Editor's Note - Young evangelicals should be reliable allies for freedom given their views on social issues, but some are being wooed away by the Left’s social justice happy-talk. The Special Report below – by a recent college graduate - indicates how to keep young evangelicals in the fold by addressing their social justice concerns. It is not a matter of pandering to them or becoming Democrats in our core beliefs; it is an exercise in effectively articulating our long-standing principles: why we emphasize economic growth, the fact that capitalism has produced more prosperity for more people than any other system, ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’, Reagan’s formulation ‘the best welfare program is a job’, the fact that private charity has proven more effective than government handouts, etc.
Memo to the Right on Attracting Young Evangelical Voters
by Greyson Peltier
Evangelical Christians have long been a key demographic for the Republican Party and showed very high support for President Trump in the presidential election - over 80% for white evangelicals. However, there has been question as to whether or not this would carry over to younger evangelicals, and for good reason. Younger Americans are one of the most socially conscious segments of our society, reflected in preferences toward brands with social causes and support for candidates like Bernie Sanders. Obviously, this pattern of political thinking would not bode well for conservatives. The politics of young evangelicals have not been adequately analyzed, so as a political science student at the University of Southern California, I decided to survey fellow Christians on-campus to determine if these trends toward social justice were present in young evangelicals and if they led to reduced turnout, or worse, less participation in their faith. In my opinion, the latter is the worse outcome, as my principal concern as a Christian is that the souls of those around me were not being jeopardized by anything, even ideas about politics, and that all of God’s commands would be lived out in His church. Hence, I decided to study the possibility of alternative pathways that could include both a conservative political identification and addressing social justice issues being supported by young evangelicals. This is a possible win-win situation for conservatives, churches, and younger individuals.
The study included 24 participants between the ages of 18-34 surveyed online. Over 90% of our sample was registered to vote and over 79% voted in the last election, which is much higher than the overall participation rate of 58%, showing promise for participation in a demographic that is oft ignored by campaigns. 58% identified as Republicans, 29% as Democrats, showing the GOP still has an advantage, though not large. There’s a disconnect between identification and voting, as only 30% voted for President Trump and 50% voted for Clinton. This may be attributed both to the qualms many Republicans had about President Trump and the particular antagonism of younger individuals to the President’s ideology. On social issues, the majority opposed same-sex marriage (58.33%) and abortion (62.5%). I paid special attention to income inequality, finding that 78% believe it is at least moderately important and 45% saying it’s extremely or very important. Given this, the vast majority of respondents had a discontinuity between their policy preferences for social issues (GOP-leaning) and income inequality (Democrat-leaning).
The main takeaways for conservative leaders are that young evangelicals (at least in our sample) are willing to identify with the GOP at a lesser, but still good, rate and are aligned with conservatives on social issues but place great value on the income inequality issue, which isn’t seen as the GOP’s strong suit. They also show a high propensity to vote, making them strong prospects for outreach efforts.
If Republicans and conservatives wish to engage young evangelicals, they should appreciate and capitalize upon the advantage of identification on social issues among those who have that preference, though not excessively as there is waning interest compared to older evangelicals shown in other studies, but also work creatively with strong preferences on social justice issues. Rhetoric delegitimizing these issues and/or simply avoiding them doesn’t change the preferences of young evangelicals, hence the best option is to accommodate, not rebuke, these ideas. Conservatives can accomplish this by first explaining their economic policy as being beneficial not just for the somewhat nebulous end of “economic prosperity,” which liberals think means “making the rich richer,” but for helping the less fortunate. However, such is only the beginning. Conservatives, particularly those who emphasize the Christian faith, should emphasize and embrace (not just passing mention of) private sector-oriented approaches to income inequality and other social justice issues. Though the majority did rank the government as being most important in addressing income inequality, over 80% believe that actions of Christians in private spheres can make a significant difference. It may also help to make things personal and address the economic straits of many younger individuals who are having trouble securing good-paying employment, which may make this issue more important.
Overall, conservatives will face some considerable challenges reaching young evangelicals as they are not as attached to the GOP, show inconsistencies in voting versus identification, have a lesser rate of opposition for social issues, and have preferences on income inequality that are inconsistent with the perception of the GOP’s positions. However, there is hope for those young evangelicals who hold conservative social issues positions to come to the Republican side should their social justice-related preferences be adequately addressed.
The full study is available here. Survey questions as displayed to respondents and complete survey results are also available.
Greyson Peltier is the founder of Off Speed Solutions and a graduate of the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science.