The religious landscape is undergoing massive change. It could decide the 2024 election

By | May 19, 2023

Ryan Burge writes:

One of the most significant shifts in American politics and religion just took place over the past decade and it barely got any notice: the share of Americans who associate with religion dropped by 11 points.

It’s a development of tremendous impact, one that will ripple across the political landscape at every level — and especially in presidential politics. Why? Because of what it means for the God Gap — the idea that the Republican Party is the one that fights for the rights of religious individuals (primarily Christians), while Democrats have become increasingly secular over time.

People are not fleeing organized religion at equal rates across the United States. Instead, there are regions of the country where religious adherence is still relatively robust, while other areas have seen a wholesale abandoning of organized religion. We know this because of the tireless work of the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. Every 10 years, they contact as many religious denominations as they can and ask to see their official membership records. This data provides an unprecedented look at where religion is growing and declining in the United States.

The 2020 U.S. Religion Census, which was released late last year, reveals that religion is taking a beating across the middle part of the country. When comparing the rate of religious adherents in 2020 versus 2010, a fascinating pattern emerges, illuminating the political relevance of the shifting religious landscape: Democrats are making gains in areas where religion is fading (the census defines non-religious as the percentage of a county’s population that does not show up on the rolls of any religious organization in that county) and Republicans are increasing their vote share in places where houses of worship are gaining new members.

When people think about where religion is declining, it’s likely they point to regions like the Pacific Northwest or New England. But the drops in adherents in those parts of the country are fairly modest compared to other regions of the United States.

Across the industrial Midwest, in former Rust Belt states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that are absolutely essential to the Democrats’ firewall in 2024, there is good news for the party — each of those states is much less religious today than it was just 10 years ago. [Continue reading…]