|Mitch McConnell needs evangelicals to win in Kentucky|
Two forces account for the declining proportions of white evangelical and mainline Protestants: the growth of non-black ethnic minorities and, perhaps surprisingly, the growth of the religiously unaffiliated across the South. Notably, each of these growing constituencies leans decidedly toward Democratic candidates. For example, in 2007, the religiously unaffiliated constituted 12 percent each of the populations of Kentucky and North Carolina. By 2013, the percentage of unaffiliated Kentuckians had jumped nine points to 21 percent, and the percentage of unaffiliated North Carolinians had jumped to 17 percent. While increases in the proportions of the religiously unaffiliated in Arkansas, Georgia, and Louisiana fall short of statistical significance, the patterns all point in the same direction.
So what does this mean for the 2014 elections? Certainly, events on the ground are still paramount; the campaign machines and peculiarities of candidates matter. And in low-turnout elections such as the midterms, the real weight of these demographic and religious shifts will not yet be fully felt at the ballot box. White evangelical Protestants have a strong turnout record, while non-black ethnic minorities and particularly the religiously unaffiliated are much less likely to vote. PRRI’s pre-election American Values Survey found that while two-thirds (65 percent) of white evangelical Protestants report that they were absolutely certain to vote in the November elections, less than half (45 percent) of the religiously unaffiliated report this kind of certainty. But the underlying trends indicate that at least one reason why there are a number of close elections across the South is the declining dominance of white evangelical Protestants, the most stalwart of GOP supporters.
Historians of the South: Feel free to chime in.