A recent report from the US-based Public Religion Research Institute found that the percentage of white evangelicals in the US has dropped from a little over 20 per cent down to 14 per cent between 2016 and 2020.
Speaking on ABC Radio’s Late Night Live program, Associate Professor David Smith explained that the report findings weren’t focusing on people’s religious beliefs or practices, but instead their religious identity. But what then does a decline in people identifying as evangelical Christians suggest?
“What could be going on here is American religious identity is very bound up with political identity,” Professor Smith said, “what has happened is what 'evangelical' signifies, especially white evangelical, is ‘political conservative’ and over the last five years that has meant specifically Trump supporter.”
“So, it’s maybe not that there are fewer believing evangelicals out there, it's that there are fewer people who want to identify with this label that has become so identified with Trump,” Professor Smith continued.
While this shift could be beneficial for President Biden, an openly devout and practicing Catholic, Professor Smith warns the disconnect between religious belief and practice and the way religious politics is bound up with Americans’ identities could be inverse.
“Because for very conservative Catholics in the United States, they would probably much prefer Trump than Joe Biden, an actually believing Catholic,” said Professor Smith.