CEO Robert P. Jones presented PRRI research and analysis at Elon University’s Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Society on February 4th, 2016. In his presentation, “Race, Religion, and the Changing American Electorate,” Jones argues that changes in religious affiliation, economic malaise, and cultural anxiety help explain the rhetoric and tactics of both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates in the 2016 election.
Jones opens with PRRI research about how America’s rapidly evolving religious landscape is driving the change in social mores and politics in America today:
“People in different generation cohorts think very differently about what it means to be an American and how important certain religious identities are. Older generations have a very different idea about the place of religion—the place of Christianity in particular—and the place of minority religions in American public life than younger people do.”
And despite positive macroeconomic signs, many Americans still feel pessimistic about their economic prospects; these feelings are especially prevalent among working class whites:
“There are big class divides among white Americans. Whites without a college degree are feeling much more pessimistic about the “American Dream” than those with a college degree. That divide is really important for explaining what’s happening in the election. White working-class Americans are feeling a lot of anxiety, not just about economics, but about cultural changes.”
Culturally in America, there is also a growing consternation regarding immigrants, Muslims, and racial tensions, and there are significant divisions of opinion by age and race:
“If you look at whites, about six in ten say that things have changed for the worse since the 1950s, and I think part of that harkening back to when things were better is what we are seeing playing out on the campaign trail.”
All told, Jones concludes that the confluence of changing demographics, economic pessimism, and cultural anxiety has created conditions that resulted in the rhetoric and dynamics of the presidential campaigns, and we’ll continue to see such rhetoric play out through the conventions in July.
Watch the presentation here: