Race Still Matters. Religion … Maybe.

Results of the Millennial Values and Voter Engagement survey released by the Public Religion Research Institute in early October indicate at least one thing:  the racial divide remains.  It also indicates that Barack Obama’s support is stronger among younger voters who are Catholic, minority Protestant, and religiously unaffiliated.  For a variety of reasons, I suspect, he speaks to them better than his Republican opposition.

Back in 2009, The Pew Research Center reported that the millennial generation (born between 1981-2000) is more diverse racially and ethnically, less religiously affiliated, more plugged in, and more politically progressive than their predecessors.  Each of these things seems confirmed and emphasized in this month’s PRRI survey.

Particularly regarding diversity, especially around race and religion, I can’t help but recall this statement from President Obama’s inaugural address:

“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.  We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.  We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.”

Many news outlets reported that this was the first time that a U.S. president acknowledged non-believers in an inaugural address.  To be clear, there were a whole lot of God references thrown in too, and Rick Warren delivered the invocation that day.  But the fact that it was mentioned at all was significant.  Diversity, it seems, extends beyond racial lines to religious ones as well.

And yet despite their diversity, millennials are as racially divided as their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

A few summary statements about this latest survey from the news release:

Despite being a highly diverse generation known for its acceptance of difference, the PRRI/Berkley Center survey finds surprisingly persistent racial divides among younger Millennials. Obama commands an overwhelming lead among black (97 percent) and Hispanic (69 percent) younger Millennial voters, while Romney has an 11-point advantage over Obama among white younger Millennial voters (52 percent vs. 41 percent).

These racial divides also hold true among religious voters. Eight-in-ten (80 percent) white evangelical Protestant younger Millennial voters and a slim majority of white mainline Protestant younger Millennial voters (51 percent) favor Romney. Obama, however, maintains an advantage among Catholic younger Millennial voters overall (55 percent vs. 38 percent) religiously unaffiliated younger Millennial voters (68 percent vs. 23 percent), and minority Protestant younger Millennial voters (70 percent vs. 26 percent).

“There are striking differences along racial lines about the role of faith in the lives of presidential candidates,” said Dr. Thomas Banchoff, director of Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. “Strong majorities of black and Hispanic younger Millennials say it is important for presidential candidates to have strong religious beliefs, while a majority of white younger Millennials disagree.”

The fact that this generation is as divided as the rest of us along racial lines ought to be a flashing signal about work yet to be done.

 

About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.


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