Donald Trump, the businessman turned politician who has broken the mold this election season, is working hard to garner support from a particular sector of the American population: white Christians who are losing their majority status, growing increasingly worried about the impact of immigration and who say they are now victims of discrimination and that their country has been on the decline since 1950.
“Modern America does not reflect the place they grew up in,” explains Robert P. Jones, author of “The End of White Christian America” and president of one of the main polling organizations in the United States. Jones says that the group, one of the voting blocs loyal to Republicans, “lives in nostalgia” and Trump’s message to “make America great again” is directed at it.
According to Jones, that nostalgia is a reaction to immigration, the declining number of Americans who say they are affiliated with a religious institution – especially among Christians – and the fact that new generations are not upholding those same practices.
The notion that the US is no longer the country they grew up in is related to a decrease in the number of people who actively practice a faith
Americans are deeply divided over the issue of whether the United States has improved or deteriorated since the 1950s. Public opinion generally falls into one of two camps but most white working class Americans, especially among Republicans, lean toward deterioration. According to Jones’ Public Religion Research Institute (PPRI), 62% of working class Americans and 70% of evangelical Protestants say the country has experienced a period of decline over the last six deades. That percentage is even higher among Republicans and Trump supporters: 68% of them believe life in the United States has gotten worse. By contrast, 66% of Democrats say it has gotten better.
Over the last few months, the Republican candidate has been forced to distance himself from white supremacist and nationalist groups who endorsed him including the president of the American Nazi Party. Experts say that Trump uses slogans that appeal to voters who are worried about immigration, demographic changes and who consider themselves victims of “reverse discrimination.” Americans are divided into those who believe that discrimination against whites is as serious a problem as prejudice against African Americans and other minorities and those who do not. Some 66% of white working class voters and 57% of whites in general say they are treated unfairly.
The distance between these two sides grows even wider when political affiliations are taken into account: 6 out of 10 Republicans and three out of 10 Democrats say discrimination against whites has become as significant a problem as racism against African Americans.
Immigration, which has caused significant demographic changes in the United States over the last few decades, is one of the factors that worriesTrump supporters the most. Yet, according to PPRI, their concern is not based on changes in their own communities. They do not believe immigration has had the greatest impact at a local level but on society as a whole.
The last PPRI study on immigration found that 59% of Trump voters and 51% of Republicans (compared to 39 % of Americans in general) say immigrants are changing American society “a lot.” Only 27% of Democrats agree.
Trump’s plan to build a wall along the US-Mexican border resonates with this group of voters. While 6 out 10 Americans and 77% of Democrats are against this proposal, two-thirds of Republicans and 82% of Trump voters support this controversial initiative aimed at cutting off illegal immigration.
The notion that the United States is no longer the country they grew up in is also related to a decrease in the number of people who are affiliated to a religious institution or actively practice a faith. Americans who are more than 70 years old make up a significant Republican voting block, a unique group who, in their majority, still consider themselves “solid” members of a religion. Church members among younger generations are in the minority in their age groups and declining. Just over one-third (37%) of millennials say they are “solid” in their religious faith.
During the presentation of his book in Washington, Jones examined the political consequences of this change, especially for the Republican Party: changes that were never made clearer than in the 2012 presidential election. White Christian voters represented 86% of the Republican base in 1992 and 80% in 2012. They made up 60% of Democrats in the 1990s but dwindled down to 37% by the last presidential election. That decline, however, did not keep President Barack Obama from winning the election. He received ample support from minorities and young voters, sectors of the electorate Republicans still find impossible to seduce and that Trump seems to have given up for lost.
English version by Dyane Jean-François.