of the coverage on this issue is highly sensationalized and exploited for partisan gain, the underlying theme cannot be ignored away.
While 44 percent of Texas Christians affiliate with either the “Evangelical” or “Mainline” Protestant denominations (which are historically considered to be primarily “white”), the growing ethnic diversity in Texas places more importance on the historically “nonwhite” denominations—this includes “black” Protestantism and Catholicism, with the latter demographic being highly populated by Hispanics.
This is where things start to go wrong for Texas Republicans. While a plurality of black Protestants and Catholics in Texas self-identify as politically conservative (both 34 percent), each constituency has a solid allegiance to the Democrat Party (45 percent for Catholics, 74 percent for black Protestants).
Even more puzzling, considering party allegiance, are the social views of these specific demographics. 55 percent of Texas Catholics believe abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, and a plurality of 34 percent confess disbelief in evolution (both secular and theistic forms). 50 percent of black Protestants believe abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, and 58 percent oppose same-sex marriage.
The political disconnect between Christian communities which, on paper, share the same cultural values doesn’t have just one explanation; differences in living environments and class are contributing factors, in addition to the GOP’s reluctance to engage on social issues in recent years.
“Social” Conservative Negligence
Some suggest the golden age of Christian/Republican crossover appears to be over. When he was still a potential nominee in 2016, Donald Trump caught significant flak for not being religious enough for the Republican brand. Despite questions regarding his personal morality and conduct, however, Trump continues to poll well amongst Protestants and became the first Republican presidential nominee to win the Catholic vote outright since Reagan in 1984.
Republican focus since 2016 has largely centered around immigration issues and the economy, with increased advocacy for pro-life causes, in lieu of Democrats having ramped up their aggression on abortion-favoring policies, serving as the lone social victory as of late. Conservatives have seemingly completely abandoned the fight for traditional marital values following the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court Decision in 2015, and advocacy for religious lifestyles and use of religious language rarely emerges unless a national emergency or tragedy emerges for pundits on both sides to capitalize on.
The spiritual gap left by Republicans in the Trump era has allowed some Democrats to attempt to fill the void. Though he remains stuck in the middle of the candidate pack, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, gained high praise from the left-wing media for condemning Republican immigration policies as “anti-Christian” in his debate stage debut. Buttigieg remains an anomaly, however, and his religious rhetoric fails to consider the Democrat Party’s view on abortion or church-state relations.
Engage in Debate
While Catholics and black Protestants are generally in agreement with conservatives on social values, fiscal policy and views on governance are where a divide becomes clear. Sixty-three percent of black Protestants believe we need a bigger government with more services, and 61 percent have a positive view of government aid to the poor. Fifty-five percent believe stricter environmental regulations are worth the cost of possible economic decline.
Texas Catholics share similar views on these issues. Sixty-four percent of Catholics favor bigger government, 52 percent have a positive view of government aid to the poor, and 55 percent favor stricter environmental regulations.
What does this mean for Republicans? If the goal is merely to secure the loyalty of a demographic, the answer would be for Republicans to shift their views on the size of government and environmentalism. Of course, unless Republicans view abandoning conservative orthodoxy on fiscal issues as a guaranteed strategy for future success, this will not happen, nor should it. Expanding the size of government does not automatically become a good idea simply because the popular will of the time demands it.
These trends possibly indicate something other than mere disagreement with conservative fiscal policies among certain Christian demographics. The other possible cause of this separation could be one that will upset many conservatives: We’re simply not talking about other issues enough.
What issues could be guiding “socially” conservative votes away from Republicans and towards Democrats? Two big answers could be healthcare and environmentalism.
There’s a clear divide between conservatives and progressives regarding what the biggest issues facing our country are. Both sides may be well-served, however, to pay attention to the other side’s issue of choice, rather than neglecting it.
Republican voters do not list healthcare as a priority issue. The action of many conservative politicians in this policy area has been to follow the will of their voters; they keep getting re-elected while allowing Democrats to completely run the table on healthcare policy.
Simply arguing “conservative voters aren’t worried about healthcare” is not an excuse to allow Democrats to completely steamroll competition based on healthcare reform. While Republicans should not cower to popular will and embrace radical positions such as socialized Medicare For All, they are still visibly absent in the debate for reforming our healthcare system.
Environmental concerns have been a popular topic since the turn of the 21st century. While politicians who make environmental reforms a top priority often lean into paranoid fear-mongering and radicalism, Republicans must also account for the growing calls for government solutions to environmental concerns. Numerous conservative politicians have come out in favor of transitioning towards nuclear energy as an alternative to petroleum. While few conservative politicians have clear solutions to environmental concerns (and many voters still question if it’s an issue to care about at all), engaging in this area of debate with conservative solutions, rather than choosing to ignore it, will only serve Republicans well.
One of the most concerning components of Beto O’Rourke’s near-miss attempt at unseating incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2018 midterm election was the flipping of Tarrant (containing Fort Worth) and Nueces (containing Corpus Christi) counties. These counties, while still a close call in 2018, had been reliable for Republicans in previous elections and were the last remaining “red” counties containing large cities. Articles covering election results also noted the impact Beto’s flipping of the suburbs had on not just his race, but also down-ballot statewide elections. Continued Republican dominance of rural counties was enough for Cruz to sneak out a close win, but if Republicans wish to maintain their popularity in Texas, State Republicans must re-engage in areas and environments that have been lost to progressives in recent elections.
The urban/rural divide along party and ideological lines is not unique to Texas. GOP leaders across the nation must work together to discuss strategies on how to market conservatism to urban voters that have likely been conditioned to adopt a negative picture of conservatism. A possible remedy to the issue would be to increase activism and outreach into urban districts, even those which are now solid blue (such as Travis and Harris counties).
The next big issue of our time will likely be the homelessness epidemic that has exploded within some of America’s largest cities on the West Coast and is quickly spreading to Texas. Though media outlets have reported extensively on this growing crisis over the past year, very few big-name politicians have made moves to remedy the situation; for example, while the last four Democrat Party debates have been rife with socialized healthcare proposals and intersectional virtue-signaling, proposed solutions to homelessness were absent.
It’s time for Republicans to lead on issues like ending the homelessness epidemic. Since the beginning of the Obama era, Republicans have stood in the way of lurching progressivism on all fronts: stopping gun control, stopping socialized medicine, stopping mass illegal immigration. How long has it been since Republicans have led on a hot-button issue?
Conservatives may worry the only solutions to fighting homelessness are government-expanding proposals, which hurt taxpayers. This is certainly not the case. As reported by Texas Scorecard in July, nongovernment methods of fighting homelessness do exist, with some proving to be extremely successful in recent years.
If conservatives in Texas can work to effectively fight homelessness, it could reinvent the image of the political party that has spent the last decade simply opposing the left’s proposed changes.
Christian social teaching emphasizes the importance of caring for the less fortunate in our communities. Fighting homelessness, which should be a nonpartisan issue, should be at the top of the list of duties for Christian conservatives in Texas.
Texas benefits from having strong Christian tradition engrained into its culture. This religious ethic provides an excellent guide to shaping moral and upright communities. Upholding religious freedom, advocating for traditional family values, and exercising charitable behavior are chief among the duties of the Christian individual.
Christian conservatives in Texas have made it known where they stand. But to continue their success in statewide politics, the racial divide along political lines within the faith must be addressed. Increased social engagement, rather than retreating, may be exactly the remedy needed to bridge the gap and secure future success for conservatism in Texas.