By Molly Igoe
On Wednesday, Sept. 28 in Hynson lounge, Dr. Robert Jones and Dr. Stella Rouse spoke about the changing American electorate in the first lecture of the series “Who’s Choosing the President?”
Dr. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute and author of “The End of White Christian America,” began by discussing the 2012 re-election of President Barack Obama, which he said elicited an emotional, visceral reaction to the issues at stake. He said, “During the last two elections, the U.S. has become a minority white Christian nation, and in the near future we will be a majority nonwhite country.”
He explained that the term “White Christian America” is a metaphor for the cultural and political edifice built by white Protestant Christians that has shaped the country’s ideals and values for much of it’s history.
As the CEO of PRRI, it is only fitting that he showed many graphs illustrating the changing American electorate. Data from 2015 showed that 45 percent of Americans identified as white and Christian, and 53 percent favored same-sex marriage, which demonstrates accelerated cultural change. The data he presented also showed that white Christian identity decreases as age decreases, with older Americans, 65 years or older, being the most likely to identify as Christian.
He spoke about the difference between evangelical Protestants like Baptists, who tend to be more conservative, and mainline Protestants like Episcopalians, who tend to be less conservative. Although there has been a decrease of white Christians in the electorate, they still make up 55 percent of voters because of high registration and high voter turnout.
In the 1992 presidential election, Bill Clinton won 60 percent of the white Christian vote, while in 2012, Barack Obama only won 37 percent, which highlights how the Democratic party has shifted significantly away from this demographic. The Republican party, however, still pulls in about the same amount of votes from white Christians.
In 1992, the presidential candidate won 86 percent of votes from this electorate, and in 2012, Mitt Romney won 80 percent. Dr. Jones said that the GOP is still reliant on this shrinking pool of voters, and despite efforts to appeal to minority groups, this approach has proven unsuccessful, primarily due to the rise of Donald Trump.
Dr. Jones said, “In the current election, white evangelical Trump supporters are filled with nostalgia for the 1950s. Trump has converted these voters from value voters to nostalgia voters. His slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ appeals to this group, because the ‘again’ part speaks to the mythical golden age of the ‘50s.”
Dr. Stella Rouse switched gears to focus on the Latino electorate in the 2016 elections. Dr Rouse is an associate professor of government and politics and director of the University of Maryland’s Center for American Politics and Citizenship. She is the author of “Latinos in the Legislative Process,” coming out soon.
She began by saying how Latinos are spearheading the demographic shift in the electorate, making up 60 million of the U.S. population this year. Like Dr. Jones, she reiterated that we will soon be a majority-minority country due to the rise of the Latino electorate and the decline of the white Christian electorate.
Dr. Rouse then shared some important facts about the Latino population in America that illustrates how influential they are in the upcoming election. First, they are significantly younger than the rest of the country: 70.3 percent are members of Generations X and Y, versus 50.7 percent non-Latinos that
make up this same category. There is an increasing amount of native-born Latinos; in 2012, 48.4 percent had been born in the U.S. More and more of the population has become English-dominant, with 69 percent of third generation Latinos identifying English as their dominant language.
Latinos statistically possess less educated in comparison to the rest of the country. In 2013, they experienced a 6.6 percent unemployment rate compared to the national unemployment rate of 5.3 percent. Many also hover right around the poverty line and make far less money than any other demographic group in the country.
Dr. Rouse spoke about the Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) among Latinos, which lags behind the rest of the country. Only 41 percent can vote, compared to 77 percent of white citizens who can vote and 68 percent of black citizens. She partly attributed this to the fact that so many Latinos are younger than the rest of the country, so many are not of voting age yet, or are not naturalized citizens.
She also discussed the issue of immigration, especially in this election, by showing data about Latino issue priorities in 2016. Thirty-eight percent viewed immigration as a top priority and 34 percent saw anti-Latino/immigration discrimination as a priority as well. Dr. Rouse said, “Immigration has been made very salient to Latinos, so it is at the top of the issues they care about.” Surprisingly to some, 21 percent of Latinos are favorable towards Trump. Dr. Rouse attributed this to his promises to fix the economy, which appeals to many workers, and said that some people are probably not bothered by his talk about immigration or the wall that Mexico will pay for.
Dr. Rouse also made it clear that Latino voters do not only care about immigration, but that they are just as interested in other issues that the rest of Americans prioritize like public schools, aid to the poor, the environment, crime, childcare, border security, and the war on terror.
Latinos are especially interested in environmental issues because they disproportionately live in areas with the most severe environmental hazards and risks. Dr. Rouse pulled up data showing that 70 percent of Latinos believe in climate change and believe that it is caused by humans, compared to 44 percent of whites who believe this. As a result, they tend to prefer pro-environment candidates.
In the end, Dr. Rouse said, “The GOP are working like Mad Men in a Modern Family World,” in reference to the popular shows “Mad Men” and “Modern Family,” to make the case that the Republican Party is so stuck in their old ways in appealing to white Christian voters that they are losing opportunities to gain support from groups like Latinos who are wielding more and more influence over the outcome of elections.