Brie Loskota and Rebecca Sager published on Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times on May 31, 2018.
Franklin Graham, the evangelical preacher and son of Billy Graham, is in the midst of a 10-city tour of California in the run-up to Tuesday’s primary election, rallying conservatives to “turn this state around.” That may seem like a pipe dream, given the dramatic shifts in America’s religious landscape: In 2003, 21% of Americans were white evangelicals; by 2017, that number had dropped to 13%. Meantime, those identifying with no religion — the so-called “nones” — grew from 12% to 22%.
But Graham is banking on something else besides sheer numbers. Evangelical churches have maintained their core institutional strengths, including megachurches that still can coordinate blocs of voters, wealth amassed over decades, media outlets and donors ready to fund candidates. The nones? They have none of that.
Although a shrinking voter base should mean less influence, that’s not how political power works in the United States. A cohesive and reliable base often can impose its will on a larger but less-organized portion of the electorate. (If political power were solely a numbers game, the fact that 7 in 10 Americans support tighter gun laws would have motivated corresponding action on the part of legislators.) In 2016, 80% of white evangelicals supported Donald Trump, pulling his presidential campaign to victory in key states.