Why young white evangelicals aren’t likely to leave the Republican Party

If young evangelicals are uncomfortable with Trump, what’s keeping them tethered to the Republican Party?

The first answer is abortion. Beginning in the late 1970s, religious leaders such as Francis Schaeffer and Jerry Falwell Sr. made abortion an important issue within the evangelical subculture. As Castle discusses in “Rock of Ages,” opposition to abortion remains key in evangelical identity, reinforced by subcultural institutions like Sanctity of Life Sunday, March for Life, and church-sponsored pregnancy resource centers. That subcultural emphasis has helped keep young evangelicals’ opinions on abortion consistent over time. In the late 1970s, about 30 percent of white evangelicals ages 18 to 29 said they would support a woman being able to get an abortion for any reason. In 2018, the figure was 32 percent. The parties’ increasing polarization on abortion and young evangelicals’ steady conservative attitudes on and commitment to this issue limits the proportion of evangelicals who are willing to vote for pro-choice Democratic candidates.

The second factor is party identification. Republican politicians such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush (and even Donald Trump) spoke the language of evangelicalism, and evangelicals became a key part of the public image of the Republican Party. Scholarship has shown that once social identities and partisanship are linked, motivated reasoning and negative partisanship make that link remarkably resistant to change. As you can see in the figure below, evangelical whites ages 18 to 29 have held essentially the same party identifications since the mid-1980s, with a notable increase in Republican identification in 2016.