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Summary

  • This briefing discusses recent research on the relationship between faith, religious beliefs, and politics, their influence on voting and political participation, and potential role in the 2022 midterms.  Briefer David Campbell is the Packey J. Dee Professor of American Democracy at the University of Notre Dame and the former chairperson of the political science department.  His research addresses civic and political engagement with a particular focus on religion and secularism, and young people.  His most recent book is Secular Surge: A New Fault Line in American Politics.  He is also the co-author of American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, and Why We Vote: How Schools and Communities Shape Our Civic Life.  He has published scholarly articles in a variety of journals. 

THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C. (Virtual)

MODERATOR:  Good morning and welcome to the latest briefing in the Washington Foreign Press Center’s 2022 U.S. Midterm Elections Series.  I’d like to welcome our regular members as well as overseas journalists.  My name is Jen McAndrew and I’m the moderator.  First I’ll introduce our briefer and then I will give the ground rules. 

Today’s briefing will discuss recent research on the relationship between faith, religious beliefs, and politics, their influence on voting and political participation, and potential role in the 2022 midterms.  Our briefer today is Dr. David Campbell, the Packey J. Dee Professor of American Democracy at the University of Notre Dame and former chairperson of the political science department there.  His research addresses civic and political engagement with a particular focus on religion and secularism, and young people.  His most recent book is Secular Surge: A New Fault Line in American Politics.  He is also the co-author of American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, and Why We Vote: How Schools and Communities Shape Our Civic Life.  He has published scholarly articles in a variety of journals.  I’d like to thank Professor Campbell for sharing his expertise today. 

And now for the ground rules.  This briefing is on the record.  The briefer is an independent expert and the views expressed by briefers not affiliated with the Department of State are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State or the U.S. Government.  Participation in Foreign Press Center programming does not imply endorsement, approval, or recommendation of their views.  We will post the transcript of this briefing later today on our website.  Our briefer will give a presentation and then we will open it up for questions.  If you’d like to ask a question, you can use either the raise hand button or submit your question in the chat.  If you are called on, we’ll ask you to unmute yourself to ask your question.   

And with that, I will pass it over to Professor Campbell.  Over to you.   

MR CAMPBELL:  Well, thank you very much, first for that introduction, Jen.  I appreciate that.  And let me just say welcome to our audience.  It’s thrilling, actually, to speak to such a broad range of people from all over the world.   

As was mentioned, I have, over the course of my career, written a little bit, thought a little bit, spoken a little bit about religion and politics, which of course are the two things that our mothers told us we should never talk about in polite company.  And so today’s presentation comes to you with apologies to my mother, and probably to your mothers as well.   

I’m going to start by sharing my screen, for I do have some slides.  Can everyone see that?   

MODERATOR:  Looks good.   

MR CAMPBELL:  Okay.  I’m going to begin today by highlighting three themes that I will be addressing, and for each of those themes you’ll see I have a little bit of evidence that I’ll discuss, but I imagine that each of them will also get people thinking, maybe trigger some questions.   

The three themes or the three important things to know about religion and American elections that I’ll be discussing today is, first of all, that in the United States today there is no Catholic vote.  I’ll explain more about what I mean by that, but just in brief, we often speak of American Catholics, which are a very large group – roughly a quarter of the population – as though they are a monolithic voting bloc, and I will show you they are not.  They once were, but are no longer.   

Secondly, I will talk a little bit about white evangelicals.  This is a group that gets a lot of attention because, as I will show, they are very much the heart and soul of the Republican Party today.  But I will also show you evidence that not all evangelicals, by which we mean evangelical Protestants in the United States, are alike.  And I do sometimes fear that media coverage of evangelicalism in America is too focused on one group and ignores others that are actually very important to understanding the total tapestry of American evangelicalism and, frankly, what the future of American evangelicalism is likely to be. 

Third, I’m going to talk about the subject that was briefly mentioned in my introduction – that is, secularism in the United States.  This is a subject on which I’ve recently published a book.  And I’ll show you some evidence that the United States is actually undergoing a very dramatic change in which the U.S. is rapidly secularizing, which is a new thing for a country that has historically been highly religious.   

So those are our three themes for today.  We’ll talk about Catholics, we’ll talk about evangelicals, and we’ll talk about the growth of secularism, if you will, or another way to put that is a turn away from religion among many but, of course, by no means all Americans.   

Point number one:  There is no Catholic vote.  In the past, it actually was the case that American Catholics as a group voted very much as a bloc.  So if you go back to, for example, the days of John F. Kennedy, of course our first Catholic president in the United States, in those days roughly 80 percent of American Catholics voted for the Democrat, whoever the Democrat was – whether he was Kennedy, a fellow Catholic, or, frankly, another Democrat who was not a Catholic.  So there was once a time when we could speak of a lot of uniformity among the American Catholic vote.   

But today, when we speak of American Catholics as a group, they look pretty much like everybody else in the population.  And so every election cycle I have reporters call me and want me to comment on the Catholic vote, and what will the Catholic vote be in this upcoming election.  And every time I try to explain there is no single Catholic vote.  You could say there are Catholic votes, plural.  There are different segments, different groups of American Catholics that vote distinctively.  But as a whole, they do not.  And nonetheless, those reporters, after speaking to me and I give my lecture on why there is no single Catholic vote, inevitably write an article with the headline, “What the Catholic Vote Will Do in the Upcoming American Election.” 

Let me just show you some evidence about American Catholics and what I mean by the fact that they’re not especially distinctive.  What you’re looking at is data from a very, very large, nationally representative survey of Americans, and in particular American voters, in 2020.  Each bar shows you the percentage of these groups – Catholics and then all non-Catholics – who voted for Joe Biden for president.  And you can see that, first of all, the two bars look very, very similar to one another, and to the extent there is a difference, Catholics as a whole were actually slightly less likely to vote for Joe Biden, the Democrat, than were everybody else.   

This, of course, is a dramatic change from years past where that line for Catholics would have been much, much higher.  I should also note, however, that there is nothing unusual here about the Biden candidacy because this is pretty much what the Catholic/non-Catholic vote would have looked like in 2016 or even 2012 or even going as far back as 2008.  And frankly, this is what we would expect to see in the upcoming midterm elections with the – sort of the percent Biden vote, if you just sort of think of the percent of people voting for whoever the Democrat is in their congressional district or in their state. 

You might be wondering, well, maybe that’s Catholics as a whole, but what if you look at Catholics and everybody else split up by how often they attend religious services, which we often use as a proxy or a good indicator of how religiously committed somebody is, or at least how religiously active they are.  So let me just show you first of all that as we move from one side of this graph to another – I should note that I have marked on the axis here percent Trump vote; actually this is the percent Biden vote – but the important thing to note is the blue bars, those are the non-Catholics.  You see that there’s a pretty big difference as you move from those who never attend religious services to those who attend weekly or more, but among Catholics there’s actually not much of a difference.  It is true that those who attend weekly – again, I’ve mislabeled this; it should be the percent voting Biden – those who attend weekly are a little less likely to vote for, in this case, Joe Biden or we could think of the Democrat in general.  But not a dramatic difference. 

So we often speak of what’s known as the “God gap” in American elections, or the idea that people who are frequent church attenders are either more or less likely to vote for one candidate or another.  That’s true among some groups but not particularly true among Catholics. 

But you might also be wondering, well, maybe when it comes to voting we don’t see a distinctive Catholic vote, but surely American Catholics must be distinctive on issues – that is, the opinions they hold on various issues.  And I’m actually here to tell you that that’s not the case, and I’ve chosen what is perhaps the hardest case to argue, which is abortion.  You might expect that when it comes to abortion, surely on that issue Catholics, given the teachings of their church, would look different than everybody else.  Well, it turns out that that is also not really the case.  This shows you, again, from a big national survey that I mentioned earlier, the percentage of Americans who believe that all abortion should be illegal. 

Now, I should note that this is actually a pretty extreme position to take, because this doesn’t allow for any exceptions.  And even many pro-life or anti-abortion politicians do allow for some exceptions to an abortion ban in the cases of, say, rape or incest.  This question just simply asked about all abortions and should they be illegal, and as you can see, those two bars look pretty similar to one another, although, again, Catholics are just a little bit more likely than non-Catholics to say that all abortions should be illegal.  Not a big difference.  A slight difference, probably less than most people would expect given the teachings of the church. 

Now, I mentioned that when people ask me about a Catholic vote, I generally respond by saying, well, there’s not a single Catholic vote.  There are multiple Catholic votes, plural, and one of the ways that we can think of there being Catholic votes is to distinguish between white Catholics or what are sometimes called Anglo Catholics in America and Hispanic Catholics.  Hispanic or Latino Catholics are a very large share of the church.  Roughly a third of all American Catholics are Hispanic, and that share is growing.  The share of Catholics who are white is shrinking.  The share of Catholics who are Hispanic or Latino is growing, so it’s an important harbinger of what we can expect to see in the future. 

And as you can see, when you look at the vote for Joe Biden in the 2020 election, Hispanic Catholics were far more likely to vote Democratic.  That was true in 2020 and that will be true again, I’m sure, in 2022.  But you don’t see much difference between the groups on abortion.  Again, this is the percentage of people who oppose all abortions, believe all abortion should be illegal.  And I make that point just again to illustrate that we often have in our heads this idea that abortion is the driving issue and those who are pro-life always vote Republican.  Well, here’s a case where that is actually not the case.  Hispanic Catholics as a group look very much like every Catholic, but nonetheless differ in how they vote, and I would expect to see that in the 2022 midterms. 

So again, with Catholics, a thing you want to remember, there is no single Catholic vote.  And to the extent that there are Catholic votes, plural, Hispanic Catholics differ from Anglo or white Catholics at least in how they vote, even if not in the issue positions that they hold – that is, the attitudes that they have. 

I’m going to move on to my next topic, which is white evangelicals.  As you can see, white evangelicals matter, and I’ll show you some evidence of that in a moment, but – and this is extremely important – not all evangelicals are alike.  So I’m going to talk a little bit about how white evangelical Protestants – again, these are Protestants who either attend a church that we would call evangelical in its theology or they describe themselves as being a born again or evangelical Christian – they are the base of the Republican Party.  And I’ll show you that that’s been the case now for many years. 

However – and this is important to keep in mind – white evangelicals are not all evangelicals in America.  Evangelicals of color often vote differently than white evangelicals, and this often gets missed in the discussion of the evangelical vote in America.  And then I’ll show you a little bit of evidence that I hope kind of gets you into the mindset of many American evangelicals who feel persecuted, which helps to explain many of the policy positions that are taken by especially Republican politicians who are seeking to mobilize the evangelical vote.  They’re often playing on that sense of persecution or that sense that they are losing status in American society. 

All right, so let me move to the evidence for why white evangelicals matter.  What you’re looking at is how white evangelicals – and I’ve just shown as a comparison white Catholics – how they voted in presidential elections going back to 2004.  This is based on exit polls; that’s polls of people as they’re leaving the polling place.  And you can see that the percentage of white evangelicals voting for the Republican candidate, whether it’s George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney, or Donald Trump twice – those numbers have not changed very much.  They’ve been somewhere between 70, upwards of 80 percent.  Donald Trump topped out at about 80 percent of white evangelicals voting for him. 

So there’s been a lot of discussion, of course, in the Trump era about why white evangelicals would vote for Donald Trump, and I can understand why that’s a question.  There are many things about Donald Trump that you might think would not have attracted evangelicals.  But on the other hand, we should remember that in American politics, party matters most.  And so it should not be surprising that a heavily Republican group that had voted for a Republican candidate in the past would continue to vote for the Republican candidate regardless of who it is, whether it’s Donald Trump or Mitt Romney or George W. Bush. 

This is very likely to continue in the 2020 midterm elections, even without a presidential race at the top of the ticket, so I would expect to see that white evangelicals will continue to vote heavily Republican and maybe even more so than what we see reflected here.  And again, I just show the comparison with white Catholics to make the point that it’s not just simply white voters or white religious voters, it’s white evangelicals that are highly distinctive in their support for the Republicans. 

It’s important to note, however, as I mentioned already, that while white evangelicals get all the press, we also have a growing number of evangelicals in America who are Latino, come from a variety of backgrounds that we group together as Spanish-speaking, and similarly there’s also a small but growing number of evangelicals who we would describe as Asian American.  And both of those groups look a lot different than white evangelicals.  White evangelicals are staunchly in the Republican camp, but the other two groups that I’ve highlighted here, they’re only about 50/50.   

And the reason why that’s so interesting is that the theology that these groups have is all basically the same, and even the religious practices are basically the same, yet they come out differently in terms of how they vote.  It’s an important part of understanding the American religious mosaic, at least as it pertains to politics, because it shows us that theology – or at least the religious practices of a group – are not destiny, and so we get more diversity among evangelicals when you look beyond merely white evangelicals. 

As I mentioned briefly, if you want to understand the mindset of American evangelicals, it’s important to recognize that this is a group that feel that they are discriminated against.  So you’re looking at the results from a survey that I’ve done with some of my colleagues, although you could look at other data and they would show you the same results.  In our case, we asked a question asking everyone, regardless of their religious background, do you believe that – and then we named a group – faces discrimination in American society today.  And this shows you the percentage of white evangelicals, Catholics, and then mainline Protestants – another group of Protestants that we think of as being more centrist or even more liberal – do they think that Christians as a group face discrimination.  And you can see that an overwhelming majority of white evangelicals believe that in today’s America they are discriminated against. 

And that is a striking finding.  Those who are not themselves Christian or maybe other Christian groups, they do not share the same view.  You can see that Catholics and mainline Protestants are only about 50/50 on that, and others would – in America would say, why would Christians feel that they’re discriminated against?  They’re the majority, and I see lots of evidence of Christianity all around America even though we ostensibly have a formal separation of church and state.  And yet, nonetheless, white evangelicals have a mindset that they are persecuted.  And the reason why that’s important is we’ve seen politicians, including Donald Trump, but certainly many others running right now, in the 2022 mid-term elections, try to capitalize on this sense of grievance, this sense of being discriminated against.   

So again just to wrap up, white evangelicals are not the whole story.  You want to make sure that you pay attention to evangelicals of color.  And to the extent you want to understand the evangelical mindset, this idea of them being discriminated against is very important.  

Third point I’m going to move to is America’s secular surge, which not coincidentally happens to be the title of a book that I just published that I couldn’t help but mention.  What do I mean by the secular surge?  Well, America has historically been a highly religious country and that’s especially true when you compare the United States to other advanced industrial liberal democracies; the U.S. has for a long time topped out in kind of any measure of religiosity that you might think of.  And yet today, if you look over the last decade or two, we’ve seen a dramatic change as the U.S. has rapidly secularized.  It’s still, on average, on the whole, a pretty religious country when compared to especially our friends in Western Europe, but that’s changing.   

And the reason why that’s important politically is that secular Americans are generally on the political left.  They’re not found in the Republican Party.  They’re generally found in the Democratic Party.  And to the extent that they’re in the Democratic Party, they’re on the progressive edge of the party.  That is, they’re not in the center of the party.  They’re generally farther to the left.  A little evidence on this point:  Perhaps you’ve seen these kinds of numbers before, but it’s worth just reminding ourselves that in the United States over the last 20 to 25 years, we’ve seen a dramatic rise in the percentage of Americans who say that they never attend worship services.  That’s the top line there; that they have no religion.  So when you’re asked what’s your religious identification, they’ll say, well, none, and so sometimes those people are called the “nones.”  And then the last slide in there shows you the percentage of Americans who say they do not believe in God.   

Now, it’s important to note that those lines are all going up, but they’re not exactly the same thing.  It’s possible to never attend religious services but still think of yourself as belonging to a religion.  And many of those people who say they have no religion, they nonetheless still believe in God.  So I don’t want to overstate that Americans are becoming a nation of atheists, but it’s certainly the case that Americans are turning away from at least organized religion.  And there’s some evidence that their world view is beginning to change so that religion is less of a priority for many Americas.   

I do want to make a very important point, though, when we talk about the secular population of America, and that’s a distinction between those who are simply not religious – and that’s the group that gets the most attention.  So when stories are written about this rising tide of non-religiosity in America, the focus is almost always on the group I just mentioned, those who say they have no religion, the nones.  Or there might be some attention paid to Americans who no longer attend religious services.  And that’s an important group; it’s important to keep them in mind, but they’re only part of the story.  Those are people who are simply defined by what they are not or what they are not doing.   

There’s another group that are actually politically more important, I would argue, because their secularism is defined not by what they are not but by what they are.  So I won’t go into these details here, but my colleagues and I have developed a set of measures to try and get inside the heads of Americans and distinguish between those who have a religious secular world view; that includes people who describe themselves using secular language, like I’m an atheist or an agnostic or a humanist.  It includes a set of beliefs that we sort of tap into – where do they find truth and meaning?  Is it in secular sources or religious sources?  

And we find that when you classify people according to this measure of secularism that we have, an affirmative embrace of a secular world view, you get some pretty dramatic differences when compared to those people who are just simply not religious.  One example would be, again turning to the 2020 Presidential vote, the non-religionists, those are people who just simply aren’t religious.  Well, they’re not overwhelmingly supportive of any party.  In fact, they’re not really very involved in politics at all.  Secularists, however – those are the people who have this active or affirmative secular perspective – they are very different.  They’re staunchly Democratic.  As I said, they’re on the progressive side of the Democratic party, and they’re also highly, highly active in politics.  

These are the people who show up at rallies.  These are the people who go out and knock on the doors in order to  get people to vote.  These are the people who are giving the money to candidates.  So they’re a very important bloc in American politics,  And yet they get very little attention – far less attention than, for example, the religious right.  And one reason for that is they’re not nearly as well organized.  They’re out there, but they don’t have an organization or a group of organizations, the way we find on the right.   

I’ve covered a lot of ground here, but let me just pause or bring us to a pause to take some questions by closing on three important points, I think, to look for in the future.  One of them is the growing sense of Christian nationalism in the United States.  So you might think of this soft form of nationalism is the idea that many Americans hold that America has been chosen by God, or that it is primarily a Christian nation, and should be set apart from other nations because it has been preserved as a Christian nation.  That view has long been present in American politics, but it has begun to coalesce around an increasingly militant group often found among white evangelicals, although they’re still a relatively small share of that group.  We saw a manifestation of Christian nationalism on January 6th at the capitol insurrection, but you’ll find it all across the country.  

I don’t want to overstate it.  It’s not as though everyone who holds the belief that America is a Christian nation is necessarily ready to take up arms against their government.  But there certainly is a subset of Americans who do believe that, and those beliefs are rooted in this idea of America being a divinely ordained country.  And that sentiment seems to be growing.  It’s something to keep an eye on.   

The other question is:  Will we see more Democrats use religious appeals as they are out campaigning?  We’ve seen a little bit of this.  In fact, Joe Biden himself – President Biden is quite comfortable talking about his own Catholicism, and here and there we’ve seen examples of Democratic candidates speaking about their religious background.  An example would be Senator Raphael Warnock, who is actually pastor, doing so in his Senate race back in 2020.  But it’s always interesting to ask ourselves:  Will we see Democrats try to appeal more to those religious voters, and not simply cede that territory to the Republicans?  

And then the last thing to keep an eye on that I mentioned when I was discussing the rise of secularism in America, and that’s on whether or not we will see the growth of a secular left movement to parallel the religious right.  I will just close by noting that roughly 40 years ago, there was this new group appearing on the American political scene.  They went by different names.  Sometimes they were called evangelicals.  Sometimes they were called fundamentalists.  Sometimes they just didn’t have a label at all.  But they were growing in their importance.  And today we call them the religious right.  I suggest that we may be seeing something similar happen with secular voters.  We don’t quite know what to call them, but we know they’re growing.  We know that they’re important in politics.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see some form of a secular left growing – maybe not in 2022, maybe not in 2024, but in the medium-term it’s again a trend to keep your eyes on.  

So I will close there.  I appreciate your attention and look forward to all of your questions.  Thank you.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Professor Campbell, for that excellent scene-setter.  We will now begin the Q&A for today’s briefing.  As a reminder, if you would like to ask a question, you can use the “raise hand” button or submit it in the chat.  

To kick us off, I’d like to start with an advance question submitted by one of our overseas participants.  She’s actually here today.  This came from Evita Smilkova from 24 Hours in Bulgaria.  And her question is:  “Do you have research which shows the preferences of the political parties according to religious beliefs?”  And the second part:  “How do you believe religion divides and unites the American society according to political views?”  And Evita, if you’re here and you want to expand on that, you’re welcome to enable your microphone.  

MR CAMPBELL:  So Evita, would you like to elaborate before I take on those questions?   

QUESTION:  No, I’m here.  If there’s anything that I should do a little bit more about it, I can describe it right now.  

MR CAMPBELL:  Okay.   

MODERATOR:  Go ahead, Dave.  

QUESTION:  I would like to — 

MODERATOR:  Okay.   

QUESTION:  – hear your answer first, and if I have anything that is not right, I will open my microphone.  

MR CAMPBELL:  Okay.  Well, the first thing to know is when we talk about the religious beliefs of various Americans, what actually matters more than whether they are a Republican or a Democrat is which religion they affiliate with.  And then those religious groups, in turn, are kind of grouped either among the Democrats or among the Republicans.  So an example would be – I mentioned abortion earlier.  Abortion gets a lot of attention because it’s a dominant issue in American politics.  But the group that is really staunchly opposed to abortion is not Catholics, as I mentioned earlier, but actually white evangelicals.  They are the group that are the most fervently, if you will, opposed to abortion, and of course, white evangelicals, as I noted, generally line up with the Republican Party.  

If you look, however, at other religious groups, you do see more variety in the religious beliefs that they hold and how those might translate into politics.  So let me give you another example of a group that doesn’t perhaps get as much attention lately, but when Mitt Romney was running for president got a lot of attention, and that is American Mormons, or members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as they’re officially known.   

Mormons are not a huge share of the population, but they’re sort of roughly comparable to American Jews.  And the reason why they’re an interesting example of a group where religious beliefs don’t necessarily map easily onto the political landscape is they are a very Republican group, perhaps even more so than white evangelicals.  And yet many of the beliefs that they hold are not the same as evangelicals.  For example, they don’t hold the same belief on abortion.  They also don’t hold the same belief on immigration.  They’re more moderate or liberal, even, on immigration, and yet they nonetheless line up with the Republican Party.  It’s a fascinating development.  

I could go on and rattle off a whole list of religious beliefs, but in general, the way to think about it is religions vary in what they teach, and those teachings often line up with the parties.  And so you end up with groups lining up with the party that match their beliefs, with American Catholics being kind of torn because, as I showed you, they’re kind of split 50/50 between the two parties because some positions that the Catholic Church takes line up with the Republicans; other issues line up better with the Democrats.  

Before I get to your question about religion dividing and uniting, is that responsive?  Is there something more in particular you’d like me to comment on?  

QUESTION:  Yes.  I think that was enough.  

MR CAMPBELL:  Okay.  Now, you asked a question which is going to sound like my publisher planted you in the audience because you asked, do I think that religion is more likely to divide or unite Americans.  And it turns out that that is the very subtitle of a book I published a few years ago with Robert Putnam, who is at Harvard.  The book is called American Grace, and the subtitle is How Religion – pardon me – How Religion Divides and United Us.  Now, we published that book about 10 years ago, and we were very deliberate.  We wanted to put the word “unite” second so that we could emphasize that religion actually can serve to bring Americans together.  

And so I’m kind of on record as saying that, yeah, I actually think there is something to the idea that religion can unite Americans or, at the very least, religion does not have to divide Americans.  In fact, in that book we show pretty high levels of religious tolerance among Americans for people who believe differently than they do.   

Well, 10 years have passed since we published that book, and I have to admit that today I am not as optimistic as I was a decade ago about whether or not religion unites or divides.  I see more evidence today of religious division than I did 10 years ago, and one of the main reasons for that is the fact that we see religion so frequently used in political debate, so that you see often a sharp division between religious and secular Americans, and I showed you a little bit of evidence for that.  But even among religious Americans, you see a pulling apart of religious groups that just see the world differently.  And the more that our politicians capitalize on those divisions, the more it sort of feeds this ongoing polarization along religious lines.  

So bottom line, I was once more optimistic than I am now, but I’m enough of an optimist to think that there’s still hope that we could see more unifying rather than dividing. But that’s going to depend on whether our politicians decide not to use religion as a wedge.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We have a question submitted in the chat.  This is from Jelena Stevanovic from Politika in Serbia.  Her question is:  “Is there any indication that Hispanic Catholics might vote in greater numbers for the Republican Party in the future?”  

MR CAMPBELL:  That’s a very good question, and yes, actually.  So I showed you that today or at least in 2020, Hispanic Catholics or Latino Catholics are largely supportive of the Democratic Party.  And that has actually been true for a long time.  However, we see evidence that more and more Hispanics, including Hispanic Catholics, are moving over to the Republican column.  So as we know from coverage of the 2020 presidential election, to the surprise of many observers, Donald Trump did better among American Latino voters or Hispanic voters than had been anticipated.  He did a little better in 2020 than he did in 2016, and many of those would have been Hispanic Catholics, of course, who were voting for him.  

And we have every reason to think that that trend will probably continue in 2022 and forward.  In this case, I don’t know whether it’s so much that these are Hispanic Catholics that matter; that is, I don’t know if Hispanic Catholics are all that different from other Hispanics.  Rather, I think that the Republican party has worked very hard, not always successfully but nonetheless they have worked, on their outreach to this important voting – important and growing voting group.   

So I would keep an eye on all Hispanics, including Hispanic Catholics, because they are likely to trend, at least a little bit more, toward the Republicans in the years to come.  

MODERATOR:  Okay.  I’d like to return to one of our advance-submitted questions, which is from David Smith with The Guardian in the UK.  His question is:  “Could an atheist be elected U.S. president?” 

MR CAMPBELL:  Again, I almost feel like my publisher has planted this audience – or this question from the audience as well because I could talk at great length about whether or not Americans will vote for an atheist.  I will try to restrain myself and just give you the top line.   

It has long been understood, it’s conventional wisdom in American politics, that to describe yourself as an atheist is politically radioactive.  And an example of this would be Bernie Sanders back in 2016.  He was, in some leaked emails, accused of being an atheist.  And even though Bernie Sanders is very much a guy who marches to the beat of his own drummer, he openly calls himself a socialist, which is also thought to be radioactive in the U.S., he nonetheless went on CNN to say it was outrageous that he would be called an atheist.  Now, I don’t know what Bernie Sanders’ own beliefs are, but it was just very striking that he wanted to be clear that’s not what he – not how he would describe himself.  And if you look at lots of polling data, Americans say they won’t vote for an atheist. 

However, I’m less convinced that that is still the case.  I mentioned that the American population is becoming more and more secular, and my colleagues and I have done a fair amount of research – in fact, I’m even giving a paper on Friday on exactly this question – in which we find that more voters than you might think are willing to vote for a candidate who maybe doesn’t go so far as to describe him or herself as an atheist, but describes themselves in secular language saying things like “I don’t identify with a religion,” for example.  That does not seem to be alienating even to Republican voters.  And when we get to the A-word, “atheist,” Republicans shy away, but Democrats don’t seem to be as concerned about a candidate who describes himself as an atheist. 

There is, however, a bright line.  Our data are very clear that if a candidate describes him or herself as someone who does not believe in God – now, I know that that is technically the same thing as being an atheist, but we can’t assume everybody knows that – when they use that language, “I do not believe in God,” that’s when voters shy away whether they are a Democrat or a Republican. 

Okay.  So to recap, if candidates describe themselves in sort of generically secular terms or indicate that they’re wrestling with religion, that doesn’t seem alienating to voters.  If they describe themselves as an atheist, Republicans aren’t going to support them but Democrats will.  And if they say, “I don’t believe in God,” neither Democrats nor Republicans will support them.  So there is a – there’s a line, a bridge too far that a candidate can go. 

MODERATOR:  We have a hand raised.  I’d like to call on Robert Papa from Tema TV in Albania, if you’d like to enable your microphone and camera and ask your question.   

QUESTION:  Hi, Professor.  Do you have any data about the Muslims – let’s say Muslims that come from Albania, Kosovo, and Balkans?  Do you have any data about that, how they vote democratically?  

MR CAMPBELL:  Yeah, actually I can talk a little bit about – so I – what I can’t do is give you how specific ethnic groups within the Muslim population vote.  That’s actually pretty hard to figure out just because of the way public opinion surveys are.  But I can talk about Muslims as a group. 

QUESTION:  Yes. 

MR CAMPBELL:  As a group, perhaps not surprisingly, they are highly supportive of the Democratic Party.  However – and this is what’s interesting – that has not always been the case.  So if you go back to the 2000 presidential election when George W. Bush faced off against Al Gore, in that election, Muslims actually, at least in some parts of the U.S., voted maybe not overwhelmingly for Bush, but they went pretty strongly for Bush.  The Bush campaign worked pretty hard to mobilize that group and they sort of emphasized traditional values as a way to build a bridge there. 

But after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, all of that changed, and even more recently with Trump’s rhetoric on the Muslim ban and other things that he said, it has just sort of led Muslims to completely shun the Republican Party.  So for the time being, American Muslims seem pretty squarely in the Democratic camp, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. 

QUESTION:  Thank you. 

MODERATOR:  We have another question submitted in the chat.  This is from Andrius Balciunas from LRT in Lithuania.  The question is:  “Is there any division based on religion on the view of what role should the U.S. play in international relations?  For example, those who support Christian nationalism think that the U.S. should be policemen of the world, opposed to pursuing isolationism and the America First trend.” 

MR CAMPBELL:  That’s a very insightful question because you might think that Christian nationalists who believe that the United States has a special role in the world as a Christian nation – that they would be the ones supportive of interventionism, that is that the U.S. would intervene abroad.  But that is not the case.  It’s actually the opposite.  So the groups that we think of as supporting these ideas of Christian nationalism, they are far more likely to believe that the United States should be isolationist. 

The thinking – to the extent there’s any consistency here, but the mindset – the religious mindset would be that the United States should be an example to the world, so the biblical metaphor of being a city set upon a hill, which is something Jesus said and has been often cited – Ronald Reagan made it famous, but lots of politicians use it as well – it is that the United States would demonstrate to the world as a model of the way things ought to be rather than actively intervening in the affairs of other countries.  Now, that’s what you would most likely find a Christian nationalist believing. 

MODERATOR:  We have another advance-submitted question.  This is from Trilce Villalobos from Delfino in Costa Rica.  Her question is:  “Is there any evidence to suggest causality between the recent decline and/or setbacks in democracy in the world and the rise of religious movements within politics in Western countries, especially in the United States?” 

MR CAMPBELL:  Again, that’s a very good question.  I want to be clear there is no inherent reason why religion would be in conflict with democracy; in fact, quite the opposite.  We find in many democratic countries there’s a very healthy religious sector, and that’s, of course, been true in the United States.  And there’s lots of reasons to think that in the United States, what we sometimes call the democratic virtues – the idea of self-government and being knowledgeable about politics and being active in politics – a lot of that is actually fostered in American churches. 

However, the questioner is on to something because both in the United States and in other countries, populist politicians, many of whom are anti-democratic, often do capitalize on religious beliefs or symbols in order to promote their world view of an authoritarian style of government rather than a democratic style of government.  So it’s not religion per se that drives the authoritarianism, the anti-democratic views.  Rather it’s anti-democratic people who are able to frame religion in nationalist terms that, in turn, feeds that anti-democratic impulse.  So it’s a matter of how religion is being used rather than anything intrinsic to religion itself. 

MODERATOR:  We had another question submitted in advance.  This is from Marcheilla Ariesta from Medcom in Indonesia.  The question is:  “How big is the impact of religion-based politics on voters, especially millennials or young people? 

MR CAMPBELL:  Well, that’s a very good question.  So I would say that in the United States, especially really from maybe the mid-1980s to the present, religion has been a very important factor in understanding how people vote, and that’s true whether you’re young or you’re old.   

However, the question about millennials again is very prescient because we do see a very different attitude about the mixture of religion and politics among young Americans than among older Americans.  And when I say that, what I mean is those young Americans, those millennials and even younger, they don’t like it when they see religion and politics mixed together.  In fact, they dislike it so much that when they see it, when they’re exposed especially to the religious right, they often abandon religion.  That is, they stop identifying with a religion because they don’t want to be thought of as a religious person, because to them, to be a religious person means that you are part of the religious right. 

There’s a lot of evidence for this.  I’ve been one of the people who have collected that evidence, but I’m certainly not alone in showing that.  It’s often called the backlash effect, the backlash to the religious right, people pulling away from religion, and you find it most among the young.   

MODERATOR:  We had an advance-submitted question from a reporter who’s actually here, so I’ll let him elaborate if he’d like, but this is from Daud Sulaiman from Mothership in Singapore.  And Professor Campbell, you touched a little bit on this in your presentation, but his question is:  “How fast-growing is the percentage of voters who identify as non-believers, agnostic, or atheist?” 

MR CAMPBELL:  Before I answer, does the questioner want to say anything more or should I just start on it? 

QUESTION:  Yes, hi.  Thank you for taking my question.  You had mentioned this in your presentation earlier, but I was just wondering, how long would it be before this group of people who do not identify themselves as belonging to a particular religion – how long would it be before they become politically significant with regards to elections?  Thank you.  

MR CAMPBELL:  Excellent question because that is definitely the – I think it’s the megatrend to keep your eye on when it comes to American religion, which is that people are turning away from it.   

As I indicated in my presentation, this is a growing group – okay – but you want to keep in mind that distinction that I made:  To only focus on what are sometimes called the nones, the people who don’t identify with a religion, is a mistake.  Because if you only look at those people, you would be led to believe that they’re kind of all over the map politically, that – and that’s true.  And they’re not very active, and that kind of makes sense, right?  They’ve disengaged from religion and that often means that they’ve disengaged from lots of other civic institutions, including politics.  But when you look at that secular group – now, there’s – they’re maybe about a quarter of the population – they are very active, and they are also growing.  And so I would say that – I hinted that there might be a secular left coming.  I think it’s inevitable that we’ll see more discussion of this.  I don’t know whether they’ll be an organized force the way the religious right is.  But it’s inevitable that we will see more and more attention paid to secular Americans. 

And I’ll just say I, as somebody who studies this, I find it surprising that those lines just keep going up.  Every year when we do more surveys, whether it’s myself or the Pew Research Center or other organizations, I expect to see eventually that line to flatten out.  Like, it just can’t keep increasing.  And yet year after year it keeps going up. 

So today we have about a quarter of the U.S. population, they don’t identify with any religion, and then a big portion of that are these highly secular people.  And they’re just growing.  It probably won’t keep growing forever, but at least for the time being, they are. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We’re coming to the end of our time, but I do see we have a hand raised, and we may have time for one more question if anyone would like to submit in the chat or raise their hand.  But for now I will call on Marcel Calfat from CBC Canada.  Marcel. 

QUESTION:  Yes, thank you for that.  Can you hear me? 

MR CAMPBELL:  We can. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  I was wondering, since you were talking about that megatrend of people turning away from religion, could we eventually see them coalescing into some kind of a serious third party, which is lacking in the U.S.? 

MR CAMPBELL:  It’s a good question.  To be honest with you, probably not.  And the reason has less to do with their own beliefs and more to do with the impediments to forming a third party.  The American parties disagree on pretty much everything, except that there ought to be only two parties.  (Laughter.)  And so they’ve – and I’ll just use the word – they’ve conspired, basically, to make it very, very difficult for a third party to emerge.  The rules by which one gets on the ballot in any given state can often be very difficult for a thirdparty candidate.   

But I’d actually go a little further and say a lot of those secular voters that I mentioned, they’re actually quite comfortable in the Democratic Party.  As I said, they’re generally found on the left wing of the Democratic Party, but that’s a vibrant wing, and it’s actually growing, right.  So this is the Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, AOC wing of the party.  And so for the time being, even if it wasn’t so difficult for a third party to emerge, I’m not sure these are folks that would necessarily want to start a third party.  I think they might be very comfortable just continuing in the Democratic Party. 

QUESTION:  Although the Democratic Party does have this difficulty of managing  

MR CAMPBELL:  Yes. 

QUESTION:  — the moderates and the left wing of it. 

MR CAMPBELL:  It does, and those – and that line is often split among more – because it’s not the case that all Democrats are secular; there’s actually quite a few who are quite religious, Joe Biden being just one of many examples.  However, the Democratic coalition, which has always been quite disparate, has somehow found a way to get along, and the better Democratic politicians have figured out a way to do that.  And Barack Obama was actually very good at it.  Thus far, Biden has been reasonably good at it, and we’ll see in the future whether others will continue. 

QUESTION:  Thank you. 

MR CAMPBELL:  I have to note to our friend there from Canada, I hope – I don’t know if you can see this – I have a “Come from Away” poster in my background. 

QUESTION:  I noticed. 

MR CAMPBELL:  So that’s a little shoutout for the Canadians.   

QUESTION:  Thank you, I noticed it.  (Laughter.) 

MODERATOR:  Well, on that note, we’ve come to the end of our time and we will conclude today’s briefing.  On behalf of the U.S. Department of State and Washington Foreign Press Center, I’d like to thank Professor Campbell for speaking to the foreign press today on this important issue within the American political system.  Thank you, and good morning to everyone. 

QUESTION:  Thank you. 

MR CAMPBELL:  Thank you, everyone.  I really appreciate your attention and your questions.  This has been a lot of fun. 

QUESTION:  This was really good.  Thank you. 

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future