Dr. Daniel Cox lectures about the changing evangelical demographics and the influence they have on politics in America


On Tuesday, the political science department and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) co-hosted a lecture by Daniel A. Cox, Ph.D. In his lecture, Cox discussed the changing demographics of religious institutions and how they affect politics in the U.S. 

The main points discussed included the shifts in white protestant, white Catholic and non-affiliated religious populations over about the last 10 years. According to Cox, people under 30-years-old are identifying with the unaffiliated groups more than previous generations. 

Additionally, Cox explained there has been a significant decline among white Christians. The accelerated growth of the unaffiliated group jumped from five percent to 23 percent, but this growth is not as linear as many would suspect. In the last 25 years, there has been accelerated growth unequal to that before it. 

Another major point Cox touched on was that there has been a dramatic decline in religious participation and an increase in the percentage of U.S. adults who report they never attend worship services. 

Pew Research Center supports this claim by saying that Protestantism and Catholicism populations declined from 51 percent to 43 percent in 2009. This plays into the fact that Americans raised without a religion are more likely to remain unaffiliated than they were in the past. By 2010, 63 percent of those raised nonreligious stayed nonreligious, according to Cox.

Through a survey, Cox showed research indicating that among the reasons for leaving religion, the most important reason was that many people just stopped believing. 

Ashley Tarabetz, a senior political science major who attended the lecture, said she found this part of the presentation the most shocking. 

“I was really shocked to find that the main reason for leaving the church is just stopping believing,” Tarabetz said. “We’re a very tactical generation, we believe in what we can see…[and] we believe in what there’s research to support. Unfortunately, religion doesn’t have a whole lot of that as much, so it’s easier to just not believe.”

Cox went on in the lecture to connect these changing religious affiliations to the political situation and views of different demographics. In regards to morality in politicians, white evangelicals’ views on that issue have shifted. In 2011, most religious people said that a politician could not behave ethically if they were not moral but in 2016, 72 percent of evangelicals say politicians can still behave ethically, according to Cox. 

Along those lines, Cox spoke about how white evangelicals now say immigration is a top concern while young white evangelicals expressed more positive views of immigrants, two thirds saying immigrants are better for the country. Cox finished by speaking about the growing religious polarization of the country and the divide it has caused between Republicans and Democrats. 

Most of the audience consisted of political science students and AEI members. These topics can be prevalent to the average college student, if not now then definitely in the future, according to Caleb Linden, the executive council chairman of AEI. 

“Certain lectures might not be applicable at the current time but they’re applicable for knowledge later on in life…and how you’ll want to vote in the future,” Linden said, “Our goal [as an organization] is to create dialogue on campus around important issues affecting our livelihood, our future careers [and] what’s going to be affecting our lives in the political atmosphere as we grow older,” he said.

Tarabetz also had an applicable take away for the average college student here at APU. 

“I think it’s good [to know about] because this is all about meeting people where they are as Christians, going out there and spreading the Word or doing whatever it is that you feel called to do by God,” Tarabetz said.