How Young Evangelicals are More Politically Diverse Than You Might Think
By Kevin Singer – Co-Director, Neighborly Faith
Evangelical Christians have long been seen as a strictly Republican voting bloc. “These days, everyone assumes that this is just a fact of life: Evangelicals are Republicans, and Republicans are evangelicals,” the Experiment Podcast team noted in The Atlantic. It’s assumed evangelicals toe the line with the Republican party, even blindly so. Some say this marriage eventually culminated in the election of Donald Trump in 2016, while others see so little differentiation between the evangelical faith and the Republican party that they’ve given their union a title: Christian nationalism.
According to a new study, young evangelicals are complicating the matter. “Who is influencing young Evangelicals on politics?” drew surveys from 2,000 young Americans ages 18-25 on their political beliefs and behaviors, including an oversampling of 573 young evangelicals. The study, performed by Neighborly Faith in partnership with Springtide Research Institute and PACE funders group, found that young evangelicals, though exceptionally committed to their churches and leaders, are an eclectic group that defies the default-Republican designation.
Keeping the Faith in the Public Square
Young evangelicals, though they belong to the most diverse generation in American history, are no less evangelical than previous generations as far as their beliefs and behaviors go. About seven in ten agree that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation (70%), their lives are devoted to him (73%), and the Bible is the ultimate authority in faith and life (74%). Young evangelicals are significantly more likely to listen to and interact with a pastor than other Christians and are more likely to view their faith leaders as mentors than young adults of other religions.
Though young evangelicals are the largest religious group among young Americans, there is very little data available on how their faith and their political behaviors intersect. Therefore, mainstream headlines about evangelicals and politics typically focus on older evangelicals and leave out the voices of the community’s future leaders. How is the next generation of evangelicals showing up in civic and political life?
Neighborly Faith found that young evangelicals are more likely than their peers to agree that civic/political activities are important and to participate in those activities.
On average, 42% of young evangelicals are engaged in some civic activity – whether community service/volunteer work, voting, advocating for causes/policies, or engaging with local government – compared to just 37% of born-again Christians, 26% of other Christians, 27% of other religions, and 26% of the non-religious. In the area of contributing to “innovations to help our community,” as much as a stark 23-point difference exists between young evangelicals and their peers who say they’re doing this work often. In every area of civic activity, evangelicals of color are even more exceptional in believing that these activities are important or participating in these activities.
Both/And for Young Evangelicals
The question that remains, of course, is what kind of posture young evangelicals assume when they participate in civic and political activities. The study suggests that young evangelicals are holding a variety of political viewpoints in tension. Young evangelicals show similar levels of satisfaction for America’s major political parties, with two-thirds being at least moderately happy with the direction of the Republican (66%) and Democratic party (64%), while very few by comparison are not happy at all with the Republican (12%) or Democratic party (17%). Similarly, young evangelicals maintain similar levels of trust for President Trump (72%) and President Biden (66%).
Young evangelicals are also listening to, and agreeing with, a diverse cast of political figures. They selected Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Ben Shapiro, Joe Biden, and Elon Musk as the leaders they most often listen to for political perspectives. These are also the leaders they generally agree with most politically.
Surely, this tension must be less prevalent for evangelical minorities, who presumably favor the Democratic party. But this isn’t true. The study showed that young evangelicals of color are more likely to be very/extremely happy with the direction of the Republican party (43%) than White evangelicals (37%). The same is true for non-straight evangelicals, more likely to be very/extremely happy with the direction of the Republican party (44%) than straight evangelicals (39%), and evangelical women, more likely to be very/extremely happy with the direction of the Republican party (40%) than evangelical men (36%). Whether they have a minoritized identity or not, many young evangelicals are appreciative of competing political parties and voices that are often thought to be irreconcilable.
The same goes for political issues. Scores of young evangelicals say that racial/ethnic issues (53%), prison reform (46%), climate change (51%), and economic inequality (53%), typically associated with the Democratic party, are very/extremely important to how they vote. Similar numbers say that border control (44%), violent crime (55%), and taxes (57%), typically associated with the Republican party, are very/extremely important to how they vote. This suggests that young evangelicals are resonating with an evolving pro-life message from “womb to tomb” that is becoming more prevalent in the evangelical community.
A Glimpse of the Future
In young evangelicals, we see a glimpse of where Gen Z and generations after might take us — and that is where we least expect. Though young evangelicals check the boxes of what we might expect in terms of their beliefs and behaviors, they are gearing toward a civic/political future that is appreciative of political diversity and compassionate toward people of other world views.
As the 2024 presidential election approaches, headlines will abound about the evangelical vote. But more often than not, young evangelicals aren’t the ones making the front page. Yet, their potential impact on the future of evangelical faith, and on bipartisan politics, cannot be understated. As part of the largest generation in America, already flexing their political power and winning elections, young evangelicals represent what American politics could be – less polarized, more civil. If they stay the course, they may be just the kind of leaders we need on both sides of the aisle.
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Kevin Singer (MA, Wheaton College) is Co-Founder and Director of Neighborly Faith, a national organization promoting dialogue and friendship between evangelical Christians and Muslims, as well as Head of Media and Public Relations for Springtide Research Institute, which studies the spiritual lives of Gen Z.