Depending on which media source you read, the recent election marked the Fall of the Religious Right, the End of White America, or the Collapse of the Republican Party (you know, like the Democratic Party vanished for ever in the 1980s, never to rise again). Nobody is underestimating the scale of the calamity for conservatism and conservatives, but some of the long-term prognoses do miss critical points.

No argument, the Republican Party did very badly indeed. Personally, I’d pay less attention to Obama’s victory over a seriously flawed Republican candidate, and much more to the disastrous Republican failure to win a roster of what should have been easy Senate seats. Republicans lost heavily among groups who are assuredly going to grow in numbers and influence in coming decades, including Latinos, Asian-Americans and African-Americans. They did atrociously among women and especially among younger voters. As Rich Benjamin suggested in Salon, Whites-only GOP meets its demographic destiny: “The creaking noise you hear? It’s the sound of conservative white men trying to fight off change — and failing.” Conversely, Democrats have gained a lock over younger, urban and new ethnic communities. This is all the more damaging as the country moves towards majority-minority status, in which no one ethnic group commands an overall majority. This shift is projected to be complete by around 2042.

By that point, presumably, a few breeding pairs of Republicans will be allowed to live semi-wild on a national park in Montana with a view to preserving the race from utter extinction.

Some commentators noted that 2012 marked the victory of a new Democratic coalition, which is young, urban, multi-ethnic, and significantly less religious. And that is the point at which I would like to ask, What is wrong with this picture?

Let’s think of the next twenty or thirty years, as the US moves to its polychrome future, with the steady growth of Latinos, Asian Americans, and African-Americans. And these are “irreligious” communities? Mexicans, Central Americans, South Asians, Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans, Filipinos, Nigerians and other Africans, old-stock black Americans … am I not describing some of the most actively religious sections of the US population? And with the exception of South Asians, also the most passionately Christian. By mid-century, Latinos and Asians could make up 80 percent of US Catholics, and they are already very well represented among Pentecostal and evangelical churches. Go to any college campus and watch the ethnic makeup of the Christian organizations. These are the leaders of tomorrow’s churches, and usually they are not old-stock whites. Often, they are first or second generation immigrants.

Undeniably, any Republican or conservative movement has to acknowledge the demographic shifts currently in progress if it wants to survive, and above all that has to mean recognizing the ethnic transformation. A party based wholly on the support of older, white, rural and small-town America is destined for the scrapheap – especially if white America is beginning to secularize. Nor is that broadening of the ethnic base necessarily that difficult: George W. Bush scored well among Latinos as recently as 2004, before the acute rise in tensions over immigration. There is no logical reason why Republicans should be doing so badly among so many of the newer ethnic communities – Christian, Muslim and Hindu – who are deeply committed to entrepreneurship, and who desperately want and need pro-business policies.

At the same time, though, an ethnic reorientation certainly does not imply taking aboard the whole liberal social agenda, which is anathema to so many of those newer groups, largely on religious grounds. The cities of a future majority-minority America could well be marked by powerful ethnic churches and religious institutions with distinctly conservative positions on issues of morality and sexuality. (Prior to September 11, morality issues actually led many Muslim voters to favor Republicans as their natural allies).

I wonder whether we might see a political shift quite similar to that among white ethnics in the 1960s and 1970s, when moral and religious concerns dragged millions of voters away from their traditional Democratic moorings, to become a solid conservative voting bloc.

The End of White America? Well, hardly…. But assuredly not the collapse of the politics of religion and morality, faith and family. If a future Republican Party can’t build on that base, they deserve to be obliterated.



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  • Miles Mullin

    As usual, an insightful article from Dr. Jenkins.

    Bush also did well among Latinos in the 1998 gubernatorial election in TX, winning around 40%. He also managed to win one of the largest shares of the African American vote (~20% ?) that a republican candidate has seen in recent years. But, that was a pre-9/11 Bush.

  • Craig

    Sounds like conservatives will now be gung ho practitioners of affirmative action. A shame it’ll motivated by political expediency only.

  • Great stuff. One little push-back with respect to rise of typically religious minorities is to factor in the effect of second-generation secularization and liberalization. Second and third generation children in many of these communities tend to be more liberal both politically and religiously than their parents, especially as they are assimilated into the broader streams of popular culture, etc. So, that might be something to factor into your analysis.

  • I love this blog, read it all the time, and love the scholarly work of Dr. Jenkins. I would truly like to share his views (maybe its my amillenialism?). But as a Political Scientist studying culture, polarization and Americans’ political behavior, I can’t. I just don’t think that cultural trends give the Republicans and conservatives in general much reason to be optimistic. I try to explain why by addressing Dr. Jenkins’s essay at my own blog here:

  • johnturner

    Republicans are doomed. Just kidding. A few musings in response:

    I do think that immigration is going to continue to make the United States an unusually religious — and unusually Christian and perhaps even an unusually evangelical — nation over the next several decades. I’m less convinced this will be salutary for the Republican Party.

    “There is no logical reason why Republicans should be doing so badly among so many of the newer ethnic communities – Christian, Muslim and Hindu – who are deeply committed to entrepreneurship, and who desperately want and need pro-business policies.” So why are Republicans doing so badly among such groups? I hear (haven’t actually seen the data) that a very large % of Asian Americans voted for Obama this year. I wonder how that breaks down among different nationalities, and I wonder what the % for evangelical Asian Americans was.

    I don’t believe that most Latinos, Asian Americans, etc. embrace the anti-government rhetoric (it’s most rhetoric, rather than reality) of the Republican Party.

    I was looking at the 2012 exit poll this week. It struck me that Republicans only do well with white voters. They only do very well with white men. In terms of major voting blocs, they only do off-the-charts well with “white evangelicals.” 26% of voters described themselves as white evangelicals, and the Republican won nearly all of those votes. The trouble is, they didn’t win much of anything else. 60% of other Americans (i.e, not white evangelicals) voted for Obama. That figure includes a large number of theological conservative African Americans and Latinos.

  • John Evans

    Hello Derek. I find I agree with you. With the ‘nones’ being a rapidly growing demographic, largely among the young, I suspect the only way the Republicans can regain their footing is to focus on economics and foreign policy, and distance themselves from the idea of guiding culture.

  • Kim Hampton

    I wonder why more people haven’t really paid attention to what may be the greatest lesson that the black church has taught when it comes to religion and society. That lesson being…one can be PERSONALLY conservative yet also be SOCIALLY/POLITICALLY moderate/liberal.

  • I am a traditional republican, an Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, GHWB, Bob Dole type. Somewhere in the 90’s the GOP began losing people like me. I am career Army, an Evangelical in the United Methodist Church, socially moderate, opposed to extremism. I don’t like abortion, I don’t advocate a radical agenda, I despise elitism (of left or right). The GOP has become everything I am not. The GOP still doesn’t get it and probably never will. We moderates will probably continue to vote Democratic because the GOP doesn’t want us anymore and the Dems will hear us.

  • David Naas

    As an OWG (Old White Guy), I was president of my College Young Republican’s Club back in the ’60’s. I always thought of myself as conservative *(small “c”), until this millenium. There is nothing very Christian or conservative about the Republican Party these days, especially its subservience to the likes of Rushbo, Grover Norquist, Glen Beck, the Koch Brothers, Karl Rove, et cetera ad nauseum.
    After the execrable behavior of the Rightwing Noise Machine for the last two years (and for much longer, I know), I finally had enough. The only way to turn the Republican Party around is to vote Democratic until they catch on and have a (dare I say it) Come to Jesus moment. This country really needs both liberal and conservatives in politics, but NOT the whackos who have moved from the lunatic fringe into center court in the last 20 years.
    But — they obviously haven’t learnd their necessary lessons yet, according to the postmortem analysis I have seen. (Marco Rubio, “I’m not a scientist, man.” — and HE is considered a rising young star? Give me a break, people!)
    When I was a kid, if I failed to behave in public, I was taken to the woodshed. If I failed to leard the first time, the lesson was repeated until I did learn it. The Republicans need a few more trips to the woodshed. (And, by then, it will probably be the Democrats turn.)

  • Barry

    “Personally, I’d pay less attention to Obama’s victory over a seriously flawed Republican candidate,…”

    Please note that Romney was the best that the GOP could put forth. If the nominee had been Santorum, or Gingrich, Perry, or any of the others, there would have been a incredible Democratic sweep.

    This is a problem for the GOP.

  • Philip Jenkins

    That’s a fair comment.

  • LesbiaTheFormerTeapartier

    Republicans show active contempt for minorites and women. They cannot win the support of people while exuding tone deftness on lgbtq equality, reproductive health, health reform, the income gap, immigration etcetera. They’re incapable of anything beyond pandering while still being prideful ignorami.

  • Philip Jenkins

    Just thinking about this – put another way, we should be impressed that a candidate as weak as Romney scored 48 percent of the popular vote, which is roughly what Santorum etc would have garnered. And that was against an incumbent, who always carries the advantages of office. Just think what they might have done with an appealing candidate (and no, I don’t know who that might have been).

  • plutosdad

    So white people started voting republican in the 60s “when moral and religious concerns” moved them to change? I think you need to read up on The Southern Strategy and see what the Republicans did to attract those white voters. This is not some weird conspiracy by the Left, Nixon flat out said his war on crime commercial was all about race, though race was never mentioned publicly. All the people at the top knew this. There is a famous letter from George Romney to Buchanan exhorting him that the southern strategy is reactionary, evil, and a path to irrelevancy.

    It just took longer than Romney Sr predicted for all this to come true.

    If you want to start attracting minorities, many of whom are socially conservative, you don’t need to even give more welfare (though not pulling the rug out from poor people in the middle of the worst recession in decades would be nice) but the best first step would be to end the war on crime and war on drugs, which are really just wars on poor brown skinned people. This may help stop the conveyor belt from crappy mostly minority public schools straight to privately run prisons that have zero incentive to rehabilitate people (actually the incentive is to make them come out worse, which they do), and actually bring back fourth amendment rights by putting a justice with criminal defense experience on the supreme court.

  • Craig

    White, male evangelicals have become a political liability. Maybe time to have a 2 Samuel 16:22 moment with them. Do it publicly and in full daylight.

  • Ted Seeber

    The GOP will only survive if it finds a pro-life Latina Grandmother to put forth as the next Candidate for the Presidency.