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Survey: More White Americans adopted Evangelical identity during Trump term

by Premier Journalist
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Reuters/USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect

A new survey by Pew Research found that more people in the United States adopted the label of Evangelical than abandoned it.

The Pew Research Center released a new survey analysis reviewing one's affiliation with faith groups. Pew surveyed the American Trends Panel respondents with interest in how they changed their views on Evangelicalism and Trump. According to Pew's respondents, individuals identified as Protestant stayed about the same between 2016 and 2020. However, things changed when respondents were asked if they identified as Protestant Evangelicals. In 2016, 25 percent of respondents said they were Protestant Evangelicals, while 29 percent said the same in 2020. When the survey noted changes in whether someone identified as Evangelical, they found that more people chose to start identifying as evangelicals than those who stopped identifying. 

When it came to Protestant non-evangelicals, the survey found that more people stopped identifying as Evangelicals than started. While 20 percent of respondents said they identified as Protestant Not-Evangelical in 2016, only 17 percent of respondents said the same.

Pew also found that 16 percent of respondents, or one in six respondents, who did not identify as Evangelical in 2016 and held positive views of Donald Trump ended up identifying as Evangelical in 2020. However, the data could not find any significant evidence that Trump Skeptics or Trump opposers were likely to leave Evangelicalism in any considerable amount between 2016 and 2020. Non-White respondents were also somewhat ambivalent when it came to Trump. Non-White respondents were equally as likely to stop calling themselves Evangelical as they were likely to start calling themselves Evangelicals. 

There have also been significant shifts among Catholic and non-religious folk who began to identify as Evangelical. This data leads some to believe that Evangelicalism is becoming more of political identity, rather than solely a religious one within the United States. "...Evangelicalism is not just influencing all of American Christianity; it's seeping into all aspects of American religion." writes Ryan Burge, a professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University. "More Catholics are Evangelical today than ever before; the same is true for mainline Protestants. Many Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists now take on the moniker."

What does this mean? Interpretations have varied. Sociologist Samuel Perry tweeted out that "Before evangelical leaders cite this as vindication that aligning w/Trump has not hurt the mission, I would CAREFULLY read the findings to see where the growth is coming from. These aren't conversions to Jesus; it's the further politicization of the label."

Others are less skeptical about the implications of this analysis. "There are significant implications to the fact that significant numbers of white Trump supporters now identify as evangelical or born again. We don't know why, and correlation does not always mean causation, but there is more to study here." Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, told Christianity Today.

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